Life, Five Minutes at a Time

Most everyone past the age of 50 knows what I mean when I say, “Man, I’m tired.” It’s more than physical exhaustion, more than mental fatigue. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, towards the end of the week, the Tsunami of Truth crashes into you, and all you can do is stand there and take it. My truth: Man, I’m tired.

This has been creeping up on me over the years. The job I have, a copy editor at a newspaper, requires long periods of intense concentration. I did not realize this is incompatible with inner mental workings. I often have trouble holding a thought long enough for it to incubate. Designing pages, writing headlines and captions, reading long pieces and short briefs, making valiant attempts to help a reporter make sense of something that often is insensible: it’s taxing, frustrating, exhilarating, fun, and exhausting.
So I learned a trick some time ago, along the lines of ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ It’s simple and effective: focus on whatever you’re doing for five minutes.  No distractions. No interruptions. No wandering of the mind.  Stick to the task at hand for five minutes. Then decide what’s next.

I came to appreciate the value of this system when the time came to tackle writing a novel. Some of my short stories begged to become longer tales. I acquiesced. As the stories unfolded in my mind, I knew the only way I’d be able to write the thousands more words needed was to take things one very small step at a time. So I put into practice what I had been doing at work. The 70,000-word tome did not seem so overwhelming after that.

I admire people with the ability to go ‘the long haul.’ My long hauls amount to short excursions, one after the other. I guess it’s all right. I still get tired. But I take life five minutes at a time.

What about you?

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