Monday, November 16, 2015

One Word At A Time

Have you ever noticed at the end of a hectic work day that somehow, despite putting in all the time and energy, you still didn’t get anything done? Not on your important projects, anyway.

And isn’t ironic that all these gadgets that are supposed to save us time only suck more of it from our lives.

Emails. Internet. Phone calls. Interruptions.

These daily distractions hold back progress on bigger projects and goals.

But it’s not as though we can suddenly shirk our duties or toss our phones into the nearest river.

This past June, following UtopIA Con, I was in the Nashville, TN airport waiting for my flight back to WA when I came across this book titled “singletasking” by Devora Zack in the bookshop across from my gate.

Being that I’m notoriously bad at time management, I bought the book and began reading it at once, determined that by the time I reached home I’d have a clear idea of how to be more productive … which, as it turned out, I did.

I make my living writing commercial fiction. But as an indie author, I wear many hats. I’m customer service to readers; decision maker when it comes to hiring editors, cover designers, and narrators for the audiobooks. I’m a beta reader for colleagues. I plan my advertising and do most of my own marketing. Frustratingly enough, it eats away at the actual writing time.

I kept thinking, if only I had more time, but it turned out that all I needed to do, all anyone really needs to do, is manage it properly, and that can be done most efficiently through singletasking vs. juggling multiple tasks and responding to things as they arise.

Zack’s book explains that what we conversationally call multitasking is technically task-switching—moving rapidly and ineffectively from one task to another and back again.

For example: I begin my day with good intentions. I’ll be working on my novel, tapping away, then I check my email, shoot a couple answers back, jump over to Facebook to check in with my groups, post a picture on Instagram, respond to comments and messages … and realize half the day is already gone and I’ve written only one paragraph.
I find it easy to get distracted, especially on the Washington State Ferry. ;-)

Efforts to multitask require the brain to switch focus extremely quickly, in less than a tenth of a second. These delays and losses of concentration add up to a poor use of time and drain our brainpower.

Multitasking is not only inefficient, it is neurologically impossible.

As any neighborhood neuroscientist will attest, the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. 

When we task-switch, in the interest of trying to jam pack all we can into any given day, all we’re really doing is interrupting our flow state.

Singletasking, on the other hand, requires committing to your choices. Immersing yourself in one thing at a time.

It allows you to enter a Flow State where you become fully engaged in a task.

This doesn’t mean you have to FINISH the task. (I wish I could write a novel in one sitting.) It just means dedicating a session of time to your designated project.
Cosmo joining me in a Flow State work session.

Back in June, I put singletasking to the test. At that time, the next book in my vampire hunter series was four months behind schedule. Writing needed to be my top priority. But I was having difficulty giving it my undivided attention with the constant demands of administrative tasks.

I made writing only hours in the morning – when my brain is most alert.

During this time, I didn’t check email, I didn’t go online, I didn’t respond to calls or texts. My writing time was scheduled, and by respecting that designated time, a couple thousand words a day quickly turned into a novel (see below). :D

I saved promotion for the later part of the afternoon and likewise had designated time slots for answering emails and messages. The end result being that the most important tasks were accomplished without falling behind on promotion and other duties.

Multitasking (which you now know is really switch-tasking) means living in a state of endless distraction.

Singletasking, on the other hand, means being here, now, immersing yourself in one thing at a time. It is characterized by high energy and sharp focus. It boosts creativity and confidence, yielding exceptional results.

I encourage everyone reading this to try singletasking at work and/or at home and watch as you get more done one thing (or in a writer's case, one WORD) at a time.

With focus and simplicity, you can move mountains … or, better yet, finish your next book.


For more writing tips and fun visit Cosmo and me on Instagram. ;-)


  1. This is exactly what my problem is when I am in the middle of a project, whether at work or at home, I find myself totally distracted and unsatisfied when I do not accomplish the tasks I set out to do. I am going to start keeping a calendar and putting on it each day a reasonable goal I will accomplish, I am taking the words "hope to accomplish" out of my vocabulary with the idea that if I stop thinking about cutting myself some slack I will continue to accomplish my set goals instead of making excuses for not getting things done.

    1. I like your plan to remove the words "hope to accomplish" from your vocabulary, Susan. Mine is "try." Makes me think of Yoda. "Do or do not. There is no try."