Pros and Cons of Multitasking for Freelancers

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on February 4, 2014 in Productivity & Organization
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Multitasking.

It's awesome. It's evil.

It will make you more productive. It will make you less productive.

It will make you more successful. It will destroy your business.

What's the truth when it comes to multitasking in your freelance writing business? The truth is, it depends.

Should You Multitask?

It depends on what kinds of tasks you're talking about. For example, it would probably be counterproductive to keep an eye on your Twitter feed while you're in the middle of writing a client's article. A better option for multitasking might be to write from a treadmill desk while you walk (or use a voice-to-text app to get notes down while you walk outdoors).


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It also depends on you. Some people can multitask effectively while others feel a bit too scattered if they don't focus on just one thing at a time. It's like the difference between writers who work better with background noise playing and those that need silence to finish a project. There is no one-size-fits-all rule.

Pros and Cons of Multitasking

I make it no secret that I'm a big fan of multitasking in my own business. I always have several big projects in the works at the same time. But that doesn't mean I work on all of them every day.

I focus on one major project at a time, and the real multitasking comes down to the little things, like checking my social media accounts while I also search for jobs to post here in our freelance writing job board for you (usually also done while I eat breakfast and enjoy something caffeinated to get me going).

Here are some of the biggest benefits I've received from routine multitasking.

Pros of Multitasking

  • You don't get bored as easily (if that's a problem for you; I get bored very easily).
  • You can get more done in less time by taking advantage of breaks (like checking email while you wait for a few more social media updates to come through, going back and forth between them; I use two monitors and keep them both open at the same time).
  • You can knock out small tasks that you might not have bothered to schedule otherwise (like responding to unexpected queries while you run planned updates to your server or blog instead of waiting until you have a free block of time).

Of course multitasking can also pose its problems if you aren't careful.

Cons of Multitasking

  • You can easily become distracted by something you'd rather do (like that social media time suck I keep mentioning rather than tackling a client project with a quickly-approaching deadline).
  • You might push yourself to burn out if you try to squeeze too much into any portion of your work day.
  • You might make more mistakes, from sending an email to the wrong person to accidentally deleting an important client file.

There are good and bad sides to multitasking. For me, the good usually outweigh the bad. But that doesn't mean it will work the same way for you. You might be far more productive by giving every task on your list an isolated bit of your schedule.

If you do decide to multitask, just make sure you stick to smaller tasks and more importantly related tasks or complementary tasks (like working during a meal or while working out).

Email and social media? You're probably fine. Taking a client call while you draft your next blog post in the background? Probably not so smart.

What about you? Do you multitask? Do you find that it helps or hurts your freelance writing business? Do you have any multitasking tips to share or additional pros and cons of multitasking that other freelancers should consider?

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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8 Comments

  1. John Soares February 5, 2014 Reply

    I look at this multiple ways. True multitasking is trying to do two (or more) things simultaneously, like talk on the phone while also writing. Both of these require active thinking. Brain research says this is impossible to do and that our brain must rapidly shift back and forth between the tasks, actually wasting time during the process.

    We can do automatic things, like walking, and also do something else, like talking. Even then, our attention will be pulled away by things we see or hear, or the need to look at where our feet are going.

    Another way of looking at multitasking is actually doing one thing at a time, but switching frequently between tasks, like writing for 10 minutes and then reading for 5 minutes.

    And some people view multitasking as the effective management of multiple tasks in a given time period. This can include starting a load of laundry, and then putting cornbread in the oven. While both of those are progressing, we can then be off doing our writing.
    John Soares recently posted…8 Time Management Techniques for Successful WritersMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern February 5, 2014 Reply

      I definitely have fallen into all three of those groups at one point or another, although I tend to use my work as an excuse to put laundry off until later. ;)

      In my typical work day there is a lot of back and forth, especially when I’m having an admin-heavy day because it involves a lot of small tasks for a lot of site installations. For example, rather than doing everything I need to do on one site before moving on to another, I’ll bounce from site to site multiple times, grouping instead by like tasks (such as core updates on all sites at the same time before moving on to another round where I handle plugin updates).

      The automatic things occur less frequently for me, but would include listening to the news while I work on a project. It’s not ideal and I don’t do it often, but sometimes it’s the only way I get around to catching up on what’s going on in the world. It doesn’t usually distract me too much, unless it’s an election season. Then my attention tends to be split a bit too much.

      Other than keeping an eye on incoming email, social updates, comments, etc. at the same time while I might also be catching up on blogs, I really don’t do many different things at once that require any serious amount of attention. That’s where the Pomodoro method came in handy for me. It lets me feel like I’m accomplishing a lot of things, but by breaking my time into small scheduling blocks I feel much less tempted to do several things at once. Instead I focus on the challenge of “how much can I accomplish in 25 minutes?” and that pushes me to keep my attention on the primary task at hand.

  2. Anne Wayman February 5, 2014 Reply

    Good article, Jenn, as usual. I work a lot of different ways, and multi-tasking is one of them. In phone conversations with clients I often have to take notes… that may slow down the process a bit I suppose, but it’s sure more efficient than trying to remember all of what they said… or recording it and listing later while I take notes… that’s not efficient imo.

    I also will use things like dishes or laundry as ways to let an idea percolate through my mind… yeasting I call it… when I’m feeling a bit stuck… or bored…

    Like you I get bored easily ;)
    Anne Wayman recently posted…How Can I Find Time To Write? Ask AnneMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern February 5, 2014 Reply

      That’s another great example of a common type of multitasking for writers Anne. I’m betting a lot of readers do the same thing. :)

  3. Amandah February 5, 2014 Reply

    I’m working on creating more balance in my life and tell myself to STOP multitasking.

    Why?

    Because I have a tendency to lose focus when I’m doing five things at once. I need to focus on important tasks and leave everything else until the end of the day.
    Amandah recently posted…Comment on 10 Quick Tips About Content Writing by Amandah BlackwellMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern February 5, 2014 Reply

      The best part of that is that you were able to recognize that it’s a problem for you. I think where a lot of people have trouble is not realizing what does and doesn’t work for them. Once you figure that out it becomes much easier to map out a game plan that works for you.

  4. Connor Harley February 8, 2014 Reply

    I really suck at multitasking. I easily lose focus and things get out of control. I prefer doing one thing at a time but with accuracy.
    Connor Harley recently posted…Help with Setting up a BusinessMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern February 8, 2014 Reply

      As long as you know what process works best for you, you’re good to go. :)

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