Randy Ingermanson 

Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at www.SupremeDictatorForLife.com.


aka Randy Ingermanson

“Whatcha doin’?” a familiar voice behind me said.

I spun around in my chair, wondering why my plumber, Sam, was here again. Hadn’t he bled my bank account dry yet?

Sam stood there grinning, holding a big box of plumbing parts. “Just thought I’d check in on my favorite bigshot author while I was here to swap in these parts for that walk-in tub in yer new guest house. So, whatcha doing?”

I pressed the MUTE button on my phone and took off my headset. “I’m on the phone with my coworker in San Diego,” I hissed. “Plus I’m typing an e-mail to my agent and . . .” I pointed to my computer, “. . . I’m instant-messaging a friend of mine on Facebook. And on top of that, I’m trying to get my monthly column written. I’m two weeks late on it.”

Sam stepped in closer and squinted at the headline of my column. “Sorry, I fergot my glasses.” He pressed a grimy finger to my screen. “What’s the title of yer column?”



“It’s what I’m doing right now. Multitasking. Doing several things at once. It’s how I get things done.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Sounds to me like it’s a way fer a feller to not get things done. But you know better than me, I guess. How long you been working on that there column?”

I looked at my daily time record. “An hour and forty-two minutes.”

Sam leaned in close to the screen and squinted at the bottom of the document. “And you got how many words wrote already? Whooee, you sure type fast.” He whipped out his calculator and punched in some numbers. “That’s two hunnert and fifty-six words divided by a hunnert and forty-two minutes, gives you 1.802816901 words per minute.”

I scowled at him. “An hour and forty-two minutes is a hundred two, not a hundred forty-two.”

“Me a kelpa.” Sam thunked the side of his head. “I’ll just run them numbers again.” He jabbed at the calculator keys for half a minute. “2.509803922 words per minute! That’s twiced as fast as I type, so it looks like this multitaxing thing works good for you.”

“I can type eighty words per minute. But—”

“Hold on just a secont.” Sam dug his finger into his ear and worked it hard, gouging out a glob of earwax. He cleaned it primly on my mouse pad. “There, ain’t that something, what you can build up in yer ear? I guess I wasn’t hearing so good, because I thought I heard ya say ya can type eighty words a minute.”

“I can type eighty words—”

Sam grabbed my head and torqued it around. “That’s funny, but yer ear looks mighty clean. Want me to—”

“No!” I yanked away from him.

“Well, I guess I ain’t no bigshot author, but it seems to me that a feller that says he can type eighty words in a minute oughta actually be typing that fast, or else he’s just blowing smoke.”

“Writing’s more than just typing. It’s complicated.”

Sam looked at me. “I guess if you say so, then it’s so. But I bet it ain’t as complicated as them there new septic systems. Whewee! You want complicated, that’s complicated. But anyways, it sounds to me like this here multitaxing thing makes you type slow.”

“Nonsense. A good multitasker can do five or six things at once.”

Sam shrugged his massive shoulders. “Maybe you ain’t no good at it, then. Or maybe multitaxing just makes ya stupid, you think?”

For an instant, I wanted to punch Sam. But since he weighs in at about three hundred pounds of solid muscle, I wasn’t sure he’d notice.

Sam hefted his box of plumbing parts. “Well, I better git to work. I oughta be done in a couple hours. No hurry, though. I only got a couple other things on my plate today. There’s a clogged sink at the Joneses’ place and a busted hot water heater over to the Burds’ house.”

I watched him walk out and thought for a couple of minutes. Then I tuned in again on the phone conversation on my headset. My buddy Jeff was still explaining the details of his installer glitch.

“Can I call you back?” I said. “I’d suggest you Google the error message you’re getting and see what you find. The Web knows all.”

Without waiting for an answer, I hung up. Then I begged off the instant-message session and logged out of Facebook. I spent thirty seconds finishing up my e-mail to my agent, hit the SEND button, and shut down my e-mail program.

I opened a Web browser and Googled the phrase Does multitasking make you stupid?

An instant later, I had a long series of articles to choose from. I scanned through them to get the gist of it.

I discovered that multitasking costs you from 30 to 50 percent in efficiency.

