Whether you are a freelance writer or a dot com mogul in the making, increasing your productivity is probably in your best interest.

You want to get as much done as you possibly can in the shortest amount of time. This is one way that you can drastically increase your income and improve your lifestyle; the more work that you get done, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to make more money. A very common strategy that people take on is multi-tasking, dividing their attention between several tasks at the same time.

Think about the online experience of most work-at-home professionals, particularly freelance writers. In addition to a web browser with several tabs open, I could also have my Excel spreadsheet for tracking projects, a word processor for writing and editing, instant messenger programs and Twitter for communication purposes, Adobe PhotoShop for image editing, a media player in the background for my sanity, and so on and so forth. In our effort to get more done, we open more and more windows, shifting our gazes across the various programs. Realistically, this is not the most productive configuration.

Multitasking is actually counter-productive. By our very nature, humans can only focus on one thing at a time. When you are multi-tasking, all you are really doing is shifting your attention between the different tasks, never fully immersing yourself in a single line of thought. You can see how this can be terribly counter-productive for freelance writers, because it is of utmost importance that anything written be fluid and natural. If in the process of writing a product review I divert my attention to an incoming tweet, it can be difficult to get my head back into the task at hand. It can take a few moments to re-orient myself to the product being reviewed. Add up all of these moments and you’re wasting a lot of time.

The trouble with multitasking is that the net result is inevitably mediocre. No single project gets your undivided attention and so no single project ever gets to reap the rewards of the entirety of your effort. Instead of one task getting 100%, you have ten tasks with 10% each. The quality will inevitably suffer. The best work that you will ever do will be the work receives your complete and undivided attention. Stephen King does not work on multiple novels at the same time, because he wants to engross himself in a single story at a time. The net result of this focus is better writing overall.

We’re all human and we’re going to get distracted by things from time to time. You should absolutely take well-deserved breaks, not only for your sanity but also to avoid burnout. Ultimately, the best way for you to be as productive as possible is not to try and multi-task. It’s not to try and squeeze as many tasks as possible into least amount of time. Stop the juggling act.

Instead, try to develop ways to work smarter, consolidating related tasks so you don’t do the same thing over and over again. A good illustration of this is running errands. If you’re going to drive to the grocery store anyways, bring along the package that needs to be dropped off at the post office. What other tasks can you achieve along the way (and back) so that you don’t have to leave the house a second or third time? You are still focusing on just one task at a time, but you are able to better manage your time. The same philosophy can be used for improving your productivity overall.