I confess that I am not as good as I should be at following the lessons of the inefficiency of multitasking. It’s now well-known that switching quickly between tasks usually wastes time and effort as your brain gets dragged down by switching between tasks but tricks itself into thinking it’s doing better than it is. Still, though, it’s often necessary to jam together tasks due to simple scheduling, as you wait on others to return work; work around calls and Zooms; and deal with other practical realities. And in many cases, particularly if you’re just switching between emails and calls, any efficiency loss is probably outweighed by the scheduling benefits, meaning you get more done in the end.
But while switching through calls and emails on a topic is one thing, I find that falls apart if I try to switch between substantive writing and other things. It’s probably something about the difference between slow and quick thinking, but whatever it is, I find the switching doesn’t work. Good writing usually means having to sit down and get deep into thinking about a subject. And on the other side, once you get into writing, the thoughts tend to start flowing. Trying to switch back and forth turns into a real mess. On the one hand you’re not writing as quickly as you could because you’re distracted by other things, and, on the other, you’re not doing those remaining things well because you inevitably have thoughts about the writing bouncing through your head.
When writing, then, it’s best to plan and separate out your time for writing and your time for doing other things. That way, you can best make use of your time and energy and get both your best writing done and deal with the rest of what you may have to do. Setting boundaries is important to make this work: you should plan to make sure that you set aside time to write without interruption, and then hold yourself to that time. Otherwise, if you ignore the schedule, you’ll miss the point and end up multitasking whether you intended to or not.
So, start this coming week by planning and setting ahead time for your writing and stick to it. With discipline, you can improve your efficiency, get more done, and get better writing done to boot.
Matthew W. Schmidt has represented and counseled clients at all stages of litigation and in numerous matters including insider trading, fiduciary duty, antitrust law, and civil RICO. He is a partner at the trial and investigations law firm Balestriere Fariello in New York, where he and his colleagues represent domestic and international clients in litigation, arbitration, appeals, and investigations. You can reach him by email at [email protected].