The Myth of Author Multitasking

by | Aug 8, 2019

By Judith Briles

Do you pride yourself in multitasking? Many do … are you one of them? For decades, multitasking was the mantra for those who wanted to get a lot done. It was believed to be the high achiever’s secret sauce. Something that had to be integrated into your DNA—no matter what.

The question is … should it?

As someone who is a “reformed” multitasker, my reveal is: yup, I got a lot done. But here’s the “but”—sometimes things weren’t as they should have been if I had taken a bit more time AND I was pooped.

Now, those who know me well, know that I sleep less than most—six hours is max for me. I can operate quite well on four and five-hour sleep days. And usually do. And, I’m an early morning person—four and five in the AM is quite common for me to start my day.

This past weekend, my husband said to me as I was working on a couple of chapters for a client on our deck,

“I see how you do this all—you completely tune things out. You are myopic. You get that something is out in the peripheral, trying to get your attention, but until you are done with the task you are working, you ignore it.”

Yup, he was right. That’s me. He was the peripheral that AM and was chewing over a column in the New York Times that he wanted to read to me. Right then.

I ignored him until I finished the chapter I was working on. Then, I gave him my attention, “Tell me what you wanted to say.”

It bugged him that I didn’t drop what I was doing—or at least acknowledge him, give him some kind of OK to continue to talk to me. I didn’t … I needed to complete my other task.

A few years ago, Psychology Today showed that “Multi-tasking is a myth. You are really task-switching, and it’s costing you time.” It added, “If you do a lot of switching in a day, it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.” Holy Moly, that was in 2012. And it’s today as well.

The belief is: When you handle more than one task at a time you save time and you are more productive.

The truth is: Multitaskers can’t and don’t say NO … they are the old reliable of a team, even when the team only consists on one.

Do you watch TV? It could be a favorite show … or it could be a news channel. Today, it’s not uncommon to have either a running banner that trails along the bottom of the screen or the “breaking news” chatter that has become common. Do you try to keep up with both? Or, can you stay myopic, and just focus on one?

I guarantee this: if you try to keep up with both at the same time, switching back and forth as you read and listen, your brain cog is going to have a few hiccups. You will miss a key phrase or image. And you can’t always do the rewind.

When you are “focused”–things pick up. Momentum builds. When multitasking, you can fizzle out. The result: optimal work is often missed.

The Big Illusion

So, why do we get sucked into the belief that multitasking is a good thing?

Hmmm … I think the “reality” myth world has reinforced the illusion world. Multitasking delivers the illusion of greater productivity. You are busy, busy. You are juggling lots on your plate. People marvel at all you do. Clever and productive you are as you balance many items at the same time rather than concentrating on one task at a time. Correct?

Actually, the answer is no.

Studies and data show that when you switch between tasks, your brain has more work to do than if you stayed on one task that you chose to tackle in the first place. Even if the switching is less than a few seconds.

Why do people multitask? For you, it may be that you think there are no other options … that multitasking is the only choice.

When your quest becomes to multitask, you may feel it’s the only way to get things done. Or, are you saying:

  • They will think I’m a slow poke and can’t do the work.
     
  • If I don’t kick up my production, I will be cut.
     
  • I need to do this to keep up with the team.
     
  • If I don’t do this, may manager will think I’m incompetent.
     
  • If I don’t, I’ll never get anything done.

Etc., etc., etc.

Don’t get pulled into this downward spiral of thinking. It can easily sabotage your ability to do your best work.

What About You?

If you have told yourself that you need to do more in a shorter period-of-time, reassess what you are trying to do. Two of my favorite “keepers” from my book, Sappy Sassy Salty – Wise Words for Authors and Writers are:

  • If you never say NO, your YESES are worthless.
     
  • Don’t do well what you have no business doing.

To maximize your efficiency and productivity, I suggest you make focusing your goal.

Prioritize what is essential and go for it. Complete it. Then, tackle the next.

I know that every Monday before noon, I need to have:

  • my Wednesday ezine written
  • three blogs for two websites for the week
  • my radio show recorded with social media created to support it

That means that phone calls are deferred; the tea pot is kept full; and that I have no client appointments.

Staying focus is the operative phrase on my Monday AM agenda. If I complete all before noon arrives, I can tackle other items and take phone calls,—but not before then.

Look at how you handle things.

  • Are they a mish mash of whatever rolls in?
     
  • Do you allow others to penetrate:
    • your workspace and time
    • your writing
    • your marketing
    • your whatever …

    because you like a wide-open door?

  • Do you push yourself to take on more than you should and undermine your efforts?
     
  • Or, do you plan out parts of your day, and do them as though you are not a super person?

I’ve found that making a habit of multitasking—which I used to say I was queen of—became a bad habit. That’s when I started say NO to others … and to myself.

Here’s what happened: I became more productive. My focusing and concentration accelerated. It was a very good thing.

My questions for you:

  • Do you experience not getting things done?
     
  • Would you like more time in your day?
     
  • Can you say NO to others … and to yourself?
     
  • Are you a multitasker?

 
Photo: BigStockPhoto. Amazon link contains affiliate code.

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3 Comments

  1. Leslie Hyla Winton Noble

    Would you agree that as with so many things, there are no absolutes. Some multitasking can be done to advantage; in fact some skills like driving a car call for it. Some tasks need undivided attention to be carried out successfully. The trick is to differentiate.

    Reply
  2. Adrijus Guscia

    Great post. Most of us creatives don’t want to believe it tho! Took me awhile to realize and admit it.

    Reply
  3. Ernie Zelinski

    “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.”
    – Steve Uzzell

    “To do two things at once is to do neither.”
    – Publilius Syrus

    “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”
    – Russian proverb

    Reply

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