I like to joke that I no longer multitask at more than one thing at a time.
Related to that, I recognized years ago that a certain amount of monomaniacal focus was really useful for successfully completing a large project (such as a novel), but that being able to focus on more than just one thing was important to being more broadly successful.
This is all the more true if you want to accomplish more than just one thing (if you want to, for example, write a series of Wise Bread posts, write an occasional short story, and become physically fit, in addition to writing a novel). And yet, each one of those things requires focus, if I’m to accomplish it.
Basically, I need to be able to be monomaniacal about three or four things at a time.
Like most people, I find that I get caught up in whatever I’m doing, both on a minute-to-minute basis and a day-to-day basis.
On a minute-to-minute basis, when I’m writing something, and especially when the writing is going well, I want to press on. I feel this way, even though I know from both things others have said and personal experience, that it’s always best to stop in the middle of things—to leave a ragged edge, so that I return to the work with a clear entry point, already knowing how the next bit goes. Convincing myself to do this routinely would really help with being monomaniacal about multiple things: I’d be quicker at ending the first thing so I could switch my focus to the second, and I’d be quicker at resuming the first thing when I came back to it.
Just lately, my day-to-day monomaniacal focus has been on running. I don’t run every single day, but I’ve had to make it the first thing I do on the days that I do it, because otherwise it’s too hot to run. It’s been working very well for building fitness, but doing it first has tended to result in it preempting my writing.
I’m not quite sure why. Partly it’s because a good workout leaves me feeling tired. Partly it’s because a good workout leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished something (so I’m less driven to accomplish something more). Partly it’s just that I’m only at my best first thing in the day, so whatever I do first always ends up being the main thing I do that day.
Once there’s a break in the heat, I want to get back to writing first of all. If I can put that together with taking a fairly early break (leaving the work paused at a ragged edge) and then running (or walking or bicycling or lifting or doing taiji) and then returning for a second session of writing, I think I’ll be more productive at the writing without any loss of success at the fitness thing.
Exactly on topic for the above is Tobias Buckell’s latest meditations on designing a daily routine that provides both writing time and exercise time, while also allowing him to work on different aspects of his work at whatever time of day he’s most effective at that particular thing. Toby is a great writer, but he’s an absolute genius at measuring his productivity and then using that data to tweak his work habits.
I need to improve my own data collection. I already track my productivity at writing, but I need to get a bit more fine-grained about it and track productivity per work session (rather than per day). I’m sure I’m most productive in the first session of the day, but I don’t have any evidence, and I certainly don’t know how much less productive I am during the later sessions, nor to I know whether my productivity declines less if I work on non-fiction (or editing, or research).
The picture, by the way, has nothing to do with this post. I just thought the blog needed another picture, and I’d brought the camera to the garden today.