My Secret to Multitasking

“Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.” –Pauli Exclusion Principle


In this day and age, I can’t think of a single person I know who doesn’t have many things to juggle during their day. We are surrounded by tasks and people that make a variety of demands on us. That especially becomes hard for authors, who need a semblance of peace and quiet to be able to put words–valid, meaningful words–on paper.

Two compliments I have received in the last few years are: (1) that I am a great multitasker; and (2) that I am a very fast writer. I will give you my secret for both.

First, two truths about multitasking:

1. It’s been scientifically proven that the brain cannot focus on more than one thing at once. We actually ending up shifting our focus from one responsibility to another, which really hurts our ability to focus.

2. Juggling three things is much easier to juggle than 12 things.

With those in mind, my approach when I get to work is to concentrate on getting the little things cleared off my desk as quickly as possible. What helps me a great deal–and occasionally comes back to bite me–is that I am a big-picture generalist, and not a detail person. My wife is a very linear, detail person. She is slow, but is very thorough. I am just the opposite. I get out the chainsaw, rather than the chisel, and go to work. I get small things out of the way, and that gives me time and mental energy to focus on the bigger things.

Like I said above in #1, you’re not thinking about two things when you multitask; you’re jumping back and forth from one thing to another.

Regarding my speed: it comes down to one thing. I need to know what I am going to write before I write it. My mentor Arthur Milward used to say that he wrote a short story, word for word, in his head before it every went on paper. I don’t go that far, although I wish I had that ability. What I do it outline copiously. Outlining not only develops a cogent strategy for the storyline, it helps me see it in my head. And seeing it there first is critical to me.

Well, that’s all for today. I have to run to class and teach. After that, I have a meeting, then another meeting….

My life in multitasking land.