The Curious Incident of the Dog & the Missing Royalties

24 May 2019

From Dan Rhodes:

Every once in a while my reader in Cheltenham will get in touch, asking why I’ve not had a book out for such a long time. What follows is the short answer.

In October of last year, 2017, I made the heartbreaking decision to pull all but one of my books out of print. I had lost faith in their publisher, Canongate Books. The main problem was the lack of communication. This had been an issue for some years, and I’d even discovered, by chance, three editions of my work that nobody had told me about. I wonder how many more there are that I’ve never seen (seriously, publishers – if you’re going to print a distinct edition of a book, the least you could do is tell the person who wrote it. It’s balls-out dereliction of duty not to). Every time something like this happened, and I found out, they would say, Oooh, it won’t happen again, but there seems to be no introspection at management level and, with stultifying predictability, it would happen again. This was frustrating enough, and when my main contact took to ignoring my humdrum queries about contracts/royalty statements/rights, etc., alarm bells rang. (I can sense you stifling a yawn. You’re right, this is tiresome, but having set up these deals without an agent I had to keep on top of this sort of thing myself.)

I’d lost patience with them and had taken my most recent book elsewhere, but my backlist remained in place. I’d hoped we could stay on civil terms for the sake of the children, but it wasn’t to be. Not wanting to be stuck doing business with people who were cagey about finances, I requested they return the rights. They insisted on keeping hold of them (while still not answering the questions I’d been asking – they were, and continue to be, particularly evasive about the editions they’d published in the U.S. a few years back) so I dug in, looking for a way out by spending every spare moment combing through old correspondence, contracts and royalty statements, with all the joy that brought.

Throughout all this, something kept niggling: I’d not been paid a penny for my novel Timoleon Vieta Come Home since 2004, the year after it came out. I’d raised this with my main contact in 2010, after yet another demoralising £0 balance on a royalty statement. This kind of enquiry is an awkward one, because you wouldn’t be making it if you weren’t concerned that something was amiss; an author/publisher relationship is built on trust, and the clear subtext here is that your faith in their accounting has wavered. It’s obviously a very big deal to raise these reservations, yet a recent trawl through old correspondence reminded me that it took three letters of decreasing diplomacy to get an answer (seriously, publishers – if an author makes an enquiry, just answer it. It’s part of your job, and if you don’t we’ll start wondering whether you’re up to something. Perhaps you are). Eventually I was told that they’d looked into it and that everything was as it ought to be, that I’d accrued a debt on the title for deep accounting reasons that I couldn’t possibly understand. ‘Fair enough,’ I said, embarrassed for having asked.

It never seemed quite right, though – I couldn’t help feeling as if they had patted me on the head and told me to run along. I tried to push these suspicions away, because quite often people who think that money is being kept from them are having a funny five minutes. And besides, I’d had my answer: they’d looked into it, and everything was fine. Where do you go from there?

These misgivings – loopy as they seemed – kept coming back. Years of demoralising £0 balances and questioning-my-sanity later, I tentatively mentioned this odd-seeming number-crunching to a few allies in the biz (I do have some, believe it or not), and every one of them spluttered into their cornflakes. I don’t know why they were all eating cornflakes when I told them, but they were. The more people I mentioned this to, the more cornflakes were spluttered into – everybody I spoke to thought it sounded as fishy as Milky Pimms. Only Canongate Books’ cornflakes remained unsullied by splutter; only they didn’t seem to think it was odd that I’d not been paid for this book, which had been a modest success, since the year after it came out. I asked them again to look into this, but my increasingly desperate enquiries were casually batted aside, and then blanked. The old Closing Ranks/Wall of Silence trick. At every point I was treated as though I were Foolish and Deluded and an Author of No Brain at All. There were times when I thought they could be right, but the longer this went on the surer I became that my books were not in safe hands.

. . . .

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to send in auditors or pay for legal letters. I am, though, blessed with the tenacity of a rabbiting terrier. In the absence of civil answers to civil questions (or, latterly, incandescent ones) I decided to conduct my own audit. I have no idea how to conduct an audit, so I just gave it the full Chris-R. Faced with this, they finally – finally – scuttled back to their financial records. In the days before Christmas they returned with the admission that my hunch was bang on: in spite of their assurances to the contrary I had indeed been horrendously underpaid for ‘Timoleon Vieta Come Home’. If you want to know how it feels to find out that you aren’t mad after all, that your publisher really hadn’t been paying you properly for thirteen years, this just about sums it up. It was not a fun time.

