Can You Multitask While Reading? {Discussion}


A while ago, I wrote a discussion post about reading at bedtime and asked what time of day you guys usually read. Some of you responded to say that they eat during their lunchtime at work…and this got me thinking.

I’m not a read-while-I’m-eating type of girl. It’s not that I’m worried about spilling food on my books (although I probably would be kind of upset if that happened), it’s just that I’m not very good at multitasking. I think it has something to do with the fact that I like to hold my books with two hands. But I don’t like eating while reading if I’m using my Kindle, either. Mostly it’s probably because I hate being distracted while I read…by anything.


Brent will tell you…he gets chewed out if he tries to interrupt me while I’m reading. I like to be in my own little world, completely immersed in whatever book I’m in the middle of. So if I’m jarred out of that state of mind with a question or comment, it’s hard for me to get back into the book again.

All Images © Ashlee Culverhouse Photo 2012

I also can’t read if music is playing or the TV is on. The TV is the worst, though…I just can’t deal with words coming at me from two different directions. Occasionally I’ll be able to block out a video game if Brent’s playing one, even if it has music, but I can’t do words. I’m physically not capable of being able to focus on a story if there’s talking going on around me.

But, for some reason, I’m pretty good at being able to multitask while listening to an audiobook. I can drive, work, clean, cook, you name it! I’ve noticed that some people, like Cee from The Novel Hermit (as she discusses in her post “How Do You Audiobook?“), can’t do that at all because they have trouble concentrating on the words while they’re doing something else. I think it’s so weird that I’m actually kind of okay at multitasking while listening to an audiobook, yet I’m completely hopeless when it comes to reading a physical book.


So what about you? Can you multitask while reading? While listening to an audiobook? Do you ever read while eating?


29 responses to “Can You Multitask While Reading? {Discussion}

  1. I’m usually a good multi-tasker, but when it comes to reading I cannot have any other distractions! I get into my reading ‘zone’ and totally block everything else out, except for what I’m reading 🙂

  2. I’m very similar to you. I can eat while I read, but other than that, nope. I can’t read with music on, or the TV. A lot of times if I am watching TV, I will mute the TV during the commercials and read then, but even then it’s not very productive because I keep looking up to see if the the show is back on.

    But I can listen to an audiobook is multitask – to an extent. I can clean, play computer games, drive, walk, Any of that is fine. But I can’t listen and read something else. Again, like you said, words coming at you from different directions makes it impossible to concentrate on either.

    • I mute the TV during commercials to read, too! Haha.

      Yeah, I definitely can’t read and listen to an audiobook, that would be insane. Although wouldn’t it be cool if you could read two books at once!?

      • I read during commercials too. I also sometimes let my husband control the TV and I will sit with him and read while he watches whatever boy show he likes (usually Horror movies). Sometimes the TV distracts me, but usually I can focus enough to read.

  3. I’m with you, when it comes to reading, I have to tune everything else out. I just can’t concentrate on the story with other distractions. Although with other things, I’m really good at multi tasking, like watching TV and doing crafts or building IKEA furniture. Then I really love having “background noise”.

  4. I’m pretty bad at multitasking. It’s especially bad when it comes to audiobooks – I can rarely do anything whilst listening to them. Nonetheless, I try every single time! XD
    But then it often occurs that I notice I’ve listened to something for half an hour without actually knowing anything that happened . . . If it’s a really good narrator though, mulititasking does work sometimes.

  5. I’ve never tried listening to an audiobook and I don’t think I will just because I can’t see it working for me but when it comes to reading a physical copy, I’d say I’m okay at multitasking? Not that I ever really want to when I’m reading because then I just want to sit down and read but if the TV is on or if I am listening to music, I can focus to a certain degree. I definitely won’t be reading as thoroughly as usual but it works.

    • I just started listening to audiobooks last year…I always thought that I would HATE them because I’m really bad at aural comprehension, but I ended up actually really liking them! I don’t listen to them a ton, but they’re perfect for my commute sometimes.

