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This Writing Life: Taking Multi-Tasking Too Far

7 December, 2010

Every time I do another update post on this blog, I’m reminded how many things I’m juggling. The first draft of one novel, an editing course to finish another, occasional short stories and now a proofreading course. Plus the job that actually pays the bills. For weeks now I’ve been sure I was coping, finding time to fit everything in and keep on top of it all. No more.

I wrote last time about illness and how I’ve been suffering a bit. It’s at times like these, when the everyday routine gets disrupted, that I realise just how much I’ve taken on. Suddenly, trying to fit everything in without exhausting myself becomes an impossible feat. I also find that I can only really concentrate on one thing at once. My normal thought patterns are fragmented and writing 1000 words is enough to leave me fried for the rest of the day.

Clearly this will change when I’m well again. I’ll go back to being able to multi-task and having the energy to do two or three things in a day. However, I’m starting to wonder if that’s a good thing. Time and again, I’ve read advice from seasoned writers telling us novices – and indeed other seasoned writers – to stick to one project at once. Finish one, they say, before you move on to something else. I’ve tended to ignore this advice, telling myself that I’m coping fine with the multi-tasking, but this brief illness has made me wonder if I was wrong.

My plan, therefore, is for something of an experiment. I’m going to use my same periods of work in the morning and early afternoon, but instead of working on something different in each (or even two things in the morning and a third in the afternoon, as is sometimes the case), I’m going to devote each day to one thing at once. A day of proofreading. A day of writing. A day of editing.

In reality, things will probably work out slightly differently. I’ll probably end up doing a full morning of editing or proofreading, followed by writing a small number of words in the afternoon (this way I don’t forget where my novel is going and waste precious time groping around, trying to get back on track). However, I am definitely going to focus my attention more fully on one thing at once and see if doing so improves my productivity.

Updates when I’ve come to some conclusions about whether this new schedule works – or whether it makes no difference at all.

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