An Order of Discipline on the Side, Please

Dali-clock from

The class for yesterday didn’t make, so there was a whole day to my benefit. Wow! I really needed this gift of time (although the gift of money from teaching the class would have been nice, too.)

And then it was 8 p.m. and I had not accomplished a thing. How could that have happened? I did important stuff–answered lots of emails, kept up on social media. I found that great blog on, ummm, that thing. And then there was that great website that showed, ummmm, a video on something important. And before I noticed it, it was 2 p.m. and I hadn’t showered yet.

You get the idea. I filled the day with important-feeling, sounding and looking items that I didn’t remember. Each blog I read, each video I watched was important at the moment, but there was no connection between what I needed to know and the information that was pouring over me. We feel smart, but when we remember nothing because we take in too much, we are no smarter than a colander is full of water.

Here’s how today is different: I’m adding a small touch of discipline on the side.

I did not start the day reading emails. I started the day by taking a walk and doing walking meditation. I felt energized when I came back. Showered. Took out my 3-item to-do listThen I checked my email.

I didn’t answer all my email. I read it first. Chose the ones that had a direct link to the to-do list. Got those out of the way. Left some others for later.

Social media is important. Many of my clients come to me through Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In, so I have to pay attention. I checked

A mayan calendar won't make more sense than yours if you don't use it.

through Twitter, and clicked on some interesting-looking blogs and articles. If they were interesting, but not immediately related to my to-do list, I bookmarked them in my “check back later” file–a file I created for just this purpose.

Create bookmark categories that work for you today. You can change the categories later. I file most of the bookmarked sites to review when I actually need them instead of piling up information I can’t remember now. Information gathering is similar to going grocery shopping–you put what you need in the cart, but you do not sit down and eat everything right after you buy it.

For example, I am giving a speech in September. From a Twitter link, I found Prezi, a tool that is more useful to me than Powerpoint. But today, I am not writing that speech. So I bookmarked the article and moved on. Today I need to organize a class I’m teaching in about two weeks, and most of that will happen with a piece of paper and a pencil, figuring out timelines and outlines and when to do the exercises. (Yes, I do this with a pencil and paper.) And I need to pay bills.

Use the computer in ways you need to use the computer. I pay bills online. I ignored the emails coming in during that time, because they weren’t related to the items on my to-do list. I did not go back to check on Twitter right then. I needed to move ahead with my class.

Turn off the computer. One of the reasons I bought a laptop is that I can close it and ignore it. I worked on the class for an hour. Then I came back and answered emails for an hour, checked in with Twitter and bookmarked more great blogs. Next came the RSS feed list, checked and bookmarked them.  Turned off the computer again to run errands.

Run errands during off hours. As a freelancer, I save hours of time by not buying office supplies or running errands on weekends. I do that at 2 p.m. on weekdays. I plot a course that starts me at the farthest point out and works back home. It wastes less gas. I take a bottle of iced tea to drink to help prevent a swing through a drive-in that packs on the calories I walked off in the morning.

And so I moved through the day, looking at my to-do list, and keeping an eye on the clock. Tonight, I will review the blogs and links and see which ones I can delete. We save things for odd reasons, and one of them is that they please our brain chemistry like chocolate pleases the taste buds. Generally, when I review the articles, I can delete most of them. They were interesting, but not worth keeping.

Many days, I don’t succeed in all my discipline,  but on the days I do succeed, it’s not harsh discipline, but a light helping of sweeping away what I don’t need right now. What’s your favorite efficiency tip?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and training developer on business communication. She teaches what she knows and practices what she learns. Oh, and I’m teaching at Art Unraveled, an art retreat in Phoenix in two weeks.