12 Books in 12 Months, Week 6: The Myth of Multitasking

Hey all, welcome to week 6 of the 12 books in 12 months challenge. I’ve been really pumped recently because of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve been making some adjustments to the books that I’m writing for the challenge. That’s a bit of a long story, which I’ll probably get into later in the year, depending on what actually happens. But I’m still writing 12 books that are at least an average of 40,000 words each, which is the benchmark for the challenge.

Anyway, for my words this week I did successfully completely my 15,000 words. In fact, I ended up with 15,448 words. So that’s really encouraging. Once again, I think this book might be a little shorter than I predicted, which might be the case with all of the books left in this series. If that is the case, then I might even have room to write more than 12 books in the year. So that would be awesome. I was planning on finishing this series a few weeks after my wedding in February, but I’m wondering now if I can’t get it done before the wedding. That would certainly be nice.

This week’s prolific writer topic has to do with Multitasking. Now for this and the next few weeks I’m going to be doing a series structured around time management, and this is the first one of those. Most of what I’m about to present I got from a number of sources, but chief among them was a time management course I took on Lynda.com. I don’t get any kick-back from them for mentioning that. But if you have access to Lynda.com, either through work, your local library, or your own personal account, I highly recommend checking out their time management course.

So multitasking! What a great thing, you might say. If you’re good at multitasking that means you are good at getting a lot done, and that you don’t let a bunch of other things pile up as opposed to what would happen if you were only focused on just one thing, right?

Well sadly, if you said that, you would be very wrong. Multitasking is, in fact, one of the worst ways to be productive. And I’ll show you an example of what I mean.

I have a quick activity for you. I want you to get a paper and a pen/pencil, and get ready to pause this video and write something down. Go ahead, pause the video and get the pen and paper ready. I’ll wait.

What I want you to do is spell out the words “I am a prolific author” on the piece of paper. Then below that, I’d like you to write down the numbers 1 through 18. That’s one number for every letter. While you’re doing this, and this is very important, time yourself. Go ahead and pause the video while you do this.

Okay, so now that you have that phrase and those numbers written down, I’d like you to do the exercise again. This time, alternate between letters and numbers. So write down “I” then the number 1 below it, than “a” and the number 2 below that, and so on. Time yourself again, and mark down the difference in time from the first attempt, to the second.

Okay, so what happened to your time? Was it better or worse? If you’re like most people, it would have been worse when you were switching between the letters and numbers. Now why is that?

You see, every time we switch a task, it causes our brains to sort of restart and take time to evaluate its new task. That is why another word for multitasking could be switchtasking, because we’re not really doing multiple things at once. That’s actually not something our brains are capable of doing. Now we can do background tasking for some things, such as listening to the news while we make dinner, or listening to an audiobook while we mow the lawn, but that’s because making dinner or mowing the lawn are tasks we’re capable of doing automatically. Our real intention is focused on the news, or on the audiobook.

Every time we switch between tasks, it has a measurable effect on our mood. This is why when we have too much going on, we can often build up anxiety and grow increasingly irritable and overwhelmed. Has that ever happened to you? It also has a direct correlation with will power, meaning the more you switchtask, the less capable you will be of sticking to what you’ve planned, or avoid those donuts that have been sitting on the counter at work. And, as you can see from the exercise we did, it also slows you down.

So how can we avoid this? Well, we can start by sticking to one problem at a time. This is why when I schedule my time, I only work on one or two major projects that day, and I don’t switch to another one until I finish the time allotted to that project, or I finish the project. This is also why I only work on one book at a time. Though you can still work on multiple projects if that interests you, but I would try to keep the number of times that you switch between projects in a single day to a minimum.

In forthcoming videos I’ll have a lot more to say about how to eliminate distractions and keep your time focused so that you’re not constantly switchtasking throughout the day. In the meantime, keep on writing and I’ll see you in the next video!

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