Indie Author Weekly

054: 7 tips for task-switching between writing fiction and doing other things in life & business

April 07, 2020 Sagan Morrow Episode 55
Indie Author Weekly
054: 7 tips for task-switching between writing fiction and doing other things in life & business
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Indie Author Weekly
054: 7 tips for task-switching between writing fiction and doing other things in life & business
Apr 07, 2020 Episode 55
Sagan Morrow

This episode of Indie Author Weekly answers a listener-submitted question from Alana, who asks: 

“How do you task-switch between writing fiction and doing other things? For example, I can’t switch from fiction to work emails and back. I can only write fiction with a giant long uninterrupted block… which is why I haven’t written anything longer than a short story in a long time, because there’s no way I can put aside a long enough uninterrupted or even mildly interrupted block to work on a novel.” 

Great question! This is definitely something that I think we can all relate to. I find it really challenging to write novels if I don’t have a large chunk of time blocked off for it, which is a big part of the reason for why I write novellas instead of novels. 

But there are some ways that we can make task-switching a little more manageable, and improve our focus and productivity with it all. And since I’m both a productivity strategist and an author, this question is exactly the kind of thing I love! 

Tune into this episode to get 7 tips for how to handle this problem around task-switching… 

Resources & links mentioned in this episode:  

Let's chat about this episode:  

Support the show (https://saganmorrow.com/secretpodcast)

Show Notes Transcript

This episode of Indie Author Weekly answers a listener-submitted question from Alana, who asks: 

“How do you task-switch between writing fiction and doing other things? For example, I can’t switch from fiction to work emails and back. I can only write fiction with a giant long uninterrupted block… which is why I haven’t written anything longer than a short story in a long time, because there’s no way I can put aside a long enough uninterrupted or even mildly interrupted block to work on a novel.” 

Great question! This is definitely something that I think we can all relate to. I find it really challenging to write novels if I don’t have a large chunk of time blocked off for it, which is a big part of the reason for why I write novellas instead of novels. 

But there are some ways that we can make task-switching a little more manageable, and improve our focus and productivity with it all. And since I’m both a productivity strategist and an author, this question is exactly the kind of thing I love! 

Tune into this episode to get 7 tips for how to handle this problem around task-switching… 

Resources & links mentioned in this episode:  

Let's chat about this episode:  

Support the show (https://saganmorrow.com/secretpodcast)

Hello friends! Sagan here. Welcome back to Indie Author Weekly, where I share my behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. 

If you’re new to this podcast, I am a productivity strategist for multi-passionate creatives at SaganMorrow.com: I help people manage their time and energy effectively, through customized, actionable strategies that work for your unique life and business. When I’m not teaching about productivity to solopreneurs, I spend my time writing romance novels, and occasionally, business books. And that is what this podcast is all about: the adventures of the author life.

Now let’s get into this episode of the Indie Author Weekly podcast. Today we have a listener question from Alana, who asks: 

“How do you task-switch between writing fiction and doing other things? For example, I can’t switch from fiction to work emails and back. I can only write fiction with a giant long uninterrupted block… which is why I haven’t written anything longer than a short story in a long time, because there’s no way I can put aside a long enough uninterrupted or even mildly interrupted block to work on a novel.”

Great question! This is definitely something that I think we can all relate to. I find it really challenging to write novels if I don’t have a large chunk of time blocked off for it, which is a big part of the reason for why I write novellas instead of novels. 

But there are some ways that we can make task-switching a little more manageable, and improve our focus and productivity with it all. And since I’m both a productivity strategist and an author, this question is exactly the kind of thing I love!

I have 7 tips for handling this problem around task-switching…

First, it’s important to keep in mind that usually when we struggle with task-switching, it’s because our brains are already at their max creative capacity. 

We’re generally too distracted, mentally, to focus on writing the novel.

The key here is to identify what distracts you the most, and minimize those distractions. For example, when there are physical distractions in my environment, it distracts me mentally, too. So by cleaning the physical environment around me, I automatically clear up brainspace for creative purposes.