      I’m jealous that you can listen to music while reading, even just a little bit! I like that some authors post songs they listened to while writing their book, and it makes me want to listen to them while reading that book, but I never can 😦

  6. I can multi-task when listening to an audio book while driving, cleaning, some puzzles/games, and exercising but other than eating I don’t think I could do something else while reading.

  7. I don’t like audiobooks, but I can multitask while reading a physical book. Although sometimes I just need ABSOLUTE SILENCE when I get to the good part 😉 Most of the time I don’t eat while I read though, because I tend to spill, and I don’t want to hurt my baby.

    • Yes I agree with you! Usually I can read if there’s a little something going on, like if Brent is playing a quiet video game or whatever…but sometimes I just need everything to STOP while I’m reading a certain part of a book, and it seriously screws me up if I’m interrupted even a little bit.

  8. I can eat and drink while I’m reading – but nothing else. I don’t like TV or music or an kind of noise. I want to get in the zone and stay there. Audiobooks – I can multitask with chores etc., but nothing that I have to focus on, like reading something on the computer.

    • Yeah I’m definitely a very “in the zone” kind of reader as well. My parents used to make fun of me all the time when I was a kid…they’d start saying or doing ridiculous things while I was reading, just to see if I would notice. And usually I wouldn’t until they started bursting out laughing!

  9. I can multitask if I’m listening to an audiobook just fine, just like I can multitask if I’m reading a book on my Kindle. What I CAN’T do, is read a physical book and multitask. I can’t. Just the fact that I need to hold the book with both hands means I cannot do anything else. My family insists on me spending time around them (even if my head is not in the game, LOL) so I really have adapted to reading with music or TV on. Great post! 🙂

    • I’m trying to get better at reading with the TV (or a video game) on as well. It sucks that it’s hard for me, because I want to spend as much time with my boyfriend as I can! And still be able to read!

  10. GOOOOOOATS! ^_^ BABY goats! ❤

    I'm a lot like you, though. When I'm reading, I don't like doing other things. I don't mind hearing my husband play video games while I'm reading, because it's vague enough background noise, but anything that involves audible speech is just way too distracting.

    But listening to audiobooks? Yeah, I listen while driving, cooking, etc.! Weird how that works, but I guess it just frees up your hands, and a certain chunk of your brain/focus, but leaves you free to process the story.

    • God, I’m glad that SOMEBODY finally commented on the goats 😉 I knew I could count on you!

      Can you read while your husband is playing video games that have lots of cut scenes? I’m trying to work on getting better with that…it’s still too much like the TV for me :/

      • Yeah, the cut scenes are a problem, because of the talking (plus they’re interesting and I want to watch them, lol). Mostly it’s fine if he’s playing an MMO or like the Goat Simulator or something lol.

  11. I can read while I eat, but I can’t read with the TV on; it’s too distracting! I don’t really like reading with music on, but sometimes I can do it, and I can read while the boyfriend plays video games. (I don’t really have a choice, though; our apartment is tiny and there isn’t anywhere else to go, unless I go read in bed, which will knock me out after a few pages.) I also like listening to audiobooks while doing other things — driving, doing dishes/cleaning, knitting or doing other projects, and working.

    • That’s interesting that reading it bed makes you fall asleep! I’m a huge reading-in-bed person…it’s where I read most often. But I have a little bit of insomnia, so it would be hard for me to get sleepy while doing something like that. My boyfriend will fall asleep if he plays video games in bed, haha! I’m always making fun of him about it…he’ll die in the game because he fell asleep and get mad at himself 😛

  12. I like to have music on whilst I’m reading, but only quietly, and it normally has to be stuff like film or video game soundtracks, or classical music, basically without lyrics.

    I cannot read in the same room as the TV though, if my family are watching it. Even if I have zero interest in the programme, it’s too distracting. I can read whilst eating, but sometimes it’s just awkward to hold a book so a Kindle is better for that! 😛

    • Yeah I think that the sheer awkwardness of it is what stops me from reading while eating. It’s just too hard! And also it’s hard to keep looking down at your food and then looking up at your book, because I find it pretty much impossible to eat something without looking at it.