In hindsight, this was a sort of grotesque deus ex machina: having spent such a long time haughtily dismissing my concerns, there was now no way they could continue to hold on to the books. They paid the acknowledged missing cash, and put a bit on top that they had unilaterally decided would make up for lost interest over the preceding years. I didn’t agree with the figure they’d settled on, and couldn’t convince them (still can’t) to acknowledge the arbitration clause in the contract, so it took a further six months of gruelling warfare, culminating in a close reading and furious waving of the as-fun-as-it-sounds Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998, to squeeze an acceptable settlement out of them.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: everybody makes mistakes – it could have been an oversight, a slip of the quill. Maybe it was, but it didn’t just happen once – it happened twice. Twice! I wonder whether Lady Bracknell would have had something to say about that. So why did the dough go missing in the first place? I wish I knew. The extent of their explanation was: The team here has calculated that due to errors on the royalty book that happened in 2004 and 2005 – where duplicate records of unearned balances were noted – you were underpaid £x. I expect that made your eyes hurt. (Seriously, publishers – next time you find yourself explaining how a huge amount of a hard-working author’s royalties came to end up in the silken pocket of your company’s Oxford bags you might want to try doing a bit better than this). A request for clarification didn’t yield any more than it having been human error. That’s something of a catch-all: a human had certainly erred. Beyond that, it was all left vague. They sent through some single-page summaries of accounts, as if that would clear things up. All I knew for sure was that a lot of money that should have come my way had, for deep accounting reasons that I couldn’t possibly understand, stopped shy of my bank account. I asked for a fuller picture of how this could have happened – twice – at which the human error line was modified to the comparably helpful Oooh, it’s all very complicated and we don’t really know. Unlike me, they weren’t interested in finding out. In lieu of proper answers they sent some further impenetrable spreadsheets, none which helped me get my head around it all. Somewhere along the line I discovered that these anomalies had happened in the vicinity of the U.S. operation that I’d had (and still have) so much trouble getting answers about.

Canongate Books’ final line is that it was a mistake. I’m not going to argue with that, but again it’s a catch-all. Maybe it really was a simple case of my royalties being innocently siphoned away on two separate occasions. I am very much open to the possibility that the version of events that they’ve settled on is correct, that the quality of their bookkeeping really was in freefall to the point where they were inadvertently, and repeatedly, keeping one of their authors’ wages to themselves. (And these are wages – though this may be in conflict with popular perception, people who write books are still sent electricity bills, and every sale counts towards our livelihoods. It’s rarely enough – most of us have to work shifts at Spatula City to make ends meet. I know I do.) I can’t help wondering, though, who was doing their internal stocktaking at this time. Sooty & Sweep I would guess, judging by the quality of their work. It’s all very well playing the human error card – and it may of course have been just that; everybody makes mistakes at work from time to time – but a company that is fit to trade should surely have a system in place to see that errors are caught and corrected. Mistakes of this magnitude, however accidental, should have been spotted, if not shortly after they were made, then when I pointed straight at them in 2010. We’re talking thousands and thousands of sales. Thousands!

Link to the rest at Dan Rhodes and thanks to A. for the tip.

The OP continues further and is well worth the read.

This is a cautionary tale for all authors.

Here are some basic business steps to take with royalties:

  1. Check your royalty statement – carefully – promptly – every time you receive one.
  2. If you see anything fishy or anything you don’t understand, send a letter pointing out the fish and ask for an explanation. (An email will probably work as well, but why not send both a letter and an email!)
  3. Save a copy of the royalty statement (of course) and save a copy of everything else you receive from or send to the publisher. Make certain it’s stored where your dog (digital or actual) can’t read it.
  4. If you don’t receive a useful response or at least an acknowledgment of receipt with a promise to send more information shortly within a week, send another communication reminding them that they owe you information and copy someone else at the publisher who ranks higher in the organization than the person to whom you sent.
  5. Continue until you receive a useful response. Add a paragraph that lists all your prior communications with the date and a note describing the nature of any response or that you received no response. Keep adding more people to the list to whom you are sending copies and note all the people you are copying at the bottom of the letter, email, fax, etc. Don’t remove anyone from the cc: list for subsequent letters/emails, just add new recipients.
    1. If your publisher is part of a larger publishing group or owned by another company, start copying people higher up the chain.
    2. If the publisher or an owner of the publisher has a legal department, send a copy to someone in the legal department.
    3. If this doesn’t generate a response, look up the contact information for the Attorney General in the state where the publisher has an office and add her/him to your copy list.
    4. If the publisher or its owner is a publicly-traded company you can probably find a list of its board of directors and add them to your CC: recipients.
    5. Send a copy of your letter to any authors’ organizations you can think of.

