Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"May I have your attention please?"/ "Four easy ways to become more productive"

Oct. 22, 2016 "May I have your attention please?": I found this article by Michael Harris in the Globe and Mail today.  This is a book review, but it is about business and advertising: 

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads By Tim Wu Knopf, 403 pages, $37.95

How advertisements have insinuated themselves into every corner of our lives

Never have so many attended to so much to so little purpose. Ours is an age of distraction and anxiety – typified by the laptop junkie cruising among 20 open tabs, sampling a stew of news and entertainment and social grooming. We seldom stop to wonder why our experience of the Internet should be so manic, why our attention should be so aggressively solicited again and again. What Tim Wu makes painfully clear in his new book, The Attention Merchants, is that our distracted state is not some “natural” byproduct of online life; it is a highly manufactured experience engineered by those who capture our attention for a living so that they can sell it to the highest bidder.

“There have always been two ways of converting attention into cash,” Wu writes. The original way was to charge admission to the spectacle – a ticket to the theatre, say. The newer way is to give away the spectacle (or sell it at a loss) in order to gather as much attention as possible – and then turn around and sell that attention to advertisers. This is the model used by Wu’s “attention merchants” – and it underpins our digital zeitgeist.

Nearly every aspect of our lives is now commercially exploited and Wu argues that a creeping baseline of acceptability has left us with an ad deluge we once found abhorrent. There was a time when even the intrusion of a radio advertisement in a domestic sphere was seen as nearly obscene. Today, Wu notes, elementary-school report cards are emblazoned with McDonald’s logos. Indeed, advertisements have insinuated themselves into every corner of our lives: “The winning strategy from the beginning,” he writes, “has been to seek out time and spaces previously walled off from commercial exploitation, gathering up chunks and then slivers of our un-harvested awareness.”

Nowhere has such harvesting been so awesomely executed as online. The so-called free products of Google and Facebook (and YouTube and Twitter etc.) are, in Wu’s estimation, enormous reaping machines designed solely to harvest attention. In this scenario, it goes without saying, you and I are the wheat.

Wu’s book is far more interesting than the usual tech-diatribe because he takes us on a tour of the problem’s history. His story begins in the 1830s, when new technologies allowed for the ascent of mass advertising. A 23 year-old New Yorker called Benjamin Day, for example, disrupted the fledgling newspaper industry when he launched the New York Sun in 1833. He sold his papers for a penny, vastly undercutting his rivals. What’s more, the Sun would be “alluring to the broadest segment of society – by any means necessary.” This meant stories of “melancholy” suicides and lewd murders. Anything to grab eyeballs. Within one year, Day’s paper had more readers than any in New York. “At some magical moment during that first year,” writes Wu, “it happened: The lift generated by paid advertising exceeded the gravity of costs … the New York Sun took flight, and the world was never really the same again.”

Imbedded in the story of the New York Sun is the very essence of the attention merchant’s philosophy: You don’t sell things to people, you sell people to advertisers.

My opinion: That really stood out to me.

Wu’s historical chapters are key, but his book’s heart is contemporary. His vision of the Internet is fatalistic in some respects: “Where attention is
paid, the attention merchant lurks patiently to reap his due. … The fall of the Web to this force was virtually preordained.” From Google’s introduction of AdWords to clickbait-driven slideshows laced with Nike spots, the myth of a “free and open” Internet is debunked time and again until we see online life for what it has become – a rapacious extension of capitalist interest.

The Attention Merchants can sit smartly next to Astra Taylor’s excellent 2014 book The People’s Platform as a tale of capitalism’s warping of the Internet’s grand potential. And, like Taylor, Wu offers some hope. Alternatives to the attention merchants are always emerging. Consider the debut of House of Cards in 2013: Millions binge-watched episodes without consuming a single commercial. Subscriber-based Netflix proved it could make a fortune without selling its viewers to advertisers. And new “adblocking” programs, which detect and prevent advertisements from appearing onscreen, may undo the attention merchant’s game entirely. What would happen to our online lives if profits were only made via direct sales of content and services? We may one day find out.

Or not. Wu concludes that “the attention merchants have always found a way to overgrow the bright new machines that seemed to be hacking through the old-growth foliage.” He describes a system with a terrible “logic of its own,” a system that bends forever toward the harvesting and reselling of attention. Ultimately, this deeply intelligent book describes a dynamic, a battle for our mental landscape that has no end in sight.

Michael Harris is the author of The End of Absence, which won the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2014. His next book, Solitude, will be published in 2017.

Oct. 28, 2016 "Four easy ways to become more productive": I cut out this article by Brian Scudamore in the Globe and Mail on Nov. 20, 2015:

We’re officially distracted – and it’s only getting worse.

