I’ve been conducting an experiment in recent weeks – no or minimal multitasking while I write. It’s been revelatory.

Email and messaging are big distractions

If you are writing, write. Don’t answer email. If you do, the continuity of creativity is broken. The time lost mounts up. If possible, go offline for an hour or two and finish the job of writing. This eliminates those “helpful” little notifications informing you that an email just landed. If bosses demand availability, discuss with them when you can arrange periods where you take care of writing tasks without interruption. Perhaps this involves meeting in the early part of the day to address their immediate needs then being offline for the next two hours. That provides a period where you can give undivided attention to a story or assignment that needs to be completed.

TV kills your workflow

I used to watch occasional sports events while working from home. I won’t be doing that again. Reason: My writing pace slowed to about one third of my normal pace. I just didn’t have my full attention on what was in front of me. Excitement in the commentator’s voice pulled my attention onto the game. Even watching soccer where nothing much is happening for minutes on end, I’d still get sucked in.

Music may not be your friend

I found listening to music less of a problem than TV. Even then, I write faster when I don’t have music playing in the background. YouTube videos or music channels with ads or DJs are the worse. The ads are annoying and the visuals trap attention.

Change your environment

Sometimes the work environment has too much going on to facilitate writing progress. The office may be a magic roundabout of requests, meetings and sudden emergencies. The home, too, can be one long distraction – the spouse, the kids, the dog, those DIY or home tasks, and especially the refrigerator. If so, use time in the office or the home office to take care of coordination, interviews, research, email, promotion and so on. Find somewhere else to complete writing assignments. As a long-term home office worker, I used to head down the street to a quiet café to polish off a story that needed to be done.

Take Breaks

Sitting in front of a monitor all day is no one’s idea of fun. When your pace drops or the ideas dry up, take a short break. Stretch your legs, deliver a few items to the desks of co-workers or tidy up briefly. Grab a coffee or some water. Avoid the fridge as that leads to other problems. Perhaps go for a short walk and push your attention out onto your environment. This is important as you can become fixated if you are always two feet from a screen. Look at things far away and you’ll feel better. Don’t use these breaks to avoid work. But they can help you to free enough attention so you can resume the creative process.

Implementing a schedule

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of multitasking is how it inhibited my schedule. I’d work into the evening and slop assignments into weekends. The workday never really started or ended so I would feel duty bound to keep going. These last few weeks, on the other hand, a firm schedule offers a starting point and an ending point. Evenings and weekends are available for other interests. Exercise slots into the early part of the day which, in turn, eliminates the bad habit of staying up late to catch up on email. Greater discipline around a workable schedule leads to greater productivity and more time for other interests.

Try it.

Drew Robb