Your childhood etiquette instructor would probably say this isn’t polite, but you tried polite with your early communications and failed to receive a polite response. You might conclude that polite isn’t going to work in this case.

There is an old saying (at least in the US) that a squeaky wheel gets the most grease.

If you’re not being treated in a professional manner by a publisher, you’re not receiving grease.

If your bank misplaced some of your money and didn’t respond to your questions right away, you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) hesitate to make a fuss. If your publisher is keeping money that belongs to you, it’s the same situation.

Accounting mistakes can and do happen. When such mistakes occur, ethical business organizations promptly own up to those mistakes, make the numbers right for their customers and tell them what happened.

Properly-run businesses don’t repeatedly make accounting mistakes, particularly accounting mistakes that reduce their payments to others. PG says don’t patronize or partner with businesses that aren’t managed properly.

Don’t fall into the insecurity trap of thinking something like, “If I cause too much trouble, my publisher won’t publish any more of my books.”

If you’re an amateur who writes for fun, that might be a reasonable train of thought.

If you’re a professional and want to be paid for your work, it’s irrational.

Allow PG to rephrase the insecurity trap: “If I cause too much trouble, my publisher won’t publish any more books that I won’t get paid for.”


23 May 2019

PG has been focused on finishing a client project all day.

He apologizes for no posts today.

If You Fold Your Clothes

22 May 2019

If you fold your clothes in the formal spark of joy, you can actually make the joy last longer.

~ Marie Kondo

It’s human nature to take the easy route and leap at storage methods that promise quick and convenient ways to remove visible clutter. Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved. But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, and the room once again overflows with things.

~ Marie Kondo

There’s no need to let your family know the details of what you throw out or donate. You can leave communal spaces to the end. The first step is to confront your own stuff.

~ Marie Kondo

Have gratitude for the things you’re discarding. By giving gratitude, you’re giving closure to the relationship with that object, and by doing so, it becomes a lot easier to let go.

~ Marie Kondo

It is very natural for me to say thank you to the goods that support us.

~ Marie Kondo

The objects you decide to keep, the ones that gave you the spark of joy? Treasure them from now on. When you put things away, you can actually audibly say, ‘Hey, thank you for the good work today…’ By doing so, it becomes easier for you to put the objects away and treasure them, which prolongs the spark of joy environment.

~ Marie Kondo

PG just went out and said thank you to the cable box and remote control.

He’s trying to think of the right words to express gratitude to his 8 terabyte hard drive.

PG just confessed to the remaining stacks of stuff in his office that he had leaped at storage methods for their former compatriots.

Mrs. PG says she doesn’t care if PG leaps or not so long as his office isn’t placed on a list of Superfund sites.

Marie Kondo to Publish a Children’s Book!

22 May 2019

From Book Riot:

Marie Kondo fans: check it out. Kondo will be publishing a picture book this fall called Kiki and Jax, to be illustrated by Geisel Honor­–winning author/illustrator Salina Yoon.

The book, which will have a 250,000 first print run, will hit shelves November 5. Kiki and Jax is inspired by the KonMari method, as it follows two best friends — Kiki, a collector, and Jax, a sorter — as they work through what it means when their friendship has to navigate things. When those things begin to get in the way, they learn the power of how their friendship works: the spark of joy.

Kondo said, “I’m pleased to share this timeless story about friendship, and I hope that the characters of Kiki and Jax inspire children and families to tidy and embrace joy!”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG has been “tidying” his office over the past few days. He hasn’t found any joy to embrace yet.

One question for visitors to TPV, what’s the difference between cleaning and tidying?

