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Eliminating Timewasters (Or, Is It January Again?)
by Moira Allen
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I hope last year's resolutions went well. I can't complain about my own; while I haven't achieved all the "goals" that I set, I have lost weight, I have joined a gym (and actually go to it regularly), and I have completed the first draft of my novel. Not too shabby. The weight has a long way to go, and so does the novel, but -- it feels a lot better to be "in progress" on both of those goals than hoping, maybe, someday, I'll actually get started on them.
This year, I'm not going to talk about resolutions. Instead, I'm going to talk a bit about one of the things that often gets in the way of achieving our resolutions: Timewasters. Perhaps, now that I think about it, this is just another way of talking about resolutions -- because one of my resolutions this year is to be a bit sharper in spotting timewasters, and a bit faster in eliminating them.
It's the "spotting" that is half the battle. What is a timewaster? Obviously, it's different things for different people. A family member, visiting for Christmas, watches my "routine" and murmurs, not without a touch of criticism, "Wow, you certainly spend a lot of time reading. I never have any time to read." I no longer waste time trying to point out that I am a writer, and I consider reading to be an essential part of developing my skills. Or that, on an even more fundamental level, I would never have become a writer if I had not been, first and foremost, a lover of books. On the other hand, my growing addiction to computer games isn't contributing a thing to my writing ability -- and while it's fine in moderation, I definitely have to watch out or it will indeed become a timewaster.
Sometimes, the people who are closest to us can be the most dangerous consumers of our time. Being "there" for family and friends when they need us is important. Being there whenever they want us is sometimes less so. For example, when a relative's car was totalled by a driver who ran a red light, leaving her badly shaken but, thankfully, uninjured, she needed a shoulder to cry on. In my book, that's not a timewaster. When this turned into near-daily reports on the latest hassles with the insurance company, the car rental company, the cell phone company, and so on, I realized it was time to turn on the answering machine...
Even work can be a timewaster, when it's the wrong work. As writers, we find it pretty difficult to pass up an assignment, especially a paying opportunity. But as many of us have learned, it's those "can't resist" assignments that often keep pushing the writing we really want to do farther and farther into the future. We keep telling ourselves we'll get to that novel, that collection of poetry, that lifelong research project, "just as soon as" we finish this one more task...
So how do you identify timewasters? Here are some "tests" I plan to apply to demands on my time in the year to come:
As Dawn's wonderful column on Giving Something Back points out, below, there are loads of things worth doing as a writer. And as Stuart Aken points out within that column, time is our most valuable resource. Using it wisely -- and weeding out some of the things that prevent us from using it wisely -- is probably the single most important step we can take toward making those New Year's Resolutions come true!
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.