Last week I thought I’d try a media diet. I’d watched an interview from RailsConf with Tim Ferris who talked about how he was selective in his consumption of media and how it improved his focus and productivity. The point really resonated with me as I’ve found that, like most people whose job involves the internet, I have a real problem with procrastination.
Although the reading I did on the internet was interesting, and in many cases relevant to my work, the potential to get distracted meant that I often found myself browsing Hacker News or Reddit, rather than completing tasks, and checking my RSS feeds took hours.
On the plus side, this large consumption of media meant that I was extremely well informed on the status quo of the industry, however there were a number of downsides that had meant that I had begun to wonder whether I had a good production/consumption balance.
I had begun to feel dependent on the constant stream of news — if I didn’t check my feeds first thing in the morning I felt alienated from the rest of the internet and worried that something important had happened. Additionally, I often found myself browsing news sites without even thinking about it — it had become a reaction to boredom with my current task.
I decided halfway through the presentation that I had to try something new — before the video had even finished I had shut my RSS reader. I decided to go cold turkey, without any recreational internet consumption for the week. I reasoned that I could spend the next Saturday catching up on news and evaluating the experiment.
The first few days were hard as I broke the habit, often opening a blank tab and then realising I had nothing to put in it. I forced myself to stay bored and use the down time to think, and produce.
And produce I did. The week was noticeably more productive than normal. The real impact, though, was how I spent my free time. I’d often admired people who had numerous side projects and wondered how they managed to find enough free time. Now I had hours of boredom to fill — I began to revisit my own side projects.
I did several upgrades of my website, revisited GeoPlot (post to follow), read a novel &mdash did many of the things I genuinely wanted to do, but previously had not had the time. It was such an outstandingly productive week that before Saturday had even rolled round I’d decided to make it a permanent habit.
I had looked forward to checking my feeds on Saturday — I genuinely like reading about the cool things people have made, and the articles that are posted. Most of the feed’s I’m subscribed too are about things I care about.
But with the backlog of items, sifting through the posts felt tedious, and my brain felt overwhelmed. The constant influx of information that my brain had spent the week avoiding poured from the screen, and I had several shell-shocked coffees. Checking the feeds had taken all day, and at the end of it I felt no more satisfied, no more connected, rather I felt jittery, on edge — I felt wired from all the information.
I’d learnt about four feet worms eating concrete under New York, A world record 186 foot waterfall run in a kayak, and a boy scout who built his own nuclear reactor. But I still felt unsatisfied. I still needed information.
And the on-edge feeling continued through Sunday — like withdrawal symptoms from an addiction. It was Sunday evening before I could focus enough again to return to my projects.
I’ve experienced the productivity, the better sleep, and the relaxation that comes from ignoring the internet. I’m not in a hurry to go back. I have a few ideas for improving the process of checking feeds, so hopefully I can make my Saturday’s easier, but from now on my weeks will be spent in blissful productive ignorance.