A couple of weeks ago I posted “No news is good”, which captured my plan to opt out of news, social and other media in order to:
pursue the things that interest me and my mind – giving myself chance and space to be curious, to think, to create and to be.
It was great to have various exchanges with people about the move, and I really would recommend taking the time to read Rolf Dobelli’s original essay (pdf).
A couple of people were interested in the practicalities of what I was going to do instead. This post briefly summarises the things I’ve put in place or am trying to help make my opt out a reality, broadly by media type. It’s not at all a riveting read, but shared in the hope it may be useful to others thinking about this topic.
Spare Slots grid
By far the most important element of my approach is the Spare Slots grid above. This simple grid enables me to make proactive choices about what I might want to do depending on what sort of time slot is available. The things that are in the grid are aligned with things I’m interested in or trying to prioritise – arranged by the 3 headings of Create, Consume and Cardio – including things like writing more or opportunities to read/study.
The time slots are truly ‘spare’ time, i.e. when family time or work responsibilities are done (or as done as they ever can be!).
What the Spare Slots grid does is provide a menu of things that are important to me, and that are an alternative to the default of opening up my laptop/phone, which often leads to “sink” activities.
- The first and main thing I’m doing with Twitter is to use it according to my Spare Slots grid. This means I spend no more than 15 minutes at a time on it, and so help manage the overall time I spend on it
- I tend to focus much more on interaction rather than tweets. So the first and second columns in Tweetdeck are @ replies and Direct Messages, rather than my timeline
- I’m being clearer with myself on who I am following/unfollowing and why. Hard as it is, I’m also being a little less English and unfollowing people rather than hesitating over it all the time
- Lists are very useful – it enables me to separate specific work people / things and other interests
- I use favourites a lot
- Another useful trick is to schedule tweets. This means that I can only be on Twitter for 15 minutes but still post stuff over a period of a few hours / days without necessarily having to be on Twitter myself
- I use filters, especially with some website links. Thus, I now very, very rarely see Daily Mail or Guardian links (for example) in Twitter
- The main tool I use to do all of the above is Tweetdeck. This works best on my laptop, and haven’t yet found the best app to use on my phone that allows me to do as much as I want.
- I didn’t use Facebook much anyway, which is fortunate because it’s in no way as customisable as Twitter is. The key here appears to be (if you’ll excuse my phrase) “selective vision”. Thus, if I see a picture with text on it, I just don’t read it.
- YouTube is more customisable than I’d realised, especially using a Chrome Extension that takes a lot of the noise away (some ads, suggested videos etc. – search for “YouTube” in the Chrome Extension Store)
- The main thing I do here is use subscriptions to channels
- Similarly, I use Watch Later a lot, and this is the landing page I go to when first visiting YouTube.
Feedly (RSS Reader)
- I still don’t get why Google discontinued Reader because I find RSS the most effective way of managing sources of information
- Feedly is my RSS Reader of choice LINK, which allows me to aggregate all sources of information I’ve chosen. This means I then don’t have to visit those sites and so reduces the possibility of wider distraction
- My RSS feeds are categorised and arranged by certain topics
- I’ve particularly added blogs / sources of info that explore issues in depth, are high quality or are from sources I trust/respect
- Even here, I filter the aggregated information quite quickly by using star item/read later systems.
- I’ve basically switched it off! I’ve done this in the following ways:
- I use a website/URL blocker as a Chrome Extension, which means that, even I have clicked a link, I still can’t see actually see it
- I don’t buy newspapers or periodicals
- I very rarely watch television. If there is something I’d like to see I use YouTube or, for flims/series etc. I tend to use Netflix (other streaming services are available)
- I’m still considering the possibility of a subscription to a quality print periodical. The ones I’m thinking about at the moment are re-subscribing to Prospect or the London Review of Books, but I haven’t done this yet. Good as they may be, I won’t be getting a subscription to something like The Week, New Statesman or The Economist etc.
- The number of emails I deleted without reading was amazing. If I found myself deleting an email without reading it I would instead unsubscribe from the mailing list if at all possible. This has left me with around six newsletters from organisations I like (for example, Policy Network and Nesta).
- I’ve removed some apps from my phone
- I’ve turned off all notifications
- I use airplane mode quite a lot (partly a battery problem, and much to the annoyance of my wife. Ever the diplomat, it’s only a matter of time before I get a mobile battery pack and not use airplane mode.).
So, those are most of the practicalities. After a bit of time seeing how it goes, I’ll do an update on what difference this has made, as well as reflections on the bit that I think will be the hardest: balancing all of the above with the responsibilities of work.