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Eliminating the Clutter

No, this post is not about housecleaning, although heaven knows my office could use a lot of that. Rather, it’s about making sense and appropriate and efficient use of all the information sources at our fingertips.

I am always on the lookout for resources that will help me improve my writing, my editing, my marketing, and my knowledge of my subject field. Realizing the truth of Will Rogers’s quip that “We’re all ignorant–just on different subjects,” I have to find such sources so that I can improve my ignorance! I want to become less ignorant, a more knowledgeable and informed writer.

The problem isn’t the unavailability of the necessary resources or information but the enormous amount of such information available. The internet has increased that problem exponentially. I regularly receive numerous newsletters, blogs, and e-mails sharing tid-bits of information that are designed to make me a better writer, editor, marketer, person–there is no end to how I can improve!

At this moment, I count no less than fourteen e-books downloaded to my desktop that await my reading. They all sounded potentially helpful to me in some aspect of my writing-related work. But at the moment I downloaded them, I didn’t have time to read them to find out if they were, indeed, helpful. And they’ve piled up. Some of them are short and would, therefore, not take me long to read. Others are several hundred pages long. To clear my desktop will undoubtedly require at least a full day–maybe longer. These downloads are in addition to the myriad e-mails that pile up in my in-box every day. Sometimes I can keep up with them pretty much as fast as they arrive. But on other days, I’m so busy focusing on an urgent responsibility that I simply can’t get to them. Then it takes me literally hours to catch up on all the reading material that has piled up in the in-box. And that doesn’t count the e-mails that I must answer.

So what’s the solution? How am I to increase my knowledge, improve as a writer, and still have time to do what I’m supposed to be doing–writing? I see a three-step solution.

(1) Prioritize, put first things first.

(2) Procrastinate. (Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve learned that when I prioritize some things that absolutely must be done now, I have to put off doing other, less important things that compete for my attention.)

(3) Produce. I must force myself to set aside a specific time when I will roll up my sleeves, dive into the pile of information, and plow my way through until things are caught up. Sometimes it might not be pretty. I’ll have to skim some things and, if I determine that they are not worth my time, hit that delete key. No remorse. No guilt. If it won’t help me–and help me a lot–I must get rid of it. Other things I’ll have to either read and use or file away for future reference. But I don’t want to become an information hoarder.

One day, one of my daughters was rummaging through our attic in search of things from her pre-wedding days that she needed to take home with her, and she complained about the clutter. She pointed to a box of old model railroading magazines and asked me, “Have you used those in the last ten years? You don’t even have a model railroad layout any more, so why are you keeping those?”

“But I might–”

She cut me short. “You know you won’t use those. Donate them to someone who will. Or toss them in the trash.”

Ow! That hurt! But I realized that she was right. About four years later, I discovered the Hendersonville, N.C., Apple Valley Model Railroad Club and Museum. They’ve agreed to take those old magazines off my hands–and make good use of them. It’s a small step toward uncluttering that attic.

I have to do the same thing with all the information clutter that accumulates. If I expect to use my time wisely, I must de-clutter my writing life. Use what’s helpful, or get rid of it.

It’s not going to be easy, so (as they say down here in the South), y’all pray for me! But my guess is that even after I hit the delete key many times, I’ll never miss the stuff!

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