Posted: 2008-09-18 in General
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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 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.

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  1. Eileen says:

    OMG, this was such an inspiring post! Thanks so much for sharing it!
    BTW, I went to 43 Folders and read the blurbs on an empty In-Box – and cleaned out my own In-Box in less than 5 minutes applying simple principles! Mind you, much of it was filed elsewhere, but it's no longer in the In Box where I'm forced to stare at it each day!


  2. lauowolf says:

    brillianthard to get started on, but really rewarding.


  3. Lightchaser says:

    Wow, what a great post by Mann (thanks for the link); and yours is no less inspiring.I'm still busy, but now I see where my time is being allocated to, and I'm happy with it. You know, Ross, this is a juncture that we are all striving to reach. It's good to know that you've gotten to such a place. I waste SO much of my time each day on brain-numbing, habitual trivialities. I have that exact same habit with regard to books (and movies) by the way: I hate not finishing even the worst of them. I will force myself to get through it. Now I'm coming to see that that's just stupid. I'm worth more than that, and so is my time!Thanks for giving me something good to read today ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. Red Pen says:

    Excellent post. You've described a process of simplification and prioritizing that would be beneficial for so many of us.


  5. Gerri Atric says:

    For me, it's to the point that I'm uncomfortable just sitting quietly and doing nothing. It's upsetting wondering what's going on while I'm sitting there. What am I missing?


  6. Steve Betz says:

    Really good post! It's so easy to get sucked into everything that's available — and there's that strange "what if I miss something?!?!?" feeling that I have sometimes when I'm not "connected".


  7. W. B. Mook says:

    Oh hell yes, you put a Goulet Indicator on your page! Wait, tat's not what I came here to comment on… (Still, how do you force your sidebar to be huge? I tried it one afternoon, but never figured it out.)It's nice to see Mann back on his game. YLNT may go over well with the kids, but I'd always found it to be self indulgent and not as funny as the creators seem to think it is. Much like The Onion, now that I think of it. I'm stuck in a holding pattern that's like this, but not. I suppose I'll write about it in my own blog.


  8. Ross says:

    You can read all the details on how to change your sidebar length here (written by yours truly).I HAD to put a Goulet indicator on my page after you made it automated – it rocks.


  9. Ross says:

    Yeah, at first I kept wondering what I was missing. But then I realized I really wasn't missing anything, and then I stopped feeling that way. Pretty soon, I liked not trying to keep up with the Joneses on all the topics out there, and I'll trust if it's really big I'll hear about it sooner or later. ๐Ÿ™‚


  10. Ross says:

    Ooh, bad movies are a hard habit for me to break, too! I think I'm going to start right now – I'm halfway through Transformers and vow not to waste my time trying to watch the end!


  11. Ross says:

    Good for you for working on that Inbox! That's one of the few things I got into the habit of doing that I think is really worth keeping up with – I feel much more organized when I'm not constantly staring at 50 emails, 15 of which I've kept "unread" (even though I've read them) to remind me to take action on something….


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