Four Books At Once: Multitasking Ain’t For Sissies

MultitaskingThis has been an odd week in an odd profession. Every day I’ve been frantically multitasking, and my desk shows it. (Don’t worry, the next line on my ridiculous to-do list says “For heaven’s sake clean off your desk!”)

Four different books are the culprits. First there’s From Glowing Embers. From Glowing Embers is now free for readers everywhere. I recently advertised that fact at BookBub and the results were heartwarming. Keeping track of sales has been delightful.

Then there’s my “new idea” which I sent to my editor several weeks ago. And while the idea and title have gotten a preliminary nod, I’m waiting for editorial notes and final acceptance. Nevertheless that hasn’t stopped me from working on the book in my head. I’ve spent hours researching California immigrant groups and I’ve reconsidered names, something that always helps clarify who my characters are.

Of course I can’t forget When We Were Sisters, which debuts in June. I’ve mailed dozens of copies of the uncorrected proofs to my Krewe of Review, so they’ll have plenty of time to read the book before reviews go up. Just as exciting I’ve been working on an “extra” connected to the novel which I’ll send to readers on my mailing list as a thank you for subscribing. Nobody can say this job is boring.

Finally, I’ve spent the past two weeks revising another of my original romances, Dragonslayer. I wrote about Dragonslayer here last week, and this week I finished the edits and saw the first peek at cover mock ups. Now I have to write new back matter, figure out a blurb for the bookstores, figure out keywords etc. Dragonslayer is here to stay for a while.

Quite truthfully there have been times this week when I’ve forgotten which book I’m working on. I’ve also felt strung out, unable to sleep well because of images and ideas cascading through my mind. As you might guess lack of sleep is the enemy of creativity.

None of this is actually a surprise. Multitasking is  a myth. Neuroscience research tells us we are incapable of working on more than one thing at a time. We’re simply starting and stopping quickly, a process which isn’t particularly efficient because it takes seconds in between tasks.

NPR’s Science Friday recently addressed this in an interview with Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford. Multitasking is a fact of life at college. The top 25 percent of Stanford students are using four or more media at one time whenever they’re using media. Nass says that studies have shown that people who multitask frequently are less capable of “filtering out irrelevancies.” They are chronically distracted.

Well, yeah. . .

Does constant distraction affect creativity? Nass hypothesizes that it does, because creative people take in lots of information and use it to find interesting and unusual connections. But if we are chronically distracted, that kind of deeper thinking is less likely.

Can multitasking junkies be cured?

There are lots of suggestions on the web. Try googling “multitasking cure.” Here are a few ideas I gleaned from the results, all of which sound promising to me:

  • List all your tasks (ongoing) and projects (with a set beginning and end) and prioritize.
  • Ask yourself why multitasking is so seductive and what are healthier ways you can get the same “rush.”
  • Choose one thing you can accomplish and schedule uninterrupted time to finish it. Then, if you have time, choose another.
  • Schedule social media and stick to the time you’ve allotted.
  • Start with the job you like least and get it over with so you won’t procrastinate later.
  • Cut down on your use of “devices.”

Right now, on that cluttered desk, I see my Kindle, my iPad, my iPhone and two computer screens along with stacks of paper. Surely I can start by clearing away the mess and the gadgets. And if I haven’t fatally retrained my brain “not” to concentrate, I can begin putting my projects and tasks in order and proceed calmly through my list.

I think it’s time to try. How about you? How are you addressing multitasking in your own life?


  1. Clara Watt on March 2, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I read Glowing Embers and purchased the other books in the series. I haven’t read them yet. I know I will not be disappointed when I read them.

    • Emilie Richards on March 2, 2016 at 5:53 pm

      I hope you enjoy them all, Clara.

  2. Kate on March 2, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    I think that being a mom trains women in multitasking. We get lots of practice.
    However, I do find a tidy workspace makes it much easier to focus.

    • Emilie Richards on March 2, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Indeed it does. Starting tomorrow.

