Converting Years Into Months

 “Time is money.” – Benjamin Franklin

My evolution as a computer user began back in the late seventies with the Xerox 860, considered to be the premier dedicated word processor of the time.

The problem was that I didn’t have a clue as to how to use those hi-tech behemoths. I had two secretaries, and they were absolute masters on their 860s, so there was no need for me to know how to use a word processor.

It’s almost comical to think about now, but each morning my secretaries had to load an operating disk into their machines to crank them up. My memory is a little shaky here, but I believe the disks were a whopping five-and-a-half inches square.

My modus operandi for writing a book was to type my notes on three-by-five cards, organize them on a 30-foot-long conference table, then type the first draft of the book on that modern marvel of yesteryear – an IBM Selectric typewriter. After I typed five or six pages, I would give them to one of my secretaries, and she would retype my words on her Xerox 860. This made it possible to revise each draft without having to retype the entire document.

Within 2 to 24 hours (depending upon the volume of work that I had given my secretary), I would receive a clean copy back from her, straight out of the Xerox 860 printer (which was about as quiet as a blast furnace). I would then read what she gave me and make revisions in red pen, hand it back to her … and the process would begin all over again.

I had a full-time editor on staff in those days, and when I felt that a chapter was clean enough, I would give it to her to go over carefully and make further revisions. To research an item in my manuscript, she would sometimes have to go to the library. (You do remember those relics of bygone years, don’t you?) At other times, she would have to count the words on a page for me, one at a time. Or, the most time-consuming task of all, search the entire manuscript to see how often I had used a certain word or phrase.

We’re talking Stone Age here.

So, writing a book was a full-time project for three people – my secretary, my editor, and me. For five or six days a week, early morning till well into the evening, we focused all our efforts on the book. If I was lucky, I’d have it ready for the typesetter in a year or so.

I self-published all my books in hardcover to assure that I could control the marketing. Then, by marketing each book to best-seller status, I was in a position to sell the paperback rights for a high six-figure advance. This was a lot of money, to be sure, but there’s something I didn’t understand at the time, and it was this:

It’s not how much money you make, but how much money you make in a given period of time.

Let’s say two people each make $1 million. One makes his million dollars in a single year, while the other makes his over a 40-year career. The latter person would have had an average annual income of only $25,000!

The point is that time matters when it comes to making money – which is to say that time matters when it comes to taking action. While it’s true that I was making about a million dollars a year writing books, the same principle applied even at that level. I came to the conclusion that my approach to turning out books was closer to the way it must have been in the Gutenberg era rather than in the age of computers.

So, in the early eighties, I did the unthinkable. To the surprise of all who knew me well enough to know that I had an aversion to computers, I finally learned to use that Xerox 860 clunker.

It was like being given a key to my prison cell. Suddenly, I was in control of how fast a project would move along. Because I now had the capacity to edit as I wrote, my first draft was cleaner, and read better, than perhaps my seventh or eighth draft had read in my old Selectric days.

After my Xerox 860s finally died of natural causes, I evolved through several computers until, in 1986, I finally splurged and bought what I was told would be the last computer I would ever need – an IBM that had something like 4 MG of RAM.

I hired an instructor to come to my office and give me a few WordPerfect lessons, and the result was like landing on another planet. I could now do in hours what used to take my secretary, my editor, and me days to accomplish working together.

Fast-forward to late 1996…

By this time, I had become fairly efficient at word processing on a state-of-the-art HP computer, and I made a decision that would forever change my life. At the suggestion of my executive assistant in New Zealand, I switched from WordPerfect to Microsoft Word. Which seemed like a good idea at the time, but for one problem: I couldn’t figure out how to use this mysterious new program.

So, true to my overkill approach to problem solving, I bought eight – that’s eight – Microsoft Word manuals. Which taught me only one thing: that virtually all computer manuals are worthless.

I won’t go into detail here. But the bottom line is that I decided to write my own Microsoft Word reference guide, a project on which I spent a year-and-a-half. In the process, I became so proficient at Word that I gave up calling Microsoft’s help line when I had a question. It became apparent to me that I knew more about the program than the technical support people who were manning the phones. What I ultimately ended up with was a 650-page reference guide that was basically stillborn (because Microsoft was about to come out with Word 97 and my work was based on Word 95).

Now, you probably assume that if I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t embark on such a Herculean project. If so, your assumption would be wrong.

The benefits of my efforts came from a totally different direction than I had expected. My reference guide never had an opportunity to dazzle the public, but, by researching the innermost workings of Microsoft Word, I became a world-class Word expert. Which is a nice little skill to have, considering that I make my living by writing.

As a result, today I can do the work of 20 (30? 50? 100?) people – and do it better. And all because I took one of the weakest areas of my game – a lack of computer knowledge – and put an enormous amount of time and effort into making it one of my greatest strengths.

Even better is the fact that I’ve done this exact same thing in many other areas of my life, with the same amazing results.

The dollars earned from turning a weakness into a strength are, of course, impossible to calculate. But if you’ve had this experience, you know that Brian Tracy is right when he says that the biggest waste of time and life is for you to spend years accomplishing something that you could have achieved in only a few months.

Today’s Action Plan: Hopefully this will motivate you to go to your computer and start making a list of some of your greatest weaknesses. Then, over a period of days or weeks, write out exactly what you intend to do about each of them. Finally, turn your intentions into action. Unless you plan on living longer than Methuselah (969 years, according to the Old Testament), you can’t afford to take years to accomplish things that you have the capacity to accomplish in months.