Recently I read an excellent post by Joe Krauss called “We’re Creating a Culture of Distraction”. In it he describes that with our mobile phones and notifications we’re somehow losing touch with the world around us. No longer do we have to sit in boredom but rather, we can escape to the wonderful world of the internet! It got me really thinking deeply about all of the things that distract me in my life. Certainly the notifications were one of them. This Lifehacker post recently had some great tips on how to reduce this inbound annoyance.
Beyond just notifications, I realized that there was another thing that tended to control my computing time and distraction: unread counts. Email is about the only unread count that I’m willing to concede to, as it’s essentially my todo list. I read the email, act on it if I can, and if I can’t I file it for later as a “starred” email. But one unread count that always seemed to have a tight grip on me was my RSS reader count. For the last year or so I’ve used a combination of Google Reader and an app called Reeder (and other solutions beforehand). It was a nice workflow, but I more than too often checked it to see if I had unread items. Even still, about 90% of the stuff coming through were things that I had little interest in reading. But my deep desire to rid myself of the unread count meant that I still clicked through them all. That is, until yesterday.
I came to the realization that this is entirely unproductive. Thankfully in the industry that I work (tech), there’s a fantastic resource for the most important or talked about news called Techmeme. I can at least count on it to surface the most important headlines. But otherwise, I used my RSS feeds as a bit of distraction. I’d still look at every post from The Verge, Pando Daily, SFist, and about twenty others. Last night I went through and moved my Reeder apps deep into a folders I wouldn’t look at. Then I transitioned the feeds that I normally read to channels on Flipboard. The difference is nuanced, sure. But the one thing that I’m no longer beholden to is the unread count. I can read as casually as I like in Flipboard without having this nagging number on the side telling me how much I have left to do.
It’s refreshing, really. Now I can consume casually when I want but without the burden of something to “complete”. Additionally, the amount of stuff that I consume that’s of little value to me is reduced.
Now my next step is to reduce the amount that I casually consume these things. I’m aspiring to being able to wake up in the morning and only check my phone for urgent things then immediately start my day. That’s in contrast to my current flow: wake up and spend 30 minutes while still in bed checking Email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, etc. etc. you get the idea. I’ll continue to blog my progress on this.
What kind of workflow do you have for consuming content?