How did it get so late so soon?

Courtesy Debug Design

Courtesy Debug Design

Helga’s Post # 27 — “It’s night before it’s afternoon. My goodness how the time has flown.” So said our beloved Dr. Seuss.

As the weather and by extension people’s moods improve day by day, so does the volume of junk mail fluttering into our mailboxes. Most notably, glossy catalogues about the new spring and summer fashion, and lovely outdoor furniture adorned with sexy models that can’t be more than sixteen years old (don’t these marketing gurus realize that women make most of the buying decisions?)

I usually take the whole lot and dump it unopened or unread in my yellow recycling bag. I do this because I want to buck the trend. According to statistics, the average person (in North America) spends eight months of his or her life reading junk mail. Smack me on the head! Eight months?

Eight months that could be spent writing a novel. A reasonable time to complete a solid, four hundred-page novel.

But that’s just the beginning. How else do we fritter away our most valuable commodity, time? How many sequels could we write if we transform said squandered time into writing? Here are some examples. Trivia to be sure, but a tongue-in-cheek eye-opener all the same.

The average person spends, in his or her lifetime, three years in meetings, over one thousand sick days in bed, seventeen months drinking coffee and soft drinks, two years on the phone (I would argue that is very conservative; think ‘teens’), twelve years watching TV, three years shopping, one year looking for misplaced items, five years waiting in line, an infuriating twenty weeks on hold waiting to speak to a human in call centers, and nine months sitting in traffic.

Time we could spend writing! Not all of it avoidable, like being sick, but without doubt the TV and phone time is something we do have a modicum of control over.

So I’ve been thinking how I could harness some of this wasted time. To confess, one of my many bad habits is pushing the ‘On’ button of the remote after waking up. Just to catch the news. Time managers would tell me to stop that. By the time I am done with the headlines, I will have watched at least twenty minutes of commercials. Not good. Most is trivial anyway – really, do I need to know what Justin Bieber is doing? Or what professional athlete got arrested?

Changes were in order. I now get out of bed without news on TV (I can catch those later in the evening). Thirty minutes saved every day just by getting rid of one bad habit. That’s a lot of writing time.

On to the next time waster, one that many writers can identify with: E-mails.

Since this post is about how to waste less time, I don’t want to waste more time stating the obvious. Instead, here is what to do to stop this colossal squander: Pushing the ‘Unsubscribe’ button. Relentlessly. Who really needs all this electronic junk mail? I managed to live very well without it cluttering my in-box, so why bother with special offers on anything from… well, you know, the sky is the limit. So if anyone claims they can’t find time to write because they get many hundreds of emails per day, it’s tempting to say, get a handle on it. I realize, emails are a great tool for people who are making a living in a marketing job, but the rest of us? Control it. Don’t be a slave to your own in-box.

Because that’s time you could spend writing!

But wait, there’s more. Of course there’s Angry Birds, a no-brainer. Moving on, there’s one huge item that time managers of the not so recent past have ignored, but are catching on fast and furiously. You probably guessed it: social media.

FB image

I can’t even begin to guess how much time gets frittered away  starting the day checking Facebook and Twitter, and LinkedIn and whatever. Substantial, valuable time and mental energy. Sure, it’s tempting, it’s like listening to gossip, and it has all those pretty pictures. But really, let’s be honest. How much does it add to our education, our knowledge, our quality of life? Surely, that time would be better spent reading a good book, or doing research for the novel we are writing? I’m not saying social media has no value. It does. It allows us to share information with lightning speed and it builds communities. It has many benefits, worthy of future discussions. But for the purpose of this post, all I want to share is that I had to control it rather than allowing it to control me. I hope that I have succeeded (I  check my FB and Twitter just before bedtime. That way it  doesn’t rob me of my writing time).

If, after all the ‘wasters’ there’s still time left in the day, you haven’t counted the minutes spent on your cell phone. You can find an astounding statement on WikiAnswers.com: Four. Not minutes. The average person spends four hours a day on their cell phone (admittedly, it sounds improbable).

There is tons of advice on how to avoid time wasters. One such site that caught my eye as I prepared for this post is Inc.com.  Three items resonated with me:

–       You live online. Wasting time on Facebook. Playing with apps. Emailing and texting.

–       You network randomly. Relationships are critical to success. Networking and schmoozing are key to forming relationships. But randomly connecting with thousands of strangers online won’t help one bit.

–       You troll for Twitter followers. If you’re Ashton Kutcher or Kim Kardashian, that’s great. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a distraction–a complete and total waste of time.

Not everyone will agree.

What does all of this mean for my commitment to submit my completed manuscript to my critique group in time for our retreat? I had to seriously prune my time wasting habits to make the most of what matters most to me.  If I can stick to it, I should be able to harness my energy and a good chunk of time to spend on what’s important to me. For what I am. A writer.

Then again, I have to ask myself, whom do I write for? Because here is one more (my final) statistic: The average American adult between eighteen and sixty-four watches television five times more than they read.

A sobering thought. And while I think about it, I will take out a few minutes on my favorite time waster. Because, in spite of all the wisdom stated above, as John Lennon used to say,

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”

captureaj

4 thoughts on “How did it get so late so soon?

  1. Guilty as charged, Helga. I do try to manage the bite my favourite time-wasters take out of my day, not always successfully. However, I have another problem that continually gets in the way of my writing schedule: Little Jobs. I’ll settle down to write my book as soon as I … pay the bills, empty the dishwasher, feed the cats, change the laundry, do my blog post, prep my tax stuff, research flights for my vacation … and on and on and on and on. Note: those are just the things on the top of my mind for TODAY, and I haven’t scratched the surface. They’re real things that really have to be done, not games, not trivia, not optional time-wasters. But I can’t tell you how often a week goes by and I realize that all I’ve accomplished are Little Jobs. How do other people manage all these relentless details of our complicated modern lives? See … I’ve just done another one of them: commenting on your blog post!

    • Good points, Silk. We are all victims of the Little Jobs that somehow always fall in our laps. I would love to ask some prolific authors how they manage. How can they write three, four or more novels a year? It has to do with prioritizing. If I commit myself to let’s say two (or three, or four) hours of writing per day, from Monday to Friday, no matter what (even if the laundry has to wait, the cats go hungry 🙂 the dishwasher stays full, the writing comes first. Easy, huh? Just kidding.

  2. I have a different take on those little jobs: they let the background programs in your brain work. Some of my best writing ideas come when I’m doing something else, something completely different from writing. It just happens, and the trick is to be ready for it; do the little jobs that allow me to run up to the computer, or have a pen and some paper handy when I’m out grocery shopping. Pen & pad next to the bed doesn’t work too well; scribbles rarely make sense in the morning. For me, setting aside a block of time doesn’t mean that it’ll be productive. I just have to be ready for that random creativity meteorite to glance off my head, or, all too rarely, score a direct hit.

    BTW: ” … and lovely outdoor furniture adorned with sexy models that can’t be more than sixteen years old (don’t these marketing gurus realize that women make most of the buying decisions?)”
    The marketing gurus assume that women will think (more accurately, assume without thinking) that they’ll look look sexy & sixteen if they by the product adorning, or adorned by, the sixteen year old model. They also assume that men will be more apt to agree to buy the lawn furniture their wife wants if it’s adorned with forbidden fruit. They want everybody to buy stuff they don’t need, and that’s where sex really sells.

    • Jerry – Having been in the ad business forever, my take is that the 16-year-old girls (they’re older, actually) are simply thoughtless eye candy. Just more furniture. I wouldn’t assume so much strategy actually goes into it!

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