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Masters of Multitasking

I recently read some “expert” saying that people can’t really multitask, that when we try, we do nothing well. I beg to differ, but it might really just be a basic misunderstanding (or disagreement) about what multitasking is.

To me, true multitasking is not always doing more than one thing at the exact same time. If you’re listening to Russian lessons while you do the dishes, it can be. But multitasking is more about interspersing tasks than trying to do too many things.

This morning, I put styling gunk in my hair, filled the teapot with water, came downstairs to set my manuscript to print, went back up and poured the now-hot water over my tea bag, got dressed, checked the printer, unjammed it, fixed my tea (I like it with cream and sugar), dried my hair…and all the while, wrote this post, partly in my head, partly on the Neo between setup tasks. The whole thing took me about half an hour. If I’d done it all in order, I’d only have had time to get myself ready to go to soccer. No printed manuscript to review during warm-up time. No hot tea to start my day. No blog post prepared!

I do a kind of multitasking with my manuscripts, too. It would be ideal to be able to work on one at a time, all the way through, but it never works out that way. Right now, I have final edits on one manuscript and first draft on another while I await the developmental edit from my editor on the one in between. (The developmental edit is when the editor tells you all the ways your book sucks could be better.) I started a read-through edit on a manuscript I finished earlier this year. And in a few days, I should get the final copyedit on my spring release. When I have multiple projects going on, I have to block out how much I’ll do on each one each day, or I’ll get overrun.

That’s when multitasking goes bad. I confess to having no patience and a low tolerance for unproductive time. I can sometimes be found essentially spinning in circles, abandoning one task for another, then another, and having trouble finishing anything.

What about you? Are you a good multitasker, or would you rather stick to one project until it’s done?

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20 Responses

  1. The key word here, is “good.” I’m a multitasker, but I wouldn’t say I’m a good one. LOL With the kids and daily household stuff, I manage pretty well. But with the editing, writing and marketing, I wish I could stick to one project at a time. I think my life would be so much simplier and I’d be a bit more productive. But call me crazy. I’m just happiest when I’m spinning in those circles. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. This will sound sexist, but I think most woman are better multi-taskers than men. For me, multi-tasks means being able to not just do two things at one time but being able to CONCENTRATE on more than one idea at a time. I can “watch” tv and be on the internet or needlepoint and carry on a conversation with my husband and still know what is happening on the show. He can’t and most of the men I know can’t. But then I like that we are different! Different strengths. ๐Ÿ™‚

    As far as writing two books at one time…probably not as good at doing that I need to be.

    Good topic, Nat.

    • Cyndi, I *hate* gender bias, but even so, I acknowledge some things are just true. In this case, it’s physical! Our brains work differently. Signals in men’s brains don’t cross the central divide as easily as women’s do (that’s not the technical description, btw LOL). It’s been scientifically proven.

      I’m not as good as you at the concentration part. When I’m driving, I’ll get lost in thought and realize I’ve missed the last five minutes of the podcast I’m listening to. I can’t listen to music while I write. And I always think I’m listening to my kids until I ask them a question and they say “I just said…!” ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  3. I’ve heard people say you can’t multitask, Natalie, and I think they’re just jealous. If I didn’t, I’d have to live 3 consecutive lives to fit in everything!

    I read an article by Randy Ingermanson once, that said you can only focus on 3 big things in your life at a time. If you’re not getting something done, look where it falls on the priority list. He’s right. Mine are: Writing, the job, and the family. That works.

    Hey – maybe that explains the weight issue!

    • Those are my main priorities, too, Laura, and if you count my day job and my freelancing separately, then it’s no wonder I can’t get the writing done or my family gets neglected!

      And it TOTALLY explains the weight issue! LOL

  4. I’m decent but when something is really on my mind, I must do that first and finish before I can really focus on other needs. For example, if I get line edits with a week deadline, I can’t work on new stuff until the edits are done and off to editor. Can’t stand having that burden dangling above me ready to smack me on the head. Dispense with pressing matters and then I can handle needing to buy a new rug before the piano comes on Thursday, getting 10,000 new words in this week, shopping for prints for husband’s office, calling dr. office, doing laundry…..oh, Lord, I’m tired already! LOL

    • Man, Liz, you’re wearing me out, and I was already sobbing with despair over my to-do list. LOL

      I agree, multitasking only goes so far. It works best for me with small things or things that don’t take long-term focus. In fact, I can go too far to the other extreme, too, getting too determined to finish a big job, to the detriment of everything that falls by the wayside.

  5. I can multi-task when working, but the longer I stay home with my little one, the harder it gets. Lol.

  6. *counts on fingers* I have one I’m waiting edits on (this week!), editing another, submissions with another, different one in different set of submissions. Another project I’m paper editing. 3month blog tour I’m planning, blogs I’m writing. a different project on the backburner that is SCREAMING for some attention.

    Yeah, total multi-tasker here ๐Ÿ™‚ I do my best to work on what needs to be done in the morning. when I finish that, then I can work on something more fun or different in the afternoon.

    also, I think it’s naptime!

  7. My fantasy is to be an anchoress, with an adequately-warmed stone cell and my laptop (no WiFi). I’d love to not HAVE to multitask. One of the big authors of the 80s (Danielle Steel, maybe) said her writing process was to lock herself in her office 6 weeks in a row while her family put a tray of food outside her door periodically. When she came out–presto! Bestseller.
    I cannot tell you how jealous of her I feel just typing this.
    I multitask because I HAVE to, but in those rare moments when I’m allowed undiluted focus…I flow.

    • Okay, I’m proud of my multitasking ability, but that sounds like a pretty damned good dream to me.

      I don’t want to be completely alone for that long, but to be able to write and deal with NOTHING else for more than half an hour at a time? HEAVEN.

      My equivalent is just 6 weeks away, our annual writers retreat!

  8. I’m a mother of five, master multitasker is a job requirement.

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