Multi-Tasking or Single-Tasking: What Works Best for You?

I always have a lot going on at any one time, in my writing life and in real life. Yes, I do see a distinct separation between the two lives, even though one tends to muddy up the other from time to time.

When I'm writing, I'm a writer. I put on my writerly cloak and think writerly thoughts. That's my plan for today. Except for the laundry, of course, but it’s Monday. I always do the laundry on Monday.

When I'm doing real life stuff, I forget all about the writing part and get crazy. Yesterday, for instance, I read the paper and then a few chapters of The Lion’s Game by Nelson DeMille, rode the exercise bike twice, talked to my mom on the phone, and watched the Broncos beat the Chargers on television. And I paid a lot of attention to Katie Cat because she's very demanding.

Katie Cat waiting for me to move the laptop so she can claim my lap

When I'm being a writer, I'm also being a blogger and social media junkie. My husband often comments on the number of tabs I usually have open when I'm at my computer. There's email, this blog, my personal blog, a Google calendar, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and sometimes Goodreads and amazon.com.

And I subscribe to a number of blogs that I follow regularly.

So....when I read Leo Babauta's post several weeks ago on Zen Habits, I felt he might be talking directly to me. The post is called "I'm Returning to Single-Tasking." In the first of six excellent points, Leo says he's going to have only one tab open at a time. Multi-tasking is out the window. Single-tasking is in.

For me, this is an amazing new concept. How about you?

In the past, when I’ve gone into busy writer mode, the one thing that always got sacrificed was reading time. Or I try to read at the same time I’m watching television shows that don’t require a lot of concentration. If I move to that single-tasking philosophy, which I’ve been trying and kind of like, I’ll keep at least 30 minutes free in the morning for pleasure reading. It almost gives me a chill of pleasure to think about it. What a wonderful way to start the day.

Anyway, back to my plan for today. A little bit of time outside to enjoy the balmy 40+ degree day, do that laundry, quickly finish my morning computer tasks online, and then spend many hours on manuscript revisions. Taking Leo Babauta's advice to heart, I will close all my browser tabs and focus on the book during that revision time I’ve set aside.

Tell me something about your writing habits. Do you muddle about with more than one project at a time? Or do you focus on just one and get it finished before you move on to another? What are your browser tab habits? Do you have any new plans for tackling your projects in 2016 so you're more productive?

Patricia Stoltey
Patricia grew up on a farm in central Illinois so naturally had to use the old farm in her first mystery. The second Sylvia and Willie tale takes place near and in the little touristy gold mining town of Oatman, Arizona. Patricia's third novel, a standalone suspense called Dead Wrong, was released November 2014. Dead Wrong was a finalist in the thriller category for the Colorado Book Awards. Visit her blog at http://patriciastolteybooks.com

6 thoughts on “Multi-Tasking or Single-Tasking: What Works Best for You?

  1. Great topic, especially at the new year, Pat! In this Brave New Author World, one doesn’t just cozy into in front of the fireplace and write for hours. We need to promote and market, too, so it’s easy to get distracted. I have the attention span of a gnat, buzzing this way and that, and it takes some rituals and determination to zero in. Focus! That’s what I tell myself. I don’t have troubles with tabs, but I do often think of the sixteen things I could be doing. It helps to compartmentalize. I do my “paid,” major income-producing work in my office. I do my mail and author promo work on the kitchen counter and I sneak into my husband’s office to do my serious writing sessions. In the past, I’ve also resorted to escaping to the library, but it’s now over a 20-minute drive, so I’ve adjusted. I’m currently on a two-hour-a-day fresh writing challenge, and that’s working for me. Wishing you a Happy New Year of writing!

    • I know, Janet. The hardest part of the process (and not just for writers) is curing “busy brain.” I put everything on a list so I can then focus on one item at a time. I like your idea of associating specific tasks with specific locations. I’ve done a little of that by taking printed manuscript pages to my reading chair to work on revisions before returning to my computer to type everything into the Word document.

  2. I am always, always, always multi-tasking, but working on simplifying life’s pleasures to enjoy them individually.
    Writing world is always spinning to fast with too many passengers and projects. 2016 is shaping up to be big with potentially 5 new projects coming out….If I can stay focused!

    • Staying focused is the key, Dean, and we each have to find our own way. Closing all those extra browser tabs helps me so I don’t keep glancing up there to see if there’s a new Facebook or Twitter notification.

  3. I tend to do one task at a time – babying Twitter, then posting to Facebook, working on a newsletter, then reading emails, etc. But often I have multiple tabs open at the same time, too, just to complete one project. 😉

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