Another question, this time involving gender – Do men tidy? Or do they clean? Or do they haul trash? In big noisy trucks?

Is tidying the new cleaning? Or, as Marie suggests, is it more transformative than cleaning?

Can PG properly tidy while wearing sweat pants? Before he takes a shower?

PG would love to be able to back a trash truck up to the door of his office.

The scary part

22 May 2019

From Nathan Bransford:

I recently finished a new novel, and I’ll be honest with you: I’m pretty scared!

I don’t feel like people talk about this part of the process very much.

Whenever you hear writers talking about struggles and failures, they’re often discussed when it’s all over, after that person has already gone on to find success. Those struggles are contextualized as a dramatic interlude in an otherwise nice, neat, inspirational narrative that culminates with someone overcoming those obstacles and roadblocks.

I see very few people talk about this part, while they’re actually in it, where you’ve finished something and you have literally no idea what is going to happen with it. No idea whether it’s going to be a success or disappear into a drawer never to be heard from again. No idea whether there will be a happy ending for all those struggles and whether it will actually feel worth it in the end. The part where you’re just plain vulnerable.

. . . .

More than any other book I’ve written, and I’ve written… uh… *counts on fingers* seven now, this novel was personal. I followed my own (possibly insane) artistic vision no matter where it took me. I tried to trust my instincts. I slogged away for years even though the plot was insanely difficult to execute.

More than anything else, I wrote this one for me. I gave up blogging for a while. I kept going even when I thought I was crazy and even in the face of negative feedback. I had to get this thing out of my system.

Was that the right move? Should I have tempered my instincts? Did I write something the market doesn’t want? Did I go too far against the grain? Did I not listen to other people enough? Was the whole thing several years of misguided work?


. . . .

Does following a more meaningful writing process mean I’m on the right track?

Like I said, I have no idea. But I do know that I feel better about this one. I distantly trust that I’ll still feel good about it even if it ends up in a drawer, because at least I wrote this for the simple personal satisfaction of having pulled it off.

Still, that doesn’t blunt the creeping terror of having spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on a single project and facing having it come to very little or even nothing. It doesn’t dull the pain of the prospect of it disappearing, to not have it validated by the external world, especially when there are bills to be paid and when, in the end, I think most writers just want to be seen and to feel that profound, primordial satisfaction when someone reads your book and actually likes it.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

If the Key to Business Success Is Focus, Why Does Amazon Work?

22 May 2019

From Working Knowledge, Harvard Business School:

Brian Kenny: In the world of computer science, Jon Wainwright is kind of a big deal. A computer language pioneer, he was the principle architect of both Script 5 and Manuscript. What makes John a legend has nothing to do with programming. Let me explain.

On April 3, 1995, Jon was in need of work-related reading material. He fired up his T1 modem and navigated the fledgling internet to the beta version of a new online bookstore. With the click of a mouse, he became the very first customer to make a purchase on Fluid concepts and creative analogies, the book he purchased, never became a best seller, but Amazon took off like a rocket ship and hasn’t slowed down since. With a market cap larger than all other retailers combined, including Walmart, Amazon owns 49 percent of all online sales. In the time it takes me to read this introduction, the company will earn over $300,000. Will we ever see the likes of it again?

. . . .

Brian Kenny: The case is a great foundational piece to launch into some of the ideas [of the book]. I’m going to assume that anybody listening to this podcast has purchased something on Amazon, or watched something on Amazon Prime. I had forgotten about their modest beginnings, and just how much they’ve grown and expanded and changed… Let me start by asking you … what led you to write the case?

Sunil Gupta: As you said, everybody knows Amazon. At the same time, Amazon has become quite complex. They have grown into a business that defies imagination. That raises the question, is Amazon spreading itself too thin? Are they an online retailer? Are they video producers? Are they now making movies? In strategy, we learn everybody should focus. Obviously, Jeff Bezos missed that class.

. . . .

Brian Kenny: . . . . The case takes place in 2017. . . . Start us off by setting it up. How does the case open?

Sunil Gupta: At that point in time, Amazon had just bought Whole Foods, which was very counterintuitive. Amazon has been an online player. Why is it getting into an offline business? That was against their grain as an online player. The second thing is, food is a very low-margin category. Amazon is a technology company; its stock is going to stratosphere. Amazon had been (operating) Amazon Fresh for 10 years, and hasn’t succeeded. Why don’t they give up? That was a starting point. Of course, the case describes all the other 20 things they have done in the last 20 years and asked the question, what is Amazon up to?