I discovered that a single interruption can make you lose more than twenty minutes of time getting back into the groove.

I discovered that experiments show that multitasking actually lowers your IQ by approximately ten points, which is about the effect you’d get from losing a night’s sleep and two and a half times the loss you’d get from smoking a joint of marijuana.

It took me five minutes to read the articles.

Inspired, I started typing. In twenty minutes, I had my column done and e-mailed to my editor. By then, I had a response back from my agent with a couple of follow-up questions for me. I took two minutes and drilled out an answer and sent it back.

On a roll now, I sent another e-mail to the friend I’d been IMing on Facebook and wrapped up the conversation we’d been having, with five minutes of furious typing in which I came close to hitting the eighty words per minute that I’d told Sam.

I called back my friend in San Diego, only to discover that he’d found the answer on Google and was already testing it on our product.

By this time, I was starting to realize what a genius Sam the plumber is. The man may use fractured grammar, but he understands business processes and productivity.

I looked at my to-do list for the day. Eighteen items, and I’d already knocked off four of them. I thought for a second and realized that the eighth item on the list was the most important: develop a low-level math library to solve a broad class of problems that I’ve been wanting to solve for ages. If I could get that one done, the day would be a success. But I’d been putting it off for weeks because finding a four-hour block of focused time to write that library seemed impossible for a busy guy like me.

I shut down my e-mail program again, unplugged the phone, and closed my office door. Four hours. I could do this in four hours, couldn’t I? With no interruptions, I could.

Nine hours later, I committed the library to my online software repository, sat back, and pumped the air with my fist. The job had taken more than twice as long as I’d expected, but only because I took it a lot farther than I’d expected. I had not only written the library, I’d written a test routine, found a bug, fixed it, refactored the library to include a second algorithm, tested that, and added in some extra tools that I just dreamed up. All of that normally would have been about a week’s worth of work. I’d done it all in nine hours. I’d have to call Sam and give him a little reward for helping me break the multitasking habit.

I walked out of my office and decided to make sure the new walk-in tub actually worked. I strolled over to the new guest house.

Sam was sitting on a footstool, holding a wrench and talking on the phone. When he saw me, he said, “Okay, lookit, just shut off the water main and I’ll be over in a couple hours.” He snapped his phone shut and grinned at me. “Well I thought you was nuts with that multitaxing thing, but sure enough it works great!”

“It . . . what?” I stared at the half-installed faucet assembly. “Why aren’t you finished yet?”

Sam nodded. “Ain’t that something? Here, I thought this job was gonna be two hours, but then I got the idea to try out yer multitaxing thing and start the Joneses working on that clogged sink at the same time. So I called the Missus up and talked her through it all. Took twiced as long as it would have if I’d been there, and I billed her for the whole thing, and I didn’t waste no gas money going way out there. And I was billing you at the same time. I guess that’s why you call it multitaxing, huh?”

I couldn’t find words to express my thoughts.

Sam plowed on, oblivious. “Then I called up Old Man Burd and we was going great on changing out that hot water heater until he busted the doohickey trying to turn it the wrong direction. Whooey! That’s gonna be some extra money when I get over there.”

I felt like throwing up.

“And the best part is that this here job, which woulda only took me two hours. I’ve clocked in at eight hours regular time plus a hour and a half overtime. Course it looks like it might only go another hour, now that I’ve ran out of things to multitax it with.”

I leaned against the wall, fighting the urge to scream.

Sam cracked his knuckles on both hands. A satisfied expression filled his enormous face. “I guess I owe you something for teaching me how it’s done, don’t I? But you, being a bigshot author, you’d probably be insulted if I was to give you a little toking of my appreciation, so—”

“Go ahead and insult me,” I said.

Sam is irony-challenged, and he gave me a look like I’d just asked him to kick a puppy. “I couldn’t never insult you. Not after you tipped me off on this multitaxing thing. But I bet you know a hunnert ways to squeeze it fer all it’s worth, don’tcha? Yer King of Multitaxers, that’s what you are.”

I sighed deeply.

If it’s true that multitasking makes you stupid, then Sam had just given me the king of all insults.

But after a full day of focused single-tasking, I decided I didn’t have a thing to complain about.

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