Last week, we lost our Internet connection for more than two full days. The initial shock rendered me temporarily immobile. What could I possibly do? I couldn’t work without connection to the outside world…. could I? No, the pain and discomfort was too much to face. I decided instead to get my car keys and run all those errands I’d put off. Oh, and make all those important phone calls on my to-do list.
When we finally fixed our connection I realized something monumental. The Internet had been wasting my time. Well, perhaps to be more accurate, I allow entirely too much of my creativity and productivity, and even my devotion to my family’s needs, slip away while I check email, update Twitter and Facebook and fiddle about looking at book reviews, reading “news” and trying to keep up with what everyone else is up to.
Without my connection to the Grand WWW, I had gotten so much accomplished! My fiction book took flight, I meditated, I read, I cooked, I planted flowers, I played more with my children, I made every phone call necessary to our lives, I booked appointments for playdates and doctors’ appointments, scheduled date nights with my beloved. Had I rediscovered, dare I say it, a full life? Gasp!
In fact, as a mother, wife and freelance writer, the moments I actually have to work at the computer are few and far between and I have clearly been squandering them with online time-wasters. (I will admit, however, that I just discovered Goodreads.com and I’m in love with it! But more on that later.)
Writer (and fellow Canuck) Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says, “the biggest mistake I make is multitasking.” She is the creator of website, theAdventurousWriter.com, and freelances for magazines such as Woman’s Day, Reader’s Digest Online, alive, Glow, Health & Spirituality and More. A Feature Writer for Psychology Suite101, Pawlik-Kienlen specializes in articles about emotional, spiritual, and intellectual health and wellness. She also collects inspirational, thought-provoking quotations for her blog.
For writers hoping to cut through extraneous time-waters and improve productivity, Laurie suggests we use publication coach Daphne Gray Grant‘s five tips for writing more and writing better are about cultivating a laser beam-like focus. She also recommends we check out Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (“It’s one of my favorite books about writing,” she says.)
The Biggest Mistake Writers Make? 5 Tips for Writing More, Writing Better
In theory, multitasking sounds brave and competent. Truth be told, however, it’s more accurate to describe multitasking as “being distracted.” I think there are five main ways in which writers try to multitask (and I suggest you avoid ALL of them while you’re writing).
1. Checking email. This is probably the most disruptive — and compelling — distraction of our day. According to a calculation by Merlin Mann on 43 folders, if you check your e-mail every 5 minutes, then you’re checking it 12 times an hour. Multiply 12 times an hour by 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (assuming you take two weeks of vacation and not counting your at-home email habits) and that means you are checking your email some 24,000 times each year. That’s awesome — in a bad way! As Mann asks: “What are you not working on during that time?” (you’re not writing more or writing better, that’s for sure!).
2. Surfing the web. How often are you checking Facebook, Twitter, blogs or just generally surfing the web? Sure it’s attractive (I adore Twitter for example), but I don’t let it control my life. All computer related habits should be delegated to set times of the day. Start by trying to limit yourself to once an hour for each. From there, reduce even further to only once or twice a day. Or, possibly, use this “distraction” as a reward for when you finish your writing.
3. Talking on the phone. Here’s a hard one. Not only can it be fun, it can also be essential for your job. If there’s a call you can’t afford to miss, it takes nerves of steel to ignore a ringing phone. To solve this problem, try to schedule your writing as an appointment — and then treat it like a meeting with your CEO. If necessary, leave your office and perch in a coffee shop or at a boardroom or library table. (One of the biggest mistakes I make as a writer is not getting out of my home office once in a while. Writing elsewhere increases my creativity and productivity).
4. Doing research while you write. Please, don’t ever mix your writing with your research. These are two separate tasks and the research should always come first. That doesn’t mean there won’t be information gaps when you write but don’t use them as an excuse to stop writing. Instead, insert a blank “marker” in your text — like this ________ or this XXX — and then research how to fill it/fix it later, when you’re editing.
5. Eating lunch at your computer. This is a bad idea — not just for you, but also for your computer. Crumbs and liquid can kill your keyboard. My daughter lost her laptop when she spilled a glass of orange juice over it. But it’s also bad for you. When you’ve been working hard writing, you deserve a break. So, pat yourself on the back and go eat your lunch (or your snack) elsewhere.
Multitasking. It’s not just being an extra-hard writer. It’s being a distracted one.
Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website; subscribe at The Publication Coach.
Gray-Grant also contributed Tips for Avoiding Writer’s Burnout and 5 Ways to Salvage Writing Disasters, here on Quips & Tips for Successful Writers.