  3. Laraine Croall on March 2, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    I have always organized my work as in the workplace I did not like clutter. Today some of my students handed in their portfolios and I graded them. The others knew that you could today but chose not to finish the work and then put the work in order on the rubrics that was given to them the first day of class. Being a mother does help with organization for some but for others not so much. It is when you become distracted by things around you that helps to lead you to being frustrated and overwhelmed with what needs to be done. My students can not leave their cell phones out of their sight. This does not apply to me as much. Social media is great but sometimes we put too much emphasis on it. Enjoyed the item you wrote about the study. Made me stop and think. Liked the beginnings on the paragraphs in bold as it helped to make me concentrate. Have enjoyed being in the group and reading the comments from all

    • Emilie Richards on March 3, 2016 at 9:10 am

      Yes, cell phones have added an entirely new wrinkle to the lives of teenagers, and not always a good one. Which is actually a much kinder way of saying what I really believe, that I’m not sure I would have lived through my teen years if I’d had one.

      • Jayne on March 9, 2016 at 8:16 pm

        Emilie — I totally agree that I am glad not to have had to have a cell phone attached to my hand at all times as my granddaughters do. I had enough with organizations, school classes, and dating without all of the “viral frenzy”!!

  4. Valerie on March 2, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Between my ADD and a few other mental health issues, multi-tasking is just a “normal” thing for me. It’s actually better for me to go back and forth on several tasks than to just be focused on one at a time.

    The only two things I can get completely engrossed in for hours are reading and painting ceramics. Even when I’m doing photography, I get easily sidetracked with other things. I’ve learned to just deal with it and find ways to make things work.

    • Emilie Richards on March 3, 2016 at 9:13 am

      I’ve been convinced for a while that I have ADD, but so do many of my writer friends. It can “help” to spin ideas into stories because not “focusing” is part of creativity, but it certainly makes it a lot harder to focus and get the work done when we need to. It sounds like you’ve learned how to cope and move through it in a way that works for you.

  5. Nancy on March 2, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    I realize some people can work easily among chaos….papers all over their desk in total disarray, but that would drive me crazy. Being married for almost 45 years to a man who is habitually a neat freak, I’ve picked up his habits, and can’t accomplish much if my desk is cluttered.

    As for multitasking, I can do a couple of things at a time, but I find my best solution for getting tasks done is to draw up a “To Do” list, which I then prioritize. As I cross off items, I find I feel a lot of satisfaction.

    I love how you’ve set up your blog, bolding your first sentence. It sets each paragraph apart for easier reading. Also, adding a picture makes it visually interesting.

    So, have you organized your desk???

  6. Kathryn Trask on March 2, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    I’ve always said I can’t multitask! However I can get myself tied up in knots with lists going around in my head. Like make sure I get all those review books read, join in with this 100 blocks 2016 in quilting, order wood for the winter, do some gardening. Comment… and so it goes on. I love the suggestions you give so taking note of them!
    So pleased to hear BookBub has worked out for you.

    • Emilie Richards on March 3, 2016 at 9:15 am

      I love WorkFlowy, which helps me keep track of what I need to do and when to do it. I blogged about it months ago and still use it. Without it I think I would consistently fall behind. I bet you’ve found something similar to keep all these things straight.

  7. Lynn Ross on March 2, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    When I first heard of multi-tasking back in the day, it meant you could work on more than one project at once. To me that meant work on one project a while, then change to another project, etc. In later years before I retired, I discovered it really meant more than one task at a time. When I told my supervisor that it was impossible, she argued with me. Yet she was working on a grant at 2:00 a.m., along with another project, and the deadline was 7:00 a.m., and you know how exact a grant application must be, and………. Lo and behold, she managed to delete the entire thing. All her work down the drain. She threw herself on her boss’ mercy, and he managed to get an extension, which is unheard of. When I asked if she was ill when I came in to work, she said that she hadn’t been to bed, and told me her sad tale. I bit my tongue. The last I heard, she still has that job. Incidentally, now that most of my private business is done at my computer desk, my desk looks very much like yours. When I was still working outside the home, my desk had to be neat, or I couldn’t function. *sigh*

    • Emilie Richards on March 3, 2016 at 9:16 am

      A nightmare scenario, Lynn. Lack of sleep will do that to you. But what a horror story for her.

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