. . . .

Brian Kenny: Amazon and Jeff Bezos are sort of synonymous. He’s a cult of personality there, like Steve Jobs was with Apple. Jeff’s been in the news a lot lately for other reasons, you know, personal reasons. He is probably one of the best-known CEOs in the world. What’s he like as a leader?

Sunil Gupta: I don’t know him personally. Based on the research I’ve done, he certainly is very customer obsessed. He’s focused on customer. He always says, “You start with the customer and work backwards.” He still takes calls on the call center. The culture is very entrepreneurial, but also very heart driven. I mean, the idea for Amazon Prime evidently didn’t come from Jeff Bezos, it came from a person low in the organization. He’s quick to adapt the ideas if he sees some merit in it. It’s almost a 25-year-old company that still works like a startup.

Brian Kenny: Was the original concept for Amazon … I mean, he sold books originally. Was it ever really a book company?

Sunil Gupta: I think it started more as an online retailer. Book was an easy thing, because everybody knows exactly what you’re buying. It’s no concern about the quality. His premise in the online store was a very clear value proposition of three things. One was convenience, that you can shop in your pajamas, so we don’t have to fight the traffic of Boston or Los Angeles. The second was infinite variety. I don’t have the constraint of a physical store. Even if I have Walmart, which is a huge store, I can only stock so many things. As a result, you only have the top sellers. In Amazon, I can have the long tail of any product, if you will. The third was price. It was cheaper, simply because I don’t have fixed costs of the brick and mortar store. I can reduce the cost structure and therefore I can be cheaper. Those were the three key value propositions. That’s how it started. The idea was, I’ll start with books and then move on to electronics and other things. But then of course, it moved far beyond being an online retailer.

Brian Kenny: This gets into some of the ideas in your book. I was really intrigued in the book about the notion of what kind of business are we in? Just that question alone. At face value, it looked like Amazon was a retailer. They went in directions that nobody could have imagined.

Sunil Gupta: Right. The purpose of the case was to illustrate how these are all connected. From a distance they look completely disconnected, and completely lack focus. Let’s start with how the concept evolved.

The first thing was, as I said, it was online retailer. Very soon it became a marketplace. Now, what is a marketplace? They basically allow third-party sellers to also sell on the Amazon platform, which is distinct from a traditional retailer. Walmart doesn’t allow me to set up shop within Walmart, but Amazon allows me to do that. Now, why would they do that? Simply because it increases the variety that they can sell on the platform. Therefore, consumers are quite happy with the variety of the product they can get on Amazon. Amazon gets commission without having the inventory and the capital cost.

Perhaps the most important thing about becoming a platform is that it creates what we call network effects. If everything I can buy is available on Amazon, more consumers are likely to go there. Because there are more consumers, more sellers are likely to go there. It just feeds itself and becomes a virtual cycle. That’s why there is only one Amazon. Even if I start an online retail [store] that is in many ways better than Amazon, nobody’s coming to, because buyers and sellers are not there. That became the next phase, changing from an online retailer to a marketplace. Then it went into AWS (Amazon Web Services), and you say, “How can it go into being a technology company and compete with IBM and Microsoft?” It was competing with Walmart before.

. . . .

Brian Kenny: Let me just interrupt for a second. That’s a marked change in direction. They had always been a consumer platform. Now they’re in a business-to-business play. I bet a lot of consumers don’t even know about Amazon Web Services.

Sunil Gupta: Correct. That was not saying in a traditional sense, “This is my market.” That’s simply saying, I have this capability. There’s a demand for this capability. Can I do it?” Part of that was opportunistic, also. If you remember in 2001, the bubble crashed. If you’re a B2C company, you hedge your bets and get into B2B business. Part of that may have been luck. And then Amazon started producing hardware, Kindle, and now competing with Apple.

