Most people think that doing multiple things at once is more time-effective than doing one thing at a time, but actually, that’s not the case. To quote Gregory Ciotti’s insightful blog post on sparringmind.com:
Researcher Zhen Wang was able to show that on average, multitaskers are actually less likely to be productive, yet they feel more “emotionally satisfied” with their work (creating an illusion of productivity).
Worse yet, Stanford researcher Clifford Nass examined the work patterns of multitaskers and analyzed their ability to:
- Filter information
- Switch between tasks
- Maintain a high working memory
…and found that they were terrible at all 3!
I realized that focusing on writing meant learning how to write and only write. When I was writing and only writing– not listening to music or casting sidelong glances at seven open tabs on my browser– I was really able to focus on what I was saying rather than spreading my attention over a bunch of different things.
In my mission to stop multitasking and focus on writing and only writing, this is what I did:
1. I put more energy into living in the moment. I realized I spent a great deal of time worrying about various things– people I needed to email, chores I needed to do, errands I needed to run. By doing this, I wasn’t giving my story my full attention. I wasn’t giving all those worries my full attention either. I was failing at writing and attending to all my to-do list items, because I wasn’t fully dedicating my mind to either one! To fully dedicate myself to writing, I realized, I had to take a Zen approach to it and be extremely deliberate about controlling what I did and did not think about.
2. I stopped playing music when I was writing. I love music so much. For most of my life, I took whatever measures possible to always be listening to music at every waking moment. Even bad music was preferable to silence, in my mind. I even remember my childhood according to which songs I was listening to at the time; all the years are like playlists. So you can imagine, when I decided to try writing without music, it was a huge deal for me. But, to my surprise, it really helped me with my writing. When there was nothing but silence, I was able to write more quickly and make less mistakes– and I realized that the quality of my stories actually improved, too. Also, listening to music after a long period of silently typing is the best thing ever.
3. I found some helpful apps. There are lots of jokes to be made about using an app called “Self Control.” But seriously, it’s pretty great, and it’s free. You can block certain websites for a certain time period, which makes it easier to write productively. Using the blacklist on Self Control allows you to still research questions for your story online, but prevents you from taking a little side-detour to Facebook while you’re at it. If you’re using a PC, there are plenty of free apps out there that do the same thing. Using these apps really helped me maximize my writing time.
4. I changed the scenery. Sometimes, when you go to a certain place with the idea that you’re going to write and only write there, it really helps your productivity. JK Rowling, for instance, was having trouble finishing the last Harry Potter book, so she went to a fancy hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland and just wrote the rest of it there. (I wish I could finish all my stories in fancy Edinburgh hotels! Alas!) So I planned trips to the library and (quiet) coffee shops with the purpose of writing and only writing. Those trips were often very productive, because I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish beforehand.
Doing only one thing at a time, I realized, is such an incredible luxury. When I started writing and only writing, I was happier with the work I was producing and I felt calmer. Since I felt calmer, I was better-equipped to tackle writing problems as well as non-writing problems.
Also in this series: Finding Focus Day 1: Jonathan Franzen’s Computer
Coming Tomorrow: Finding Focus Day 3: More Helpful Writing Apps!