Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How To Squeeze Every Minute

By John McDonnell

The Internet has revolutionized our lives, but it’s also the biggest time waster in the last 10,000 years.

How do I know this? Because I sit down to write and then I get caught up in Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Wikipedia -- and before I know it, hours have vanished from my life. When I was in Catholic school, these kind of insidious temptations were known as the agents of Satan, and I think the nuns who taught me that were on to something.

I mean, did Ernest Hemingway have to deal with this? Did John Updike? Updike wrote more than 50 books in 50 years, plus reams of magazine articles, essays, and poems -- do you think he could have accomplished all that if he was checking email every five minutes?

Of course not!

Then why don’t I pull the plug on this black hole that sucks the time out of my days? Why don’t I just get rid of my Internet connection so I can produce more work?

Because I can’t.

The addiction is too strong. I can’t go half a day without my Internet fix. I had to take my computer into the Apple store last week and wait a whole 24 hours for them to fix it, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was sweating, unfocused, blithering. I couldn’t concentrate.

When I got the computer back I ran to my desk, set it up, plugged it in, and voila! I was back online, plugged in to the pulsing heart of the Internet.

I guess there are worse addictions.

It’s just that the older I get, the more I realize the most important quality a person needs to be successful is good time management skills.

It’s not talent. It’s not luck. It’s not even hard work, although that’s important.

It’s the ability to figure out what’s important to you each day, write down your goals, and then focus on the steps you need to accomplish those goals.

You can be a blithering idiot and still be wildly successful if you have the simple ability to do that. To know what your priorities are on your To Do list every day, and then focus on getting those items accomplished. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other, that’s all.

It means putting blinders on, and blocking out all the bright shiny things trying to get your attention every day. It means shutting your ears to all the chatter around you. It means not exploring that cool Web site you just stumbled on, or reading “just one” email, or taking that phone call you know will waste the next half hour when you need to be working on your project.

When I know what I want to accomplish, write it down, and take steps to achieve it, that’s when I’ve always felt the most productive. You can sleep easy at night when you’ve crossed off all the important items on your To Do list every day.

The more the distractions of modern life have grown, the more people are looking for quick fixes to deal with them and be more productive. There are time management Web sites now, and tons of software programs promising to help us all use our time better. We can put To Do lists on our smart phones, send ourselves reminders, trade tips and advice with other people on productivity forums -- and yet people are complaining more than ever that there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done.

It’s really not that hard. Just write down a few tasks on a sheet of paper every day, then get them done. Know what your goals are, and review them on a regular basis to make sure you’re still on track. Learn how to say no to anything or anyone who pulls you away from your tasks each day.

This is not rocket science. It’s something I’ve known since I was 12 years old. I’ve done it at various times in my life, although not nearly enough.

Well, I’m going to do it again. I’m going to buy a yellow legal pad and start writing my lists out every day. I’m going to focus, focus, focus on getting my tasks accomplished. I’m going to change, go on an Internet crash diet. This time I’m going to do it!

Which reminds me, I need to do a Google search to find some good Web sites with time management tips.


Copyright John McDonnell, 2010. All rights reserved.


  1. John - we don't really have to be productive. Even though we 'waste' a lot of time these days, we are probably 50 times more informed and communicative than any other generation.

    Who says we need to write 50 books? Do you know what happens to books when they get written these days? (Don't answer that one.)

    It's not the same as in John Updike's day - his manuscripts did not have to compete with 6 million others.

    Agatha Christie wrote a lot, so did Ngaio Marsh, and we have very prolific writers now. What the world does not need more of is writers.

    It needs readers, and perusing blogs, downloading eBooks and so forth is definitely useful. What and who else are all these writers churning out all those words for?

    So you are fulfilling a very important function - reading stuff online is vital. Look things up - google like mad. Make sure the guys compiling Wikipedia, contributing articles and blogs are not doing it for nothing and no one.

    The web needs readers. You are an important factor. Never forget it.

  2. Rosanne, thanks for your comment. I do agree that there seem to be more writers than readers these days. Have you ever been on Goodreads? It's supposedly a site for readers, but just about everyone I've met there is a writer trying to promote his or her books. The number of readers seems to be dwindling, while the number of writers competing for those readers is increasing.

    I don't think any writer will be as prolific as Updike these days, because of all the distractions. I've read theories that this split attention mode we live in is a new paradigm, and that people are learning to do many things at once, that it's actually made us smarter, etc., etc. I don't know. All I know is that it's hard to produce anything of lasting value when you get sucked in to the ever-changing landscape of the Internet.

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