  13. HAHAHA! What is up with all those goats, Miranda? *side-eyes* But they’re so cute and made me smile, so yay for the goats! 😉

    Anyway, my multi-tasking level depends on the book I’m reading. If it’s non-fiction, there’s no way I can multi-task. At the very most, instrumental music can accompany me. I need complete focus. Unless it’s humour, then my surroundings don’t matter too much, such that I can read even with vocal music blaring in the background.

    For fiction, if it’s some light and fluffy read, I sometimes even sit in front of the TV with some reality show running or somethings and read. Haha. But if it’s intellectually more stimulating or I’m really into the book, then at the very most, eating light food while reading is possible. Like cut fruits, chocolate, cake, etc.

    I love audiobooks precisely because I can “read” and still get things done. As you said, cleaning, sorting out shelves, etc are things that I do while listening to stuff—either music or audiobooks, both work for me.

    • Hahaha I just love goats! I needed something to break up all the word in the post, but I couldn’t find any relevant memes that I liked….so I just decided to add a bunch of goat pictures instead and see if anybody would care! 😛

      That’s interesting that you can sort of multitask depending on what kind of book you’re reading. I never thought of it like that before (since I just can’t with anything haha). Cool! I really wish I was able to do that :/

  14. Nope, not a multitasker, at all. I can tune it out if my husband is playing a video game (if it doesn’t have too much talking in it… better if there’s none at all) or watching subtitled Japanese anime. Anything else and I have to hide in another room. Same with music… anything with lyrics is bad, but instrumental is okay (though if I’m really familiar with the piece even that would be distracting). And heaven help me if there’s a conversation happening… doesn’t happen at home since there’s only one other person here, but reading in public is another story.

    And yeah… no audiobooks for me.

    (Also, I love the random goat pictures. Maybe I should just start using random animal pictures when I can’t find anything relevant to break up the text…)

    • It should totally be a new thing! 😉

      I can occasionally block out a conversation. It depends on where I am, who’s talking, and how engrossing the book is. If there’s only a few people around, it’d be practically impossible for me to do that, but if I tried reading at the mall or something (I don’t know why I would be doing this haha, just go with me), I think I would have an easier time since everything would kind of all blend together (at least for me).

      That sucks that you can’t do audiobooks! 😦 A lot of them are quite good.

      • I’ve tried a few of them, all re-reads. I figured that would solve the problem of occasionally tuning out (I wouldn’t have to go back and repeat if it’s a book I already know), but they’re just SO slow! I made the most progress on a three-hour road trip, but I felt like I barely made a dent in the book in that time. I might feel more engaged if it was a new story instead of a re-read… but then we’re back to the multitasking problem. The only way I’d be able to stay focused is if I literally just sat there and listened to the book… but if I’m doing that, I might as well just read it.

  15. Multitasking + reading + Chiara = fragile love triangle.

    Like you, I CANNOT watch TV/have TV playing in the background whilst I am reading. I just can’t. There are two worlds, two voices, two plots. Two too many if you ask me.

    Music is a bit of a different thing, though. I can listen to scores (like the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack) whilst reading but I find it very difficult to listen to signing music and read at the same time. Again with the two voices things, especially if it’s songs that I know and love. I pretty much just find myself singing along tot he songs instead of reading.

    I can’t eat while reading because I need to concentrate on my food, haha XD I find that if I eat and read at the same time, I just end up putting my book down in order to concentrate on eating. 😛

    • “I can’t eat while reading because I need to concentrate on my food, haha XD I find that if I eat and read at the same time, I just end up putting my book down in order to concentrate on eating. :P”

      YUP, this is totally me haha. I just can’t do those two things at the same time, no matter how hard I try!

      I think that I need to try reading with music on as an experiment…it’s been a really long time since I’ve done it (I’m just assuming I would hate it from past experience). But maybe I’d be better at it now! I think that listening to not-singing music is a good idea. Maybe I’ll do an experiment and post about my results.

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