Laura Howard: The Shocking Truth About Multi-Tasking


The Shocking Truth About Multi-Tasking

Happy Monday everyone! Today we have a guest that I've been hoping to score for MONTHS. 

Shannon O’Neil is the author half of Duolit: The Self-Publishing Team. Along with Toni (the geek half of the duo) she helps frazzled writers get focused with book marketing tips, motivational advice, and promotional ideas for introverts.

Picture it: Thousands of years ago, some cave woman was trying to start a fire to prepare dinner and realized she could let the wood catch on while she cut up the wild boar meat and tidied up the cave.

She invented multi-tasking.

(Thanks for setting the bar so high for the rest of us, cave woman, sheesh!)

By this point, it’s so natural to us we do it without even thinking – we write emails and pour apple juice at the same time. We add a new chapter to our work in progress while helping with homework and chopping vegetables for dinner. We Skype with our editor while updating Twitter and Facebook.

But is multi-tasking actually hurting your productivity?

Tell me if this ever happens to you:

  • You evaluate you To Do List at the end of the day and realize you finished 20% of five projects instead of 100% of just one project.

  • You get so frustrated (and stressed) with your lack of progress on one task that you give up on getting anything done for the whole day.

  • You start to miss a lot of things (important ones that just slipped your mind) or slip up and make silly mistakes because you weren’t paying close attention to what you were doing.

  • You don’t get the same enjoyment out of some activities that you used to really love.

If you’ve ever felt any of the above, multi-tasking (as you’re currently doing it) is not working.

Some things just can’t be accomplished in conjunction with other activities.

Personally, I can’t work on my WIP while doing anything else (except listening to music and even then it’s dicey).

I just really need 100% of my attention to go into what I’m writing or I’ll wind up wasting more time down the road going back and fixing stupid mistakes and re-writing sections that were sub-standard.

I also find it’s best to prioritize your To Do List and recognize that anything urgent has to come first and most often be tackled on its own to get it done quickly.

That doesn’t mean you should stop multi-tasking, however.

Until the day someone figures out how to add more than 24 hours to a day, multi-tasking will be a necessity.

But here are four tips to help you multi-task smarter:

1. Combine similar activities

When you go grocery shopping, you don’t pick up apples in the produce section, skip across the store for milk, and then come back to produce for lettuce, right?

That would be totally counterproductive.

Well, jumping from email to Twitter to blogging to Facebook is essentially the same thing.

So, wherever possible, you should combine similar activities so your brain doesn’t have to constantly shift gears from one mindset to another.

Put your social media cap on and tackle Twitter and Facebook simultaneously or couple your regular weekly blog update with a guest post you’re working on.

2. Write a Quick List.

Keep a running list of quick things you can do in between other tasks.

I am incredibly impatient and pretty much hate waiting for anything, but it’s part of life.

So I keep my quick list handy so when I’m stuck in traffic, waiting at the doctor’s office, or even standing in line at Wal-Mart (the worst) I can whip out my smartphone and cross something off my To Do list.

Twitter and Facebook are great quick tasks. So are some emails (thank you messages or quick questions). I’ve also caught up on blog posts from other authors/marketers I follow while waiting somewhere.

Make your list and you’ll have an immediate go-to for something you can accomplish in the midst of working on another task.


This one is super-important and helpful (hence the all caps).

I find email is the BIGGEST distraction when trying to get ANYTHING accomplished.

On my phone, on my computer, on my Kindle Fire it’s always there and I find myself compelled by forces beyond my control to compulsively check it every five to ten seconds.

Worse, I have pop-up notifications on my computer and phone that let me know as soon as an email comes in so I can easily be pulled away from something else when I see the notice.

In order to stay focused, I had to establish specific times to check my email and keep the program completely closed on my computer for the rest of the day.

Depending on how often you receive email, you could limit yourself to morning and evening email checks or maybe once an hour (at most). At all other times, your email program should be shut down.

I promise if you do this you’ll see a huge increase in your productivity (and probably a decrease in your stress level).

4. Know when to shift your focus.

Speaking of stress – as soon as you start to feel overwhelmed STOP multi-tasking and pick one thing on your list to complete.

I usually pick the easiest task and focus all of my attention on accomplishing that one thing. When it’s done and 

I can officially cross it off my list, I instantly feel better.

Build your momentum by working your easiest tasks back-to-back (but not simultaneously). Once you get three or four completed one after the other, you’ll feel your drive growing like a snowball and should be able to pick up multiple projects again.

Overall, the most important thing to remember when multi-tasking is this: Know yourself.

Know when you have the most energy to get things done and when your productivity starts to slip and you need to adjust your methods.

Use these tips to multi-task smarter and you’ll be feeling more productive in no time!


This post came at just the right time for me, but I want to know if you can multi-task?


  1. AMEN! I totally agree with this article & am grateful they're giving writers persmission to focus on multi-task marketing for a while (especially after a new release), but then devote their attention back to their true profession: writing books! Also, I really enjoyed DuoLit's book Building Your Fanbase. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, ladies!

    1. Thank you so much Diane! Glad you enjoyed the post and the book. We're all about making marketing as simple as possible so it doesn't have to eat up all of your writing time -- no one became an author so they could market books, right? :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing! I also needed this article as I have been complaining about multitasking for some time now. I am terrible at multitasking, though better at it than I think I am, out of necessity. I am looking forward to trying the tips and tricks here, and hopefully I will get back to "just writing" soon.

    1. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to keep all the plates spinning at once. Sometimes it's okay to just be really good at doing ONE thing -- and it's much less stressful, too! I hope implementing these tips will help you out! :-)

  3. No, I can't! That's one of the things I've learned in the past few years. I've switched to delegation and whittling my life down to the essentials instead of trying to do it all. Oh, and writing comes first. My life always runs better when I follow that rule.

    1. Delegation is definitely a key part of getting things done, too, good point Amy! And we are much happier authors (and subsequently happier people) when we put writing first. :-)

  4. Interesting Laura. Actually, according to honest to goodness scientific research - there is no such thing as multi-tasking. Your brain is actually switching back and forth between whatever it is you are attempting to do - which is why we are seldom as efficient when we attempt to do more than one thing at a time, than when we focus on the task at hand :-)

    1. Wow, that's really interesting Marquita! It makes sense though, that our brains can only really process one thing at a time. And usually in all that switching around is when we miss something important or just find ourselves getting more overwhelmed. Less multi-tasking probably would improve efficiency for all of us! :-)

  5. Great post and far truer than most of us want to admit. Thanks for the helpful tips to get us back on task at hand.


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