| David Gane

I Suck at Multitasking

On Ang’s post Time’s Up, she talked about the struggle that occurs between work life and writing life. This year, more than before, she found herself worn out, needing to time to recuperate before switching from one mode to the next.

I’ve been finding a similar challenge lately.

I have no real job at the moment—I don’t get up and go to work from 9-5. Yet, this doesn’t mean I’m not busy—at any given time of day, I might be a writer, a stay at home dad, a handyman for my wife, a teacher, or a script consultant. As well, I’m constantly working on the backend of Counios and Gane and Swift, Flowing, tweaking the website, thinking about the path and direction of the writing and the business, and doing actual administrative work. I also think it's important to mention that I also include time for walking the dog, running, exercising, and reading. I always say I am the busiest non-paid person I know.

The trouble for me happens when I need to switch between some these roles.

Time, Energy, and Focus

Lately, I’ve been doing some contract work on some critical reviews on African films (another job). For me, this involves watching the films, learning about the filmmakers, getting an understanding of the country they are from (such as Ethiopia, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea), the political situation in which the film takes place, and then reviewing any critical papers on the films, all before I put one word down on paper. All of this requires time, energy, and focus, and it’s never simple or quick.

I find the same thing happens with teaching. Each week, not only do I need to think about the class, what needs to happen, and where the students are at and where they need to go, but I also need prep the class, read the scripts, and make notes and mark things. Again, it takes time, energy, and focus.

Switching tasks requires at least a day and I find it hard to get my brain up to the task because it requires a level of mental processing that has nothing do with actual fingers on the keys working ahead, but reimagining the structural path of the writing.

Multitasking is BS

Also, the additional challenge is that I don't believe in multitasking. Back in the day, I was scolded at a job for not knowing how to do it, which really sucks, since recent studies say we may not be very good at it.

A Stanford study in 2009 revealed that multitaskers use their brain less effectively, while a French study in 2010 by neuroscientists said that taking on more than two tasks increases the chance of mistakes. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine found people took an average of twenty-five minutes to recover after being interrupted at their work by emails or phone calls. Finally, researchers also found that multitasking not only slows you down, but also lowers your IQ.

I don’t believe this is a blanket declaration—I know there’s some of you who probably want to argue—but I don’t really care. I just know what I’m capable of and doing multiple things at once isn’t one of them.

Switching Between Tasks

For me, even moving from similar tasks, like writing African film reviews and working on our upcoming novels, is not easy. Although both involve writing, as well as thinking, crafting, and editing, the difference in style, topic, and form requires an entirely different set of requirements for my brain.

When I was teaching, my work on the novel ground to a halt. I couldn’t worry about another person’s writing, as well as what I was teaching next week, and still try to juggle all the bits of our story in my head at the same time.

Even this blog grinds to a halt when I am not in story-writing mode, because most of it feeds off the experiences of writing fiction with Ang, and not the solitary thoughts on, say, how the African diaspora affects an Ethiopian director’s style and form.

Don’t Quit the Day Job

The obvious solution to all of this is to say “no” to more work—but both Ang and I need to balance the other work to pay the bills.

At the moment, Counios and Gane isn’t making Ang and I money. The book isn’t released yet and even then (unless all of you wonderful readers shout it from the rooftops and rally all of your friends to buy a copy), we won’t be able to focus solely on the writing until somewhere between the third or seventh book.

So, the real solution seems to go against everything I’ve just said: keep doing multiple jobs at the same time, struggle to find a balance, keep saying “yes” to jobs that come our way.

What I fear is that Ang and I are built this way; when our writing comes of age and earns its own keep, we’ll add new tasks to keep ourselves busy beyond it. We chronically enjoy working and keeping busy. One job will give way to bigger and bigger ones.

And I know a challenge like that doesn’t really bother me.

Leave a comment