Something else I find really helpful is to find a song that I love, and play it on repeat. That’s a good strategy if you’re the kind of person who likes having sound on in the background, but it’s not distracting at all because it’s the exact same thing on a loop. Your brain doesn’t get distracted by a new melody starting every few minutes: instead, it’s just the same thing over and over. If you choose an energizing song that inspires your creativity, then all the better.

And that brings us to the other side of this concept around increasing brain capacity for creativity: after you identify distractions and then minimize those distractions, you then want to identify what motivates you the most, and leverage those motivations. As in this example, with music playing in the background.

Basically, the idea here is that we’re trying to flex our creative capacity limitations. It’s easier to switch between tasks if we have the mental capacity for focusing, and we can stretch that capacity by minimizing distractions and leveraging our motivations. 

One of the foundational pieces I teach about inside my Productivity Powerhouse e-course is all about how to maximize our creative energy, and how to boost it when we find it slipping. You can learn more about that program and enroll at SaganMorrow.com/powerhouse.

My second tip for handling task-switching is, don’t be afraid to adjust your writing process slightly. 

For example, if you typically don’t use an outline for writing books, you might want to try writing a more detailed chapter outline, so that you have a very clear idea of what’s coming up at various points in the novel.

This won’t necessarily work for everyone, but it’s worth a try! You never know what will come out of it. And that’s just one example. Basically, the idea here is, think outside the box: if you always use the same writing process, then what can you tweak or do slightly differently, that could have a big impact? This will be different for everyone, given your personal writing style, life situation, etc.

By the way, you can get ideas and inspiration for how other authors—including myself—outline and write books in a couple previous episodes here on the Indie Author Weekly podcast: Episode 47 & 52.

Tip #3: make good use of reframing.

If you find that writing a full novel is too much, then why not think about it as though each chapter is a short story, almost? I know that there are different writing styles for short stories vs full-length novels, but by focusing on one chapter at a time, it takes away the dauntingness of the full novel. 

The concept here is to change your approach from a mental perspective. Focus on one piece at a time so it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Reframing is a very powerful tool for productivity, and it can absolutely apply to this situation. This is something I teach inside Productivity Powerhouse, so again, you can visit SaganMorrow.com/powerhouse to access the lessons and action steps for how to effectively reframe in your personal life or professional life—including when it comes to writing novels.

Tip #4: If at all possible, explore ways to get ahead on some of your other obligations so you can block off time for your novel. 

I realize this isn’t entirely feasible when it comes to work commitments, but what about other personal tasks? Can you do meal planning and meal prep for the week ahead, so that rather than cooking meals every day, you know exactly what you’ll be eating and you can use that saved cooking time to instead focus on writing your novel?

Even when we think that we’re really good at getting ahead on things and batching stuff, there are ALWAYS more things we can do and improve upon. And again, I say this as a productivity strategist—I am continuing to identify more things I can improve on in my own life and business! 

So take a step back, take a really good look at your current situation, and assess it honestly from an outsider perspective. Where can you get ahead on a few things so you can block off future time for your novel? There will often be things that we identify but we don’t have the capacity to deal with right now—in that case, so go for the low-hanging fruit and the stuff that is easiest for you to get ahead on.

Tip #5: Give yourself the space to do some “mental writing.” 

This is one of my favourite activities. I often do this when I’m out for a walk, or when I’m lying in bed and can’t fall asleep at night. Other people might want to use shower time to do this, for example. But the idea here is that you’re giving yourself free rein, mentally, to think about your book. You’re doing some “writing” in your head. 

Some of the most incredible ideas and pieces of writing can occur when you aren’t sitting in front of the computer. Because you’re removing the pressure. 

Now, while you’re doing this mental writing, you might get some awesome ideas that you want to write down. Awesome! Do that. Jot down bullet points, or full scenes or dialogue snippets. I do this all the time, and then I can rearrange those ideas and scenes into chapters down the line. 

Thinking time is super important for every business owner and every author. We often don’t prioritize this because it’s not quantifiable, and because it feels hard to justify giving up time to think rather than have tangible action steps and results. But when we prioritize time to think—again, whether that’s for entrepreneurs or authors—that is where so much of the real progress is made. It gives you a little kickoff for the creative energy.