According to a new book, we spend about 20 minutes every hour dealing with unplanned distractions. It gets worse: we spend another full 20 minutes every hour trying to get back to work after getting distracted in the first place.

For me, this issue is especially acute. I was labelled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a kid. Staying on task has always been a challenge, even before cellphones, social media and overflowing inboxes came into the picture. Running a company that employs hundreds of people and works with thousands more franchisee employees has only made focusing even harder.

For all those reasons, staying productive and clearing obstacles from my path is an obsession of mine (little wonder I started a business that’s famous for clearing junk from people’s lives). Over the years, I’ve developed a few favourite hacks for getting things done. They’re not rocket science, but they’ve been tested in the best lab I know – decades on the frontlines of a growing business.

When in doubt, delegate

Entrepreneurs often have a hard time letting go, and it can be their biggest downfall. I was several years into running my company, and working way too many hours, before I figured out that it was counterproductive for me to try to do everything. I’d be in the office until midnight, trying to solve every problem. Often, I only made things worse.

Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric, said, “Always err on the side of delegation.” It challenges and inspires people. Give them parameters and autonomy, too, so they can take ownership over their work. Beyond a doubt, my most important productivity hack over the years has been learning to do exactly these things.

Today, I’m a masterful delegator – it means I work fewer hours, I only see about 25 e-mails a day and I have time to pursue all my life goals. But the benefits actually run both ways. When you hand off responsibility to your employees, it can enrich their work experience, too – giving them greater voice and expanding their career skill set.

Live by the one-page rule

Words to live by: Simple is what comes after complex. In business, this holds true whether you’re drafting a business plan, developing a sales pitch or outlining a project. Putting lots of detail and ideas down on paper is easy. Stripping all that down to the essence of the argument – the heart of the matter – is the hard part and takes work.

But it’s worth it. The rule of thumb I’ve applied over the years is that if a business practice can’t be reduced to one side of a single page, then it’s overly complicated and inefficient. And it’s probably not going to work. Boiling your processes down to one page makes your goals clearer and ensures people understand expectations. I’ve built a business with hundreds of franchise partners operating independently around the world, and having this level of clarity is absolutely critical.

Tame the evils of e-mail

Ready for a mind-blowing stat? McKinsey Global Institute recently released a report on the social economy that said the average knowledge worker spends 28 per cent of their workweek managing e-mail. That works out to more than one day every week spent just on taming your inbox.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of tools and strategies these days for getting your e-mail in order. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4 Hour Workweek, recommends checking your e-mail just twice a day. Apps like Sanebox can intelligently prioritize your messages. Meanwhile, many CEOs follow the three-sentences rule, which limits all e-mail responses to just a 140 characters (roughly three sentences) – anything longer requires a phone call.

My personal approach starts with good screening to get rid of the fluff – which can be accomplished with the right e-mail filters or, in my case, with the help of a great assistant. After sorting through hundreds of e-mails, what’s left are just a few dozen critical ones. These are then batched into three (and only three) separate folders: personal, end-of-day and end-of-week.

Personal stuff I generally leave until after work. I check in on the end-of-day folder periodically, responding to all messages before leaving the office. And when the time comes to slog through my end-of-week folder, I turn off my cellphone and focus completely until that folder is empty. It’s the digital equivalent of clearing the paperwork off my desk before heading out for the weekend.

Define your days

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is known for blocking off a couple of hours a day to do nothing but think. He calls these buffers “absolutely necessary” for his job – time out from relentless back-to-back meetings to focus on thinking strategically.

I’ve found it useful to take this idea one step further and dedicate a whole day to setting new goals, developing ideas and just stopping to think. My “buffer” day is generally Monday. To be honest, this felt like an indulgence at first. Now, it’s hard to imagine my life without this time to reflect, plan and dream.

By contrast Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are more focused days. This is when I concentrate on getting things done and addressing day-to-day needs, often grinding through back-to-back meetings. That leaves Friday, which is my free or flex day. Sometimes I’ll use it to catch up on the week’s backlog. Other times, personal stuff takes centre-stage, like school events with the kids.

I realize that not everyone has the luxury to define their days like this. But the general principle holds true: If we don’t set aside dedicated chunks of time each week to step back – reflecting on the past and planning for the future – then the demands of the present can easily monopolize everything else.

It’s worth pointing out that productivity comes in many forms. Yes, sitting at your desk – distraction-free – and ticking off your day’s tasks is important. Without finding ways to manage this effectively, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But my ADHD has been a blessing, too. Being distracted by the next shiny object is actually a virtue if you’re an entrepreneur, helping you spot trends and see opportunity before everyone else catches on.

Brian Scudamore (@brianscudamore) is the founder and CEO of O2E (Ordinary to Exceptional) Brands, which includes companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING and You Move Me. He’s an expert in franchise development, growing small businesses and corporate culture.


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