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Struggling with Multitasking? How to Find Your Optimal Writing Workflow

Stop trying to be productive. Start understanding your writing preference, and make multitasking work (or drop it forever)

What should you do when struggle to work on multiple writing projects at the same time? The answer is not what you think. 

But let’s back up. 

This article was prompted by academic writer D., who emailed me about something that had been causing her frustration and pain for a long time. Here’s what she said:

“What I find myself struggling with is that I have a single track mind. I have difficulties writing two things at the same time. What I would like to do is to use two days per week for one task and three days per week for the other, but I cannot.

My fear is that in this way, I will never write my book. There’s always going to be another article to write which is going to push the book writing out of my calendar. If you have any advice for me or just a strategy that you think might work, please let me know.”

I’ve known D for a while, and I know she’s writing and submitting high-quality work as an academic — one project at a time. However, there’s a constant pressure to publish and she feels that she’s doing something wrong.

If that sounds familiar, keep reading and I’ll help you feel immediate relief. And perhaps it will sound counter-intuitive at first.

Stop trying to be productive. Start understanding your writing preference first.

The problem is that most writers get stressed about the ‘best way’ to be productive, and if it doesn’t work for them, they feel like a failure (I’ve been there!). By understanding how you ‘function’ as a writer, you can improve your productivity and reduce stress at the same time.

There will be zero hacks or tricks in this article. Just proven self-coaching tools that help you figure out the best way of writing for you, with the example of multitasking.

Multitasking means that you:

  • Write on two or more projects at a time, on different days of the week (or in the morning vs. afternoon)
  • Enjoy switching topics and like to have many pots ‘cooking’
  • Have mind space to ‘hold’ many projects in your brain at the same time

But is this how you want to work? Let’s find out!

#1 What’s your preference?

Some people love multitasking. Some did multitasking in their 20s and stopped when they had kids. Some never multitask because it raises their stress levels and slows them down.

Ask yourself:

  • How many projects do you have on your desk, and how do you feel about it?
  • In the past, when have you been able to do your best work, did multitasking play a role?
  • If you could write without pressure and expectations, what would be your preferred mode?

Be honest; rather than trying methods that ‘everyone else does’, find out what you prefer naturally.

#2 Do you have the right set-up for multitasking?

Maybe you’d love to try multitasking, but your schedule won’t give you the headspace for it. Ask yourself:

• Do you schedule recovery and transition time between different writing projects?

• If you write Monday to Wednesday on project 1, and Thu-Friday on project 2 — when do you rest, digest, recover?

• Do you feel mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day?

If you want to create a system for multitasking, you need to have space around your writing slots that allows you to switch over. (That space shouldn’t be filled with email, admin, or other busy tasks.)

#3 How do you talk to yourself?

When you are stressed and perfectionist with your writing, that’s only going to double or triple if you multitask (because you have more than one thing to stress about).

• When you write, do stress about the quality (even if it’s your first draft)?

• When you take a break, do you secretly think you shouldn’t be wasting time?

• What pressure are you creating for yourself?

• Why can’t you let go? What if you could let go?

Unless you take the time to change your self-talk around writing (it can take a while), it might be better to focus on one project at a time.

What D. decided

Before I hit “submit” on this article, I sen this advice to D. Here’s her insight was not what she had expected.

“After reading your reply, I am really glad I brought this up. I am probably letting myself feel pressured by the image of the ideal academic writer, who multitasks and finishes everything at least twice as fast as I do.

But I should only focus on one writing task at a time, that’s the way I actually can work, pushing myself to do otherwise is just the result of external pressure and it produces more stress, which I really do not need.”

Over to you!

What did you learn about your writing preference? Are you a multitasker? Do you have to be? 

Do you have a book in you? Find out and take first steps with my free email course “Start Your Book in 5 Days”.

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