Two books as art - illustrating a blogpost by Yang-May Ooi about boosting productivity by writing 2 books at once

Most productivity advice says we should focus on one thing at time. But what if that’s not working for you? Creative actionista, Yang-May Ooi, suggests trying doing two things at once.

2 Novel Ways to Boost Your Productivity

Focus on one project at a time and you will achieve what you want. That’s what conventional wisdom says about getting things done. If you want to complete your novel, don’t be distracted. Don’t do anything else, just get on and write that book, putting down a thousand words a day, every day, till you get to the end.

But what if you get stuck. Something about it is not working and you can’t figure out what. Or your writing feels lame. Going back to your desk every day fills you with dread. You just sit and stare at the blank screen, repeating the mantra: focus, focus, focus. But nothing creative comes.

Harness Distraction

Over the weekend, I was talking to a good friend who is a children’s book author. It was a warm, sunlit summer afternoon. She told me she was waiting to hear from literary agents about a manuscript she submitted some time ago. In the meantime, she was trying to work on her next novel. It’s a fraught time, as you can imagine. She has been finding it difficult to focus. What if her writing is no good? What if her manuscript gets rejected? Should she just give up writing right now?

Any creative will be familiar with that tendency to catastrophize, whether we are writers or artists in other media. It is draining and what’s more, a huge distraction from doing the creative work.

But my friend told me, she is harnessing that jittery energy rather than fighting it. Instead of trying to ignore it in order to focus on one new novel, she is working on two different novels at once.

They each have a different quality in terms of mood, tone and pacing. So when she finds herself unable to focus on one, she turns her attention to the other one. She might work on one for a short session, a whole day or over a longer period. There’s no rule. But when she feels in a funk with it, she walks away from it and has a go with the other one.


2 books as art - illustrating a blogpost by Yang-May Ooi on boosting productivity by doing two things at once


And bit by bit, she is making progress on both of them. More progress than if she were just staring at a blank screen for days on one book and getting more and more down about it.

Shift Focus

This story may be specific to writing but my friend’s strategy can be harnessed for any other medium. Whatever we may be working on, if we find our energy for it depleted over a period of time, we can all do with a change.

So if you are finding yourself in a funk about the thing that you are working on, you could try taking a break and working on another creative project for awhile. You may find that that shift could give you fresh energy to come back to the first one, ready to take it forward again.

This is not multi-tasking where we fail to focus because we are trying to do too many things at once. We are doing one thing at a time. We are still focusing.

The key to my friend’s strategy is focusing on the project in front of us at any given moment – whether it is the first one or the second one. But when that focus shifts, rather than fight it, we recalibrate our focus onto the other project.

Go with the Creative Flow

What I love about this tactic is that it stops us being rigid about our creative work and instead gives us permission to let our creative energy flow to where it can have most impact. And over time, instead of one non-work of nothing and no progress, we will have created two works of art.


Photo: from (COM) thanks to dave ungar

Author: Yang-May Ooi

Yang-May Ooi is a writer & podcaster. Her creative work includes The Flame Tree and Mindgame (novels), Bound Feet Blues (theatre & family memoir), The Anxiety Advantage and Creative Conversations (podcasts). ¦

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