Where we’ve improved in communication and information, we’ve suffered in lost time and overload.
If the coming years are set to be a boom for curators of information, how can you strike a balance between drinking from a firehose and switching off the flow completely?
The Atlantic provides some ideas on how to plug in better, and there’s plenty more you can do to use your time productively and access huge amounts of noise at the same time. Here are some of the things I’ve learned to do over the years.
Six Ways to Plug In Better
- Prioritise accurately – Recognise social networks as a true time sink. If it’s on in the background, or constantly causing you to check your phone, it’s taking up more time and attention than you think. In many cases, that’s fine. In some cases, you need to shut down or find a way to tune in to a more limited feed of information.
- Know when to shut down – I used to repeat the phrase “know when to stop” a while back. It was to remind myself that time is precious. You may be wonderful at time-management, but that doesn’t mean you know when to stop. The constant flow of information coming your way is easily switched off, but it’s not so easy to make that conscious choice to shut it down.
You rarely need to hear something at the first possible moment. You may want to, but that’s a whole different matter. Also, when a big event takes over, you’re unlikely to miss it completely. I regularly take days at a time away from online activity, but the world still goes on without problem. And I return without problem too. Nothing is damaged, no harm is done.
To some online gurus, leaving the scene is a cardinal sin. Why not schedule something in advance? Why not make a big deal about your downtime? Why not find a way to not have any downtime at all?
I prefer not to follow advice that doesn’t gel with the bigger picture. When my circumstances change, the bigger picture may change and I may follow different advice. So I’m listening to what makes sense in my own personal circumstances. With a bit of listening, it becomes clear when it’s wise to shut down and when it’s best to log back on.
- Don’t read everything – Some people complain when they’re following more than a hundred RSS news feeds. Some people complain when they’re keeping up with more than a couple hundred users on Twitter. Some people complain when they’re catching up with several hundred friends on Facebook.
But how much of it is important? Chances are, most of what you read won’t make a difference to you. You need to be brutal and bypass a lot of the content out there. Either flick through your updates and develop a focused mind (no more cute kitten vids and hilarious TV ads will disturb you now, uh-huh!) or select the items you want to spend more time on and save them for later consumption.
- Don’t fall for ‘in the moment’ – When you save stuff to look at later, you may not be the first person to comment on every last detail. You may have to miss out on making a really clever remark within five seconds of someone writing a status update. I always feel sad when I miss saying something amusing in the moment, but I remind myself that I find loads of other times to do it. You can’t be everywhere all the time. Not everything will work out how you want it, and you have to get used to that (which takes a bit of practice, but isn’t difficult in itself). Once you get over this, you’ll find it much easier to turn off the feeds when you need. And you’ll find it much easier to catch up too.
- Scan for what’s important now, what you’ll save for later, and what might entertain you – Everything else can go out the window. If you’re unsure about something, save it for later or take a quick peek to decide one way or another. That’s a quick peek, not reading half an article! The important stuff comes first, the stuff for later comes whenever you get spare time (including never), and the stuff that might entertain you can be for your breaks and downtime when you want something else to do. Because breaks are important!
- Use the time you’ve got rather than finding more and more time to sort – When I’m away for a few days, or something urgent crashes in to my schedule, I may come back to A LOT of catching up. After all, I subscribe to hundreds of blogs, I follow thousands of people on Twitter, and I’m using loads of other services more too (like Google+, LinkedIn, Scoop It, and so on).
A lot of the catching up isn’t necessary, so I work on what I should be aware of. For instance, I have a Twitter list of essential accounts to check back on for the last day or so, I have selected a few RSS feeds that need reading and a few busy RSS feeds that I can ignore without even checking, and I keep a scratchpad to make brief notes rather than trying to put something major together (that can wait, but I don’t want to lose any ideas).
I’m still learning and I doubt I’ll ever stop. So let me know what works for you when you plug in to the great firehose of noise in your life.