When it comes to writing, I’m not a very good multi-tasker. I tend to get obsessive over whatever piece of work I’m dealing with at the time and can find it very hard to switch between several uncompleted projects. Yet, in the past couple of weeks I have started this blog, two short stories and am planning the outline for a novel. I realize that if I stand a chance of committing to any of these activities in the long term I’m going to need a strategy for dealing with multiple projects.
I can imagine that I’m not the only one who struggles with this issue. Time is precious, especially if you have a day job and a family and write only in your spare time. So with the help of the Google (and taking some inspiration from my day job where I frequently juggle several tasks at once) I’ve identified some top tips for successful management of multiple writing projects which I’d like to share with you today.
# Top Tip 1: Write it Down.
No doubt you’ve heard this one before but it bears repeating. Get yourself a notebook. Get a fancy one if you must and keep it with you at all times. Your mind is a fickle friend who will fill your thoughts with the best ideas in the world but will file them away in the trash folder the minute you move onto something else. If you don’t have time to deal your nagging inspiration there and then your notebook will be your Godsend. Keep it with you to jot down just enough so that you can rescue your great idea from the trashcan when you have the time. This is about making your inspiration work for you and to your schedule. Actually, I keep two notebooks, one that sits on my bedside table and one that goes in my handbag.
# Top Tip 2: Focus.
This tip might at first appear contradictory but being able to focus when you’re juggling several things at once is crucial to success. The late Steve Jobs said that ‘Focus is about saying no” and they truly are words to live by. When you are working on several projects at once, you have to learn how to stay focused on whatever you are doing right at that moment. If you are prepping the outline for your novel then you are prepping the outline for your novel and not thinking about how your latest short story should end. If thoughts about other projects pop into your head, see Top Tip 1.
Focusing can also mean making the difficult decision to abandon things that just aren’t working. You might have a book project, several short stories, some poetry, some blog posts etc etc and if they are all demanding your time then you have to accept that it will either take much longer to complete any one of these tasks or the quality of your work will suffer. Focus, then, is about deciding what really matters, recognizing when a project is not bringing you any value and having the strength to let it go.
# Top Tip 3: Make a List and use the Pomodoro Technique.
So when you have a ton of different projects on the go, the one thing you want to be is productive. You’re a busy person and don’t have the time to procrastinate. Problem is, if you are overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what you need to achieve, then the little monkey inside your head claps his tiny cymbals together and asks you if there is anything good on YouTube. Before you know it you’ve spent three hours finding your way to the weird part of the internet but at least you now know what Game of Thrones character you are and that John Lennon is alive and well and living in Malta.
There are a ton of great websites out there (e.g. LifeHacker) with brilliant tips to improve your productivity but I’ve found that there are two techniques that work well for me – list making and Pomodoro. I write a list in a very specific way. Each item on the list will be accomplishable within a day (or two at most) and will be written using a verb (i.e as I cross items off my list I can clearly state that I have done something). This way I can see exactly what needs to be done but, more importantly, I get that lovely feeling of satisfaction as I cross things off the list.
The Pomodoro technique has been well illustrated on many other websites but in brief it is about breaking down your workload into 20-25 minutes chunks with short 5 minute breaks in between sessions. This helps with Top Tip 2 but also allows you to put a time limit on the different task that you’ve set for yourself. I strongly recommend it for anyone who has trouble with procrastinating (which of course is everyone right?).
# The Lesser Spotted Tip: Ignore your Inner Critic – He’s a Bastard.
This is a tough one because my inner critic is a bastard and he’s loud too. At some point you’ll get that sinking punch in the gut feeling that what your doing is useless, pointless and that everyone is going to laugh at you. But you have to ignore the inner critic because if you give up, he wins and you’ll never get to know that he was full of it.
# A Tipple for the Road: In Praise of the Multi-Project
This last point is not so much a tip so much as it is a note of gratitude towards the multi-project workload. Generally, I feel that working on several things at once sucks a minty one. I’d prefer a nice linear factory model where I produce one piece of work at a time. Except that’s not reality and, since I have to live in the real world, the multi-project and I must learn to get along. So here it is – having multiple projects may well mean no more writers block. If you get stuck on one project you can move on to something else until the problem dislodges itself. This is a big plus.
So how about you? Have you got any great tips for working on several projects at once? Do you excel at spinning plates?