Earlier this month, Merlin Mann (of 43 Folders fame) wrote a very insightful post on his personal site entitled "Better". It struck a chord with me because I have recently been pondering some of the exact same issues in my personal life.
Lately (for the past few months or so) I've been feeling very much a consumer of stuff, much more so than normal. I've spent a great deal of time perusing the internet, reading books, watching television, listening to music and podcasts and audiobooks, etc.. That's not to say I have been a total slug – I've also written blog posts, worked hard to create my community's website, put in some long hours at the office, done some work around the house and spent time with my family. But the days have been flying by and at the end of them, I've often found myself wondering where my time went and why I didn't feel as in-control of things as I wanted to be.
After reading "Better", I took a step back and evaluated what I was doing. I had over 300 RSS feeds that I was checking regularly, including some of the "big ones" like BoingBoing and Engadget – I was "reading" over 15,000 posts through Google Reader a month (that's more than 500 feed items a day!) I was listening to a plethora of podcasts and even though I was speeding them up before listening to them, was still falling "behind" on the subscriptions for some of them. I was watching a substantial amount of television, with some of it not even qualifying as good TV. I had email newsletters out the wazoo on subjects I found interesting but wasn't doing a lot with. I'd become addicted to consuming all the little tidbits that, according to Merlin, "for at least a few minutes, helps both the maker and the consumer feel a little less bored, a little less vulnerable, and a little less disconnected. For a minute, anyway, it makes us feel more alive."
So I started making changes:
- I immediately went through my RSS feeds and cut out any I hadn't read in a while, any I had been skipping over, or any who had more than a few posts a day. I then went through the remainder and asked myself if each feed was A) useful/necessary, B) entertaining, C) a waste of time, and/or D) a duplicate of info I could get another way with less time wasted. For any whose answer did not include some combination of A or B outright, I deleted. This cut my feeds down to under 200, total, with an average daily feed count of about 100 items. I'm still working on cutting this as needed, but I can now make it through all my feeds in about 20 minutes or less, once a day.
- I did a similar process with my podcasts. I measured out how many hours I have available while driving to/from work and around town on the weekend, and limited the total quantity of podcasts to fit in this time window (plus a little extra for unexpected extra listening times). Prioritizing the podcasts I wanted to keep helped me make the decisions of what to cut.
- As email newsletters come into my inbox, I make a similar decision as to whether to keep on receiving it, or unsubscribe. So far, I think I've only decided to keep receiving one or two of them.
- I used to be one to only very rarely give up on a book. I've since decided to be more discriminating about what books I purchase/borrow so I am not slogging through books I don't really want to read. There were a number of free ebooks I downloaded from Tor.com that I really just wasn't enjoying, but they were sitting around on my eBook reader waiting for me to finish them so I could move on to something else. Now they're off my hard-drive and out of my life.
- TV watching has been one of the hardest things to change, as there are a lot of evenings when I get home and am just so ready to veg out in front of the TV after the kids are asleep that it's difficult to want to do anything else. I've made the smallest amount of progress in this area but again have tried to cut down on the crap I'm recording on the DVR – if I have less junk available for me to watch, the TV is less likely to be a time sink for me when I could be doing other things.
The benefits to my actions were apparrent almost immediately; no longer was I feeling like I was wasting time and letting things spin out of control. At first, I found myself opening Google Reader at random times and feeling a little down when I didn't have any new items to read (this is about the time I really realized how addicted I was to the feeds as an entertainment source). I've since started using the time I used to spend reading feeds instead playing with my daughters, or thinking of and implementing new things I want to do/create. The books I'm reading now are all ones that are completely engrossing and, in my opinion, well worth their time. I'm still busy, but now I see where my time is being allocated to, and I'm happy with it.
I've still got some improvements to make, and I'm not going to give up being a consumer entirely. Everything is fine in moderation, and as long as I don't go back to being obsessed with all the things I was going overboard with before, I think I'll be in pretty good shape. I'm really pleased with my progress so far, though, and I'm doubly thankful for the fortuitous timing of Merlin's post, which helped inspire me to get off my butt and stop contemplating my problem and instead start working to fix it.
Read and post comments | Send to a friend