Tip #6: Focus on small, consistent doses of writing. 

Spending 15 minutes/day writing, or committing to write a few hundred words of your novel each day, is much more doable when you do it every single day. By doing this, you don’t have to reach as far back in your mind to figure out what you wrote last time, for example. 

It’s much easier to stay in your characters’ heads when you connect with them daily, rather than setting your book aside for days or weeks on end. So that’s a great way to make task-switching less of an issue: your novel is always fresh on your mind, every day, so it doesn’t take as much energy or time or creativity or brainspace to switch from other tasks to your novel and back again.

Getting into this can sometimes take a little adjustment period, so if you can set aside closer to 30 minutes for the first couple days, that’ll make it easier for you to get into the swing of things with 15-minute blocks the following days and moving forward. If you are getting back into writing a project that you set aside for a while, then tune into Episode 25 for tips on handling that.

Tip #7: Don’t make a bunch of changes all at once to your routine. 

If you decide to make task-switching easier on yourself by doing small amounts of writing every day, then it will be even easier if you add it as part of your routine. But it’s important not to add it to your routine if you recently added a bunch of other things to that routine! Your energy capacity will get overwhelmed.

For example, when I was creating my own morning routine, I started out only with journaling. After a couple weeks, I began also studying Duolingo after journaling. Shortly thereafter, I tacked on some Yousician singing lessons to it. Several weeks later, I added yoga after that. I’m currently toying with the idea of adding creative writing on the end of that, too.

So, what started out as a 10-minute morning routine, essentially turned into an hour-long routine, and if I add creative writing, then it’s going to be a solid 90 minutes or 2 hours. 

If I had done that all at once, right from the start, it would’ve had an anxious undertone to it: I’d be thinking, “oh my god, I can’t give up that much of my morning!” But adding one thing at a time, and then another, made it just feel natural and GOOD. It didn’t feel daunting.

If you decide to add book writing to your daily routine, add it during a season when you don’t have a bunch of other life and business changes happening. And make it manageable: set the timer for 15 minutes per day, for example. You don’t need to write in a big chunk. You can even decide that you’ll just write 200 words each day. That’s super manageable! It’s less than half a page of writing. 

So, those are my 7 tips for how to manage task-switching between writing fiction and doing other things. Again, if you want to learn a ton more about how to improve your focus, increase your productivity, and get more done in less time—without the overwhelm—then I recommend that you join my signature program, Productivity Powerhouse. Visit SaganMorrow.com/powerhouse to learn more.

Okay, to recap today’s tips: 

  1. Identify & minimize distractions, and then identify & maximize motivations, to increase your creative capacity in your brain
  2. Think outside the box and adjust your writing process
  3. Make good use of reframing
  4. Explore ways to get ahead on other things in your personal or professional life, so that you CAN block time off for your novel
  5. Give yourself the space for thinking time, so you can do “mental writing”
  6. Focus on small, consistent, daily writing
  7. Add it as part of your routine, during a time in your personal & professional life when you aren’t also dealing with a bunch of other changes

Now, I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this: Is this an issue you struggle with? Which of these tips resonates with you the most?

Connect with me on Twitter and Instagram, @Saganlives, to chat about it! And you can send me a message on either of those platforms if you have requests for future episode topics, too. The more you tell me what you’d like to see more of on this podcast, the better that I can accommodate that. You can also submit your questions or topic ideas anonymously at SaganMorrow.com/question

If you enjoyed this episode, please take 2 minutes to share this podcast on social media and rate it on iTunes—any time you share it or leave a rating or review, it helps more listeners find the Indie Author Weekly podcast, so every bit counts! I really appreciate your support.

By the way, you can access complete word-for-word transcripts of this episode and all past episodes, plus sample chapters of my books and a few other bonuses and goodies, on the “secret” version of this podcast. Get access to all of that at SaganMorrow.com/secretpodcast.

Thanks so much for tuning in to the Indie Author Weekly podcast, and I will see you in the next episode.