Stop Multitasking Madness

Focus stealer: multitasking madness
Several recent studies have lamented the increase of multitasking in the workplace and its impact on productivity. While most artists don’t work in a corporate setting, trying to do too many things at once still affects concentration and creativity.

In one study at the University of Michigan, Joshua Rubinstein (and his associates David Meyer and Jeffrey Evans) found that there’s a type of “writer’s block” that occurs when people have to make the switch from one task to another. For example, you’re deeply lost in the world of painting your latest landscape when the phone rings. You stop, put down your brush, wipe your hands and pick up your cell phone to talk. Afterwards, it takes you a good 10 minutes to mentally ramp back up to your previous level of engagement.

Use natural time-planning to create specific blocks of focused creativity. Everyone has natural high and low periods of energy, attention and focus.

• Take a moment to think about your own energy patterns. Do you have more energy for the creative part of your work in the morning, afternoon or evening? What about the paperwork side of your artistic career?
• Open up your calendar (electronic or otherwise) and for the next week plan out exactly when (what hours on what days) you’re going to work on which specific aspects of your artistic life.
• Keep in mind your natural high-energy times and consider making these appointments technology-free zones. Cell phones, e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging and the Internet are wonderful tools but, when they cause constant interruptions, it can be almost impossible to focus.

Karen Leland is the author of the book Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper in the Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change (New Harbinger Publications, 2006). She can be reached at

Read about other strategies for combatting other focus stealers in Karen Leland’s Business column "Maintaining Your Artistic Focus" in the January/February issue of The Artist’s Magazine. You can order your copy here.

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