Multitasking: Good or bad for writers?


My name is Dana K and I am a multitasker.

I do try to keep it under control, but yesterday afternoon I realized I was over-working my “command center” and likely my neurons.

Multitasking desk Copyright Dana K Cassell

But is multitasking the “disease” some experts rail against? It wasn’t too many years ago when time management gurus were actually encouraging multitasking as a means to getting more done. Some companies even expected employees to work two or more tasks simultaneously.

That thinking appears to be changing, as Mike Gardner, “The Time Doctor,” notes in his free e-book, 20 Time Management Tips:

For years, experts have been touting the benefits of ‘multitasking’ – praising those people who can accomplish ten different things at the same time. What has been discovered recently, however, is multitasking very often diminishes the quality of the work, even though it may be finished before a deadline.

So it appears that multitasking may, indeed, allow us to get more done in any allotted time – and cross more items off our to-do list – but it’s likely the quality of our writing will suffer from it.

Is multitasking really generational or across all ages?

In his Nova article, Is Multitasking Bad For Us?, Brandom Keim suggests multitasking might be more natural among the younger set raised with technology:

For people of a certain age – well, okay, for myself, but I suspect I’m not alone – multitasking is something done capably though not comfortably. We juggle the multiple screens, the simultaneous text messages and emails and other momentary claims to attention, yet it never quite feels right.

Multitasking woman

Image courtesy of Pong /

Interesting thought, but I’m not sure it has anything to do with one’s age. I would argue that I am doing more multitasking today than I ever did a few decades ago. With no studies to base it on – solely from gut feeling and looking back – I suspect it has more to do with the technology itself.

Look around us; we have personal computers, e-tablets, and smart phones, all of which enable people to do several things at once.

I believe I do more multitasking today than in years past simply because technology makes it possible to do more things at once.

Added to that, because I have embraced technology, I have unwittingly ramped up the multitasking alongside it.

Multitasking may not even exist – in the brain, at least

In an interesting Buffer Blog post, Leo Widrich explains how our brains can’t multitask at all:

If we have lunch, 5 Facebook chat windows open and also try to send off an email, it isn’t that our brain focuses on all these activities at the same time.

Instead, multitasking splits the brain. It creates something researchers have called spotlights. So all your brain is doing is to frantically switch between the activity of eating, to writing an email, to answering chat conversations.

Multitasking need not be an always or never choice

Our challenge as writers, then, might be to pick and choose when and what we multitask. Some tasks are less suitable for multitasking than others. Even with my inveterate multitasking habit, I recognize that during the creative process – while actually writing or planning a project – my attention must be focused on that project. And when I don’t focus during that time, the project seems to take longer to complete. Plus, as Mike Gardner says above, the finished piece may not be the best it could be.

For those “creative sessions,” I need to get back to my “90-minute solution,” described in an earlier post, Working that new project into your schedule.

But not all tasks on my to-do list require full attention – in fact, I might argue that skimming much of the email I receive is better done while also listening to a Webinar or a baseball game. With my attention divided, I am more likely to move on quickly from the less important, either deleting or moving to a “later” folder. When giving the less important (meaning no prompt action required or little expected value) full attention, I catch myself spending and wasting more time reading it.

When not to multitask – when it might work

Better off NOT multitasking:

  • during the actual writing process – more important to get into the “creative flow” focus can generate
  • working with numbers, such as a preparing a tax return or analyzing marketing results – The potential for making mistakes increases when our attention is divided. And nothing jumbles time management worse than having to add time to correct mistakes.
  • emailing clients and editors – Embarrassing mistakes can cost you an assignment.

When to utilize multitasking:

  • exercising and watching TV or a webinar replay
  • stretching while being placed on hold during those interminable support calls
  • flipping through magazines or catalogs while talking on the phone

Good news among all these multitasking negativities – Widrich says having music on while working away is OK:

In the case of music, it’s a little different. We have a special part of our brain for music, so we can listen to music while we do other things.

Thank goodness!! Nothing else going on except keyboard clicks and I would surely go bonkers. But music vs noise vs quiet and creativity is fodder for a future post – need to focus on this one 🙂

Until that post, please share your thoughts below – do you ever multitask? If so, what tasks work well together for you? Do you have email or chat or text messaging on while you’re writing – or editing – or dealing with admin tasks? What would you add to our “When to …” or “When not to …” multitask lists?

About Dana K Cassell

Hi, and welcome to our Network. I'm Dana Cassell and am the one writing most of the posts on this blog. I've been in this writing/editing business for way longer than I care to admit. My goal here is to provide you with useful insights from our professional members and from my own experience - to help you achieve your own success, grow your editorial business, and publish successful and worthy books,


  1. Mike Gardner, The Time Doctor, has a useful post on Multitasking that you should find useful —

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