Perils of Multitasking

Edith Maxwell here.

Multitasking – sounds like it might be a useful thing in this society, right? Taking a call on the cell while you’re out getting exercise. Checking the author email account during a break at the day job. Listening to the news on NPR while you’re whipping up a chicken-broccoli stir fry for dinner.

But what happens when your brain is so full you start losing track? I’m in the middle of a new and demanding job where I am required to be in the office nine hours per day, five days per week. I’m in the middle of finishing writing my first Local Foods mystery (due September 1), filling out the many-page promotional questionnaire from the publisher, and sending in ideas for the cover. I’m in the middle of organizing promotion for my first Speaking of Mystery book that is due to be released in mid-September. I’m in the middle of getting the word out about a new anthology in which I have two stories. And I’m always in the middle of trying to fit in daily exercise, daily home-cooked dinners, daily keeping up with facebook and email, and daily (futilely) trying to get enough sleep, not to mention a little actual reading (and I don’t even watch television).

Sheesh! I mean, I love that my fiction career is taking off, and I idly plot out a three-year plan for when I’ll be able to retire from the day job and write fiction full time.

But in the meantime? I’m losing track. Specifically, I just received a disheartening email from a journal that had accepted one of my short stories to be published in June. Turns out I submitted the same story to the Burning Bridges anthology that was published last week. Ouch. I had promised the journal first serial rights. And then had apparently reneged on that. So the journal has rescinded its offer, as they rightly should. I sent them a very apologetic email, but that bridge has been burned, so to speak.

The thing is, in my memory I had submitted a different story to the journal. But let’s face it: I should have written every submission down. I should have opened a spreadsheet or at least created a table with name of story, date and recipient of submission, and so on. But I didn’t.

So that’s one thing I can do to get organized and not make this mistake again. Another thing I have done is shed many of my numerous volunteer responsibilities. I am also scrupulous about writing appointments and events down on my three (paper) calendars. And have taken to heart my younger son’s new wisdom and equanimity. I am resolved to take a deep breath and know

that it will all work out as it should. Stressing about everything helps nothing and no one. Now if I could only fit a half hour of meditation in there somewhere…

What about you? How do you manage your time, your commitments, your passions?

About Edith Maxwell

Agatha Award -winning author Edith Maxwell writes the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries (Beyond the Page) and short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries series and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries (both from Kensington Publishing). She lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook.
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19 Responses to Perils of Multitasking

  1. Edith, a good problem is still a problem, and it’s too bad about the doubled up story. But you certainly did raise a wise son! That’s good advice.
    Balancing a writing career and any other career is a real challenge. I struggle with it too and find my personal writing always gets put to the back burner, which is wrong-headed. So I’m watching for answers here, too.
    But I”m happy to see all of this good stuff happening for you!

  2. patremick says:

    Wow, I’m exhausted just reading this, but very excited for you and all the wonderful writing things taking up your time! I sometimes find that the more I take on, the more focused I become — because I’m forced not to waste time, but I’m also exhausted, which leads to its own set of problems!!

    • edithmaxwell says:

      Indeed, Pat. Weekends are such a reprieve, though. The ones I like best are the totally unscheduled ones.

  3. CK says:

    First of all, congratulations on all of the wonderful things causing the multitasking issue! But I agree–it can be overwhelming to manage everything these says, especially with the demands of social media added into the mix. I’m still trying to use the old paper to-do list but it doesn’t completely work somehow. If you figure something out, please let us know!

    • edithmaxwell says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Cynthia. I use paper lists, too. There’s something so essentially satisfying about crossing something off.

  4. AnnOxford says:

    I am dizzied by all you do, Edith. But I picture you doing it all with grace. We all must remember your son’s words and also breathe in the light, as the light makes everything clear!

  5. Linda R says:

    Edith, you have some wonderful times ahead of you. I wish I had half your energy to keep up with daily commitments!

  6. Congratulations on all your accomplishments! I echo your son’s advice–step back and take several deep breaths.

  7. edithmaxwell says:

    Thanks so much, Joanne. It’s truly the best counsel.

  8. Edith,
    I don’t know how you manage to work full-time AND write novels. I barely have enough time to write, write guest blogs, and carry out my various responsibilities and chores that keep me constantly busy. I think finding that half hour to meditate regardless of how busy you are is a good idea.

  9. Edith Goldman says:

    I have found many of the solutions you did, Edith. The hardest was stopping (and remaining firm about it) all my volunteer activities. I keep _everything _ on my electronic calendar because I can access it thru my tablet, phone and computer, and it shows me both work and private commitments. I’m very happy good things are happening for you and wish you all the best.
    Edith G.

    • edithmaxwell says:

      Thanks so much, fellow Edith. It is hard to stop volunteer stuff, but I’m down to just two manageable jobs that require my time only monthly for a few hours.

  10. Mo Walsh says:

    I’ve been really working on this for a year and haven’t found a solution yet, but I have developed a few principles. 1. Sleep is important. I rarely pull late-late or all-nighters now. 2. I try to get rid of what my dad called “the shoulds”–things I do only because I think I should do them. Some I may have to do anyway, but home-cooked meals every day, for example, are not one of them as long as everyone is eating a healthful variety each week. 3. Deadlines are good for me and, like Pat, I sometimes focus better when I have to schedule a lot of things. 4. Exercise is important. This I learned by skipping the gym for two months “to catch up.” Bad mistake.

    I haven’t done a lot of new writing this year, but I am getting rid of some of those old projects that were holding me back. And I learned that most of the time when I have conflicting activities, I can choose the one I want to do and the world doesn’t end. And sometimes when I have a bunch of things to do, the best thing is to get away from all of them for a while and recharge my mental energy. This summer is for “Project Me.”

    Good luck, Edith, finding your balance. And congratulations on all your achievements!

    • edithmaxwell says:

      Awesome advice, Mo. Yes, never skimp on exercise. It’s one of the keys to mental health. I also sometimes declare “bankruptcy” on all my yahoo list digests when I’ve been away and just delete them.

  11. Nancy Gardner says:

    A great book that makes the same point about the ills of multitasking is ORGANIZE YOUR MIND, ORGANIZE YOUR LIFE:Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore.

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