You sort of say, why is an online retailer getting into hardware production? If you think a little bit about it, the answer is very easy. Kindle was designed to sell eBooks as people move from buying hard copy books to downloading eBooks. The Kindle is the classic razor and blade strategy. I sell razors cheap in order to make money on the blades. I’m not making that much money Kindle, but I’m making money on e-books, which is very different from Apple’s strategy. Apple actually makes money on devices, but Amazon is not making money on devices, or at least not making huge money. Similarly, it moved into online streaming of the video content and suddenly became a competitor of Netflix. You say, “Why is a retailer becoming a competition of Netflix?” Again, if you think a little about it, the answer becomes clear. As you and I moved on from buying DVDs [to] streaming the stuff, that’s what Netflix did. They used to send the DVDs to us.

. . . .

Amazon is very good in moving with the customer. If the customer moves from buying books to e-books, Amazon moves in that direction. If customers move from buying DVDs to streaming, it moves in that direction. Now, can Amazon do it? Of course, they can. They have AWS. Netflix is one of the largest AWS customers.

. . . .

Brian Kenny: Are they leading or following? Are they creating a market? In the beginning it seemed like they created something entirely new. Now, are they anticipating, or are they just sort of reacting to what’s happening?

Sunil Gupta: It’s a combination of both. In some ways they are following the consumer behavior. [When consumers started] moving to streaming, Amazon was not the first—Netflix started the streaming thing, and then Amazon comes up with it. If you think about it, Amazon not only distributed third party content on videos, but now they have Amazon Studio. They are making movies. The competition now becomes Hollywood instead of Walmart.

You sort of say, “What has gone wrong with Jeff Bezos? Why is he making movies?” Making movies is a pretty expensive business and highly risky. Again, the key is to understand the purpose of the movies, which is to hook consumers on Amazon Prime. If you remember, Amazon Prime started at $79 dollars per year. The benefit at that time was two-day free shipping. Now, you and I are smart enough to do the math, saying, how many shipments do we expect next year, and is $79 worth it? Bezos does not want you to do that math. He basically says, “Oh, by the way, I’ll throw in some free content, some free music, some free unique movies.” Now you can’t do the calculation. Why does he care about Prime? Right now, Amazon has about 100 million Prime customers globally. Let’s say I get an average 100 dollars per year, that’s $10 billion in my pocket, before I open the store.

Link to the rest at Working Knowledge, Harvard Business School

PG has one quibble with the OP: He doesn’t think anyone “fired up his T1 modem” to look for a book in 1995.

Whenever PG used a T1 to access the internet in those ancient days, a T1 was referred to as a line. It was quite expensive and it ran 24/7/365. He always accessed a T1 through a corporate network center which operated behind locked doors inside a series of large glass boxes.

Connecting to the internet on a T1 line was silent while doing so through a modem on your desk was not.

PG realizes that Brian in the OP was probably trying to speak metaphorically, but apt metaphors tend to accurately reflect the reality of the object or action upon which the metaphor is based.

PG’s mother and sister are former English teachers, so perhaps he has some sort of recessive gene that promotes occasional bouts of rule-based overreach.

The True Cost of Multitasking Isn’t Productivity—It’s Mental Health

21 May 2019

From Zapier:

When I set out to write a piece about multitasking, my goal was to review and present some scientific studies showing exactly how multitasking impacts productivity. Because it definitely impacts productivity, right? I hear that all of the time.

As it turns out, I couldn’t find much to support that claim. In fact, I found one study that showed multitasking actually makes people more productive.

What I did find, though, was that even if multitasking were to impact your productivity, it would be the least detrimental of its side effects. The true costs of multitasking are to your mental health, happiness, focus, and ability to learn new things. So the real reason you shouldn’t multitask isn’t that you want to get more done. It’s because you’re looking after your well-being.

. . . .

We often think of multitasking as doing more than one thing concurrently: Watching YouTube videos while chatting with friends on Discord (one of my teenage daughter’s favorite activities), or driving while talking on the phone.

Multitasking is both doing multiple things at once (like driving and talking on the phone) and alternating between different tasks instead of finishing one and moving on to another (like responding to emails incrementally while working on a larger project).

. . . .

We’re all splitting our time between larger, higher priority tasks and consistent interruptions from lower-priority, less time-consuming to-dos that arrive via email, text, instant message, and face-to-face interruptions.

. . . .

The time it takes to stop doing one task and focus on another is best measured in milliseconds.

