How many email messages to you receive in a day?

Some estimates put the average number of emails at around 140 per day, per person. Some of those you can delete without ever opening, some of them you never open and just leave in your inbox (though you shouldn’t), some you open and know just what to do with, and some you open and just stare at.

Consider one of those, “now what?” messages.

Maybe it asks you a question that you’re not sure about. You spend a few seconds thinking about your answer, maybe search your other mail messages for some answers. Then you give up.

You “star” the message or just leave it sitting, knowing you’ll have to come back to it someday.

So you move on through the rest of your inbox, grab some lunch, start working on your short story.

“High-Touch” Kills Productivity

Eventually, though, you have to go back to that email message that’s been hanging over your head all day. And, when you do, you have to re-center yourself and go through the entire thought process again.

When you finally decide what to do about that perplexing message, you’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of mental energy — maybe twice as much as you would have had you just dealt with the issue presented in the message in the first place.

This is the classic high-touch, or multiple-touch, problem. That is, you’ve “touched” a task multiple times when you could have knocked it out in one sitting. It’s the product of indecision and an attention span weakened by the flurry of activity that accompanies every moment and aspect of modern life.

Don’t have a ready answer for a question? No need to dig in and do the tough work when you can peruse Facebook for a few minutes instead.

Multitasking Is Failing You

The myth of momentary multitasking also feeds this illusion that it’s OK to move on. Hey, I’m not giving up, I’m just doing two (or three or four) things at once!

Of course, that diversion will always come back to bite you, because we rarely get to completely punt on an obligation just because it’s difficult.

The high-touch problem doesn’t apply to just email, either.

Home improvement projects, scrapbooking, building lasting relationships, getting your work done at work — all of them can fall victim to the allure of context switching.

Writers Have Lots of Ideas … All at Once

The bad news for writers is that we’re maybe more susceptible to multi-touching than most other folks. Not only do we have 140 emails per day, and kids’ soccer practice, and dinner to make, and tile to lay, and a program to write — we also have to finish our novel, and craft a short story, and update our blogs.

And inspiration might strike in the middle of any of these activities. I mean, the only thing sexier than a great story idea is the next story idea, right?

But jumping from project to project and task to task is absolute murder on your overall progress.

Look at it this way …

Do you have a story somewhere on your hard drive or in the cloud that is half-finished?

Do you have another story squirreled away that is only partially baked?

Probably yes and yes.

And are you working on either one of those right now?

Probably not.

Now …

Choose Single-handling

In the long run, wouldn’t your writing career be in a better place — and wouldn’t you be happier  if you had finished that first story rather than switching gears and moving on to the second?

Unless you’re a famous dead author for whom the reading public mourns, chances are your partial manuscripts are worth exactly zero to anyone. And they’re worth less than zero to you because they represent yet another unfulfilled promise to yourself.

So make a pact right now.

Whatever your current project is, stick with it until it’s done. Stick with ONLY it until it’s done. You may eventually hone your bat powers to the point that you can move between multiple projects during a span of time, but you’re not there right now.

Right now, you’re looking for ways to be a more productive writer.

Pick a horse and ride (write?) it.

Don’t frustrate your progress by jumping from unicorn to unicorn.

Do you have multiple writing projects brewing at once? Let me know in the comments below.