Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Myth & Management of the Multitasking Writer

by Henry McLaughlin @RiverbendSagas

When I was in public service and in ministry work, especially involved in hiring, it seemed every job description called for the ability to multitask. And every candidate listed multitasking as one of their strengths if not their greatest strength.

Watching how others and I performed our job functions over the last too large number of years, I’ve learned we can really do only one thing at a time if we want it done well. Multitasking is really knowing the status of where everything else on our plate is so we can quickly pick it up when we get back to it.

This requires the ability to manage our own behavior and to allocate our time.

We will make time for things that are important to us.

A To Do list is helpful but I’ve found it’s only a beginning. I need to do two things with my list.

One, I need to prioritize it. Not everything on it is equally important. Not everything on it needs to be done by me or, perhaps, at all.

As a self-employed writer, my writing myst be
my highest priority on any To Do list.
As a self-employed writer, my writing must be my highest priority on any To Do list. And it is. Priority items are those things that must be done. My writing is number one. Paying the bills is another priority item. I mark the priority items with a star or the letter A or something similar.

The next level of priority are those items that are necessary but don’t cross the threshold to highest priority. These are marked with the letter B.

The items of lowest importance are those that are not crucial—you guessed—they get the letter C. Over the years I’ve learned someone else can either do these or they don’t need to be done at all.

When I worked with a staff, I looked to see which tasks could be delegated to others. Being a one-person organization now, I am the staff. Focusing on the A’s first is more important than ever.

Next I take my now-prioritized To Do list is put the items on my calendar. If I don’t block out time, they won’t get done or they’ll be done too late.

The highest priorities get scheduled first. Recently my wife and I made the decision to adjust my schedule to allow for what we call a Honey Day—a day for us to do things together. It maybe a project around the house, or errands, or something fun.

The second priorities are scheduled next and they may spill over into next week or later depending on the time I have available.

The lowest priorities don’t get scheduled but I have the list nearby if I find some time to work on them.

At the end of the day, I review the list and reschedule or adjust as necessary.

What tools have you found helpful to keep yourself on track and get stuff done?


Henry’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest. 

He serves as Associate Director of North Texas Christian Writers. 

Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers. 

Connect with Henry on his blogTwitter and Facebook.


  1. Henry, I love that you have a Honey day. I need to do that. I have a daily schedule but during the summer it is hard to abide by it. My son is home and needs most of my attention. Creating a new schedule is at the top of my list. I wake around 5am. Time with God is my first priority every morning. I try to get all my social media work done by 7am. Thank you for sharing this great advice.

    1. Thanks for this, Henry. Multi-tasking is one of the hardest things for me to do because I can't focus on more than one thing at a time. The idea that some things can be done by other people or maybe not at all is something I hadn't thought about before. I appreciate your thoughts.

  2. As I am about to "retire" and work full time to promote my book and write another, your priority scheme is very helpful. When faced with a blank day, I'm very likely to waste it on "C" items, rather than work on the "A" list.

  3. Henry,

    Great tips. Like you, I learned a long time ago that flitting from thing to thing with no set priorities resulted in one thing: Nothing got done completely and, even worse, nothing was done well, even if it was "finished."

    It's amazing how many things that seem important turn out to be unimportant. It's also amazing how much time remains for the truly important things when I'm able to properly prioritize everything at the beginning of the day.

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  5. Thank you very much for your post, Mr. McLaughlin. I'd like to share an experience I had many years ago regarding time management. I was a young mother with two small children at the time. I was frazzled, frenetic, and fatigued. One day, I complained to the Lord that it was impossible for me to get everything done that I needed to do.

    Expecting some sympathy from the Lord, I was surprised when He did not give me any. :) Instead, in that loving yet firm way in which He sometimes deals with His children, He said to me, "MaryAnn, you always have enough time to do what I have called you to do."

    As our Lord's words are wont to do, His words struck me to the core of my being. I reasoned that either I was mismanaging my time or I was doing something that God had not called me to do. In my case, it was the latter since I am, on the whole, an organized person. The reason for my stress was that I was involved in ministries to which our Lord had not called me. So I gave up those ministries.

    Another point our Lord made to me is that I needed to make spending time with Him my highest priority. As I began to start my day with God, He helped me to write my to-do list for the day. As a result of this practice--which has now become a habit over my 46 years of walking with Him--the Lord, as always, remained faithful to His Word as written in Proverbs 10: 27 TLB: "Reverence for God adds hours to each day." That was the secret I discovered to managing my time, and it always works!

    Thank you again for your excellent and timely post. I deeply appreciate your writing it.