Multitasking is the opportunity to mess up more than one thing at a time. —Anonymous
I had a meltdown. I’m not proud of it. It happens every summer, no matter how much I plan. School ends, summer begins, and my routine goes to the dogs. This year, I vowed it would be different. Yes, the kids would be home. Yes, I had more work than usual. But I had a plan that would make it possible for me to write, exercise, work, and spend time with my spouse and children.
By the end of the first day I was in tears, searching online for summer boarding schools. In the moments between dogs and children puking, the basement flooding, and my email program crashing, I accomplished no work. Words written: zero. Pages edited: zero. Miles walked: well, quite a few, if you count running up and down stairs with buckets and sponges.
In retrospect, this experience gave me something more valuable than writing time: a lesson in conflicting goals. When we set multiple goals that conflict with each other, we don’t make much progress on any of them. So my goals to write, exercise, edit, and take care of kids all in the same, precious chunk of time was a set up for failure. I couldn’t write or edit with the distraction of my kids coming in every few minutes. I also couldn’t attend to my kids while I was trying to write and edit. The result of trying to achieve multiple goals at once? Frustration.
What’s the solution? Put on your scientist hat and gather the data from your life:
+What’s your primary goal (you know, the one writing project you want or need to get done no matter what).
+What goals might conflict with this goal? (Pro Tip: In the movies, writers face serious, sometimes life-threatening conflicts when they work: drinking, drugs, kidnapping. In real life, the things that interrupt our writing goals are usually good stuff. It’s not a choice between writing and watching reality television all day. It’s usually a choice between writing and taking care of a sick friend or writing and earning an income. Keep that in mind as you review your life.) Look at:
*Other goals. Does your primary goal compete with other goals in your life? For example, the goals of expanding a business and writing a novel conflict with each other because both take an extraordinary amount of time and energy. Sometimes writers sabotage their success by having too many writing projects going at once. What goal(s) do you need to drop to accomplish your primary goal?
*Time. Does your primary goal compete with your other time commitments? My goals of writing and exercising first thing in the morning conflict with each other because they occupy the same time slot. What can you do to create time to work on your primary goal? Schedule the time.
*Distractions. What external distractions consistently interrupt you when you are working on your primary goal? How can you create the space you need to work on your goal?
+If possible, let go of the goals, commitments, and other distractions that interfere with achieving your primary goal.
Try this: Schedule a small amount of dedicated time each day or week to work on your writing goal. If writing twenty minutes a day conflicts with your other goals, then try writing for fifteen or even five minutes a day. (Don’t forget the small step method! Five minutes a day can yield big results!) Then make this time sacred: no distractions.
Epilogue: Yes, I failed at multitasking, big time. Instead of fighting with the summer schedule, I decided to live with it. I used the process above and discovered I really wanted to work on revising my novel. I also learned that my only guaranteed distraction free time was early in the morning before anyone else in the house got up. Now I’m working on the novel for 20-30 minutes a day. I may move at the pace of a turtle, but I’m happy to be moving forward.
Your turn: What have you done to eliminate conflicting goals? How has it helped you move forward? Share your wisdom in the comments section below!