That’s what several researchers found while studying the impact of task switching. They tested a variety of different types of task-switching activities and found that it rarely takes longer than two seconds to perform the mental control processes that are required to switch from one task to another.

But that seems to conflict with the statistic I’ve seen cited frequently that says it takes 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption.

That’s because the 23-minute statistic is often cited incorrectly.

It comes from a research study conducted by Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith, and Ulrich Klocke. In their study, 48 participants had one main task to focus on, but they were also directed to deal with other tasks as they came in (i.e., interruptions via email).

When interrupted, an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds passed between the moment of interruption and the point where participants resumed working on the main task. So the 23 minutes isn’t the amount of time it takes to refocus after switching tasks; it includes the time it takes to complete the task that interrupted you.

And though a 23-minute pause due to an interruption isn’t an insignificant amount of time, the researchers discovered something interesting. The people who were interrupted managed to complete their main tasks in less time than people who weren’t interrupted—and with no measurable difference in quality.

“Surprisingly, our results show that interrupted work is performed faster,” the researchers write. “We offer an interpretation. When people are constantly interrupted, they develop a mode of working faster to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted.”

. . . .

“Interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price,” they write. “After only 20 minutes of interrupted work, people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort, and pressure.” So it’s quite possible that you can multitask all day long with little to no impact on your productivity or the quality of the work you produce. But behind the scenes, all of that multitasking is likely taking its toll on your overall mental health and wellbeing.

Additionally, Gloria Mark conducted a subsequent study that found that even if multitasking your way through interruptions makes you more productive, you’re likely to feel as though you weren’t productive.

And feeling less productive, Mark found, also takes a toll on your mental health. The second study found that people who felt they’d been productive over the course of the day reported having more positive moods at the end of the day. But the more often people were interrupted by emails, switched tasks on their computer screens, or participated in face-to-face discussions, the more likely they were to report feeling that they hadn’t been productive.

. . . .

[T]he Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Cynthia Kubu explains that by multitasking, “we slowly lose our ability to focus enough to learn. Attention is essential to learning.” So regardless of your productivity while multitasking, it’s likely that you’re not growing in your skills.

. . . .

[A] 2012 study found that people were less likely to multitask and experienced less stress when they didn’t have access to email. Another stufythree years later measured the stress levels of people who had unlimited access to their emails one week against their stress levels another week where they were only allowed to check their email three times a day. “During the limited email use week, participants experienced significantly lower daily stress than during the unlimited email use week,” researchers found. Then, in 2017, researchers looked at the impact of push notifications. With push notifications disabled, participants were much more likely to report that they felt less distracted and more productive. Additionally, 11 of the 30 participants reported they felt less stressed with push notifications disabled.

. . . .

Another study led by Gloria Mark even found that technology’s frequent interruptions train us to self-interrupt.

. . . .

And once we’re stuck in this cycle of self-interrupting, it stresses us out to not check in. This point comes from research conducted at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight. Researchers found that people get an average of 65-80 notifications on their phones every day. When participants had access to check those notifications as often as they wanted, they felt “stressed, unhappy, interrupted, and non-productive.”

On the flip side, when participants were asked to turn their notifications off completely, that also caused stress. People reported feeling anxious and worried that they were missing something important.

Link to the rest at Zapier

The OP includes links to a variety of apps and computer settings that can control how often and when notifications pop up on your computer, tablet, cell phone, etc.

So, here’s a question: Do serious authors tend to multitask or not?

If authors don’t multitask, are there particular practices they employ to deal with interruptions generated by their connected devices?

PG is not the type of writer that most of the visitors to TPV are, but when he’s working on a complex legal document, he shuts off or ignores almost everything else.

If he takes a writing break, he may check email and/or text messages to see if anything pressing shows up, but when he starts writing again, everything else is minimized or taken off his screen entirely.

It does help that PG works at Casa PG instead of the busy offices which characterized his earlier professional and business life, so his only non-digital interruptions are from Mrs. PG who is usually writing when PG is doing the same thing.

Readers Have a Loyalty

21 May 2019

Readers have a loyalty that cannot be matched anywhere else in the creative arts, which explains why so many writers who have run out of gas can keep coasting anyway, propelled on to the bestseller lists by the magic words AUTHOR OF on the covers of their books.

~ Stephen King

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