Multitasking? Not While You’re Writing!


Maybe you’re proud of your ability to multitask. And I’m the first to admit it comes in handy a lot of the time. But you should never try to multitask when you’re writing. Because that’s not multitasking. Multitasking is not being an extra-hard writer. It’s being a distracted one.

And when you get distracted, you’re not focused.

And when you’re not focused on your writing, all kinds of awful things can happen. Most important is what doesn’t happen: writing.

Here are the five main ways in which writers try to multitask—um, the five main ways writers get distracted. Avoid them all like the plague.

Checking email

This is probably the most disruptive—and compelling—distraction. If you check your e-mail every 5 minutes, then you’re checking it 12 times an hour. Multiply 12 times an hour by 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (assuming you take two weeks of vacation), and that means you are checking your email some 24,000 times each year. Now ask yourself what you’re not working on during that time.

Rare is the email that just can’t wait. Set aside a time to write, and do only that. Set aside another block of time to read and respond to email.

Surfing the web

How often are you checking Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or just generally surfing the web? All computer-related habits should be delegated to set times of the day. Start by trying to limit yourself to once an hour for each. From there, reduce even further to only once or twice a day. Or, possibly, use this “distraction” as a reward for when you finish your writing.

Distracted writerTalking on the phone

This is a hard one. Not only can it be fun, it can also be essential for your job. If there’s a call you can’t afford to miss—I mean really can’t afford to miss—take it. And this is where caller ID comes in. If you don’t have it, get it NOW.

It takes nerves of steel to ignore a ringing phone, but for all those noncritical calls, you need to do exactly that. Let people leave messages; if the call is important, they’ll let you know what they needed and how to reach them. Schedule your writing as an appointment—and then treat it like a meeting with your CEO. If necessary, leave your office (and your cell phone) and go write somewhere else. One of the biggest mistakes I make as a writer is not getting out of my home office once in a while. Writing elsewhere increases my creativity and productivity.

Doing research while you write

Don’t ever mix your writing with your research. These are two separate tasks, and the research should always come first. That doesn’t mean there won’t be information gaps when you write, but don’t use them as an excuse to stop writing. Instead, insert a blank “marker” in your text and then research how to fill it/fix it later, when you’re editing or rewriting.

Eating at your computer

When you’ve been working hard writing, you deserve a break. So, pat yourself on the back and go eat your lunch (or your snack) elsewhere. Better yet, arrange to meet a few other writer friends at a fun café for lunch. (That's why it’s called a break.) You’ll not only get a break by leaving the place you’ve been working, but if you’re with friends, you’ll probably pick up great inspiration (and maybe even share a horror story or two!).




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