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It's Our Turn: Squirrels and rabbits and bears

Like many people, I'm addicted to YouTube videos.

When I have time, I love to relax with the iPad and watch the latest videos about health and fitness, guitar playing, or whatever else I happen to be interested in at the time. It's truly amazing what you can find on YouTube — as well as how much time you can waste, if you're not careful.

Outside of the times when I'm looking for info on how to repair something or solve a problem, most of my time on YouTube is just searching for something new and exciting. Actually, It's probably all about distraction from what I really should be doing. There are endless squirrels to chase, all running off in different directions. Once you get started, It's hard to give up the chase and focus on something productive.

A lot of modern life is like that, with too many choices and too many distractions.

When I was young (before the Internet and personal computers), if you wanted to learn something, you went to the library or looked it up in an encyclopedia. If you couldn't find what you were looking for there, you either found someone to teach you or you forgot about it.

Now, we are faced with constant information overload. Rather than one good way to do something, we now have access to thousands, with no idea which is best. Rather than one source of news or one TV station to watch, we now have almost unlimited choices.

And every one of these choices takes time and energy. So, usually, we don't even make a choice, we just try to consume — and do — it all.

There's an old saying that if you chase two rabbits, they both will get away (and you'll go hungry). That's a good analogy to what many of us do. Rather than focusing on one important thing, we try to do several things at once. I don't know about you, but when I try to do that I either accomplish nothing or very little.

In reality, the problem isn't that there's too much information or too many options, it's more that we don't have the skills or discipline to manage them. In a relatively short period of time, we've gone from few choices (pre Internet) to nearly unlimited choices. Having access to information and options is great, but now we need to develop the discipline to use these tools effectively.

To start off, we need to unlearn a few false ideas that the Internet age has helped embed in our minds. The first is that we should always get what we want, on demand. The second is that anything new is good and anything old is bad. A third is that quantity is better than quality.

We also need to revisit the age old concept of priorities, or deciding what is most important and focusing on those things. In fact, the root word of "decision" means to cut off. So, when we make a decision, we are choosing one thing and cutting off the others, maybe not forever, but at least for a while. In other words, we need to choose which rabbit we will chase and not be distracted by squirrels running across the path.

It takes discipline to make a choice and avoid being distracted by new options. But it's the only way to be successful at anything.

Whether we like it or not, time is a hungry bear that keeps following us and eating up our days until eventually they will all be gone. When that time comes, the squirrels won't matter. But the one rabbit — the truly important things that we focused on and caught — will mean everything.

• • •

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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