They say that women are better at multitasking. Who this ‘they’ is, I’m not sure, but they shouldn’t be encouraging women—or men—to multitask.
Multitasking isn’t good for productivity. It’s terrible for it.
The more tasks you do at once, the more your focus is split.
When you’re constantly flitting between writing, IMing, tweeting, having a conversation, researching something, and watching TV, your brain can’t give anything its full attention.
Because of this, you’re more likely to get confused and make simple mistakes.
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Doing more than one thing at a time is tempting, I know. I used to be a compulsive multitasker.
Now that I try to focus on one task as much as possible, I’m consciously aware of how much multitasking affects my productivity. I write far more when I’m listening to music than when I’m watching TV.
Listening to classical music has been proven to help make you more productive.
There’s no such links to watching TV, and I doubt they’ll ever come. How can you write and watch TV at the same time? You’re paying attention to two conversations, two sets of visual cues, two stories…it just doesn’t work.
However, if you’re doing something monotonous or that doesn’t conflict with what you’re doing—such as listening to a podcast while doing the ironing—it doesn’t have such a detrimental effect.
A little background noise such as a podcast, some music, or an audiobook can help make the time go much faster when you’re doing something repetitive or tedious.
Why you need to focus on one writing project at a time
You’re also multitasking when you work on several writing projects at the same time.
While it doesn’t matter so much when you write short content, working on several longer projects at once makes it confusing and means you’ll take longer to finish things.
It’s just as bad as reading several books at once.
Imagine you’re reading three books at the same time. One’s fantasy, one’s romance, one’s a biography.
Each night you read a chapter from each.
Because you’re only reading a chapter at a time, it takes you longer to finish them all.
Not only that, but there’s the chance of confusing the plots, characters, and stories.
You’re going to enjoy a book a whole lot more, and be more immersed/invested in its world, if you read one book at a time. You’ll be hypnotised by the mythology of the fantasy book; drawn into the sexual tension of the romance; enticed by the wisdom of the biography.
But your feelings won’t be as intense if you’re not giving those books your full attention.
The same applies to your writing.
When you write a fantasy novel and a romance novel at the same time, you’re going to confuse the plot and characters, especially if your time is already limited.
It also means that it will take you longer to finish those projects, and therefore longer to reach your goals.
Working on both projects at the same time means that you won’t be as immersed in the worlds, and therefore, your readers won’t be either.
When you split your focus, you lose some of the attachment that’s crucial to create a world your readers can connect with.
You just can’t be immersed in three worlds (reality included) at once. It’s too confusing. Do. Not. Do. It.
The longer you immerse yourself in a particular world, the easier it is to drown out the other ones you’ve considered crafting.
A couple of years ago, I started working on a romance/crime novel. I really enjoy working on it, but it’s had to take a backseat until I get further into the What Happens in… novels.
I have a plan for that series, and I know where most of the characters are headed. I don’t have the same direction for the romance/crime novels.
I think about the characters sometimes, and come up with ideas for them.
When I do, I write them down somewhere safe so that I don’t forget anything and I’m not trying to cram everything into my head.
I’ll either leave a trigger word or phrase in my Notes app, or I’ll write out the passage in full, ready for when I return to that project.
At present, I have twelve books planned (including Productivity for Writers).
If I were to split my time between these projects, I wouldn’t get very far. There’d also be an even bigger gap between each of my books being published.
So I have to prioritise.
Putting one project above all else allows us to finish projects and improve faster.
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If you never finish a work in progress, you’ll never get better at the whole process.
For example, if you always stop writing a poem halfway through, you may have killer titles and opening lines, but your endings won’t be as strong.
By finishing everything that you write—even if you’re unsure of the direction it takes—you can fix it when you edit it and use what you learned in your next piece.
This process is even more important for books—we’ve all read a book where the opening is strong but the ending falls flat.
Whether it’s at the end of a book or at the end of a series, there’s nothing worse than emotionally investing yourself in a book to be disappointed with how the characters’ lives end up.
The only way to avoid giving this feeling to your readers in your own work is to see projects through to the end and not abandon them when things get difficult or you’re drawn to a different project because you’re bored of your current one.
Finishing every book that you read is another way of improving your endings.
The more you read, the more you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and what kinds of things have been overdone and therefore need to be avoided.
Check out more excerpts from Productivity for Writers:
- Why you’ll never achieve perfection
- Why you need to embrace rejection
- How to deal with stress and burnout
- Can toxic friends kill your productivity?
- Why boredom is a luxury
- What to do when you have too many ideas