Most articles about online productivity are framed as helping you to do more - automate this, multi-task that, consume more faster, etc. Most professionals I know - especially those in the nonprofit world - are already consuming too much information, most of it online. I’m encouraged by seeing folks reframe how they think of online personal productivity. I'm an advocate for finding ways to be more focused, consume less information and make the time spent on line more fruitful.
Consuming tons of information online can lead to the illusion of doing a lot, but in fact it is usually mediocre, low-quality time spent. This is akin to the McDonalds or Ikea mentality - as long as it’s fast, consistent and cheap, it’s okay if it’s low quality. When I take the time and focus on spending my time well, I am much more satisfied professionally vs. the lack of satisfaction when I know a lot of the time spent was not high quality.
I have come to realize that spending time in such mediocre ways is a disservice to myself, the organizations I work with and our communities. Unfortunately we often buy into the false social construct that those that do more are somehow more valuable than those who do high quality work. While many artists are prolific, we rarely judge them by the volume of work they create but by the quality of that work.
Constantly skimming and scanning and glancing is detrimental to my ability to concentrate. I highly recommend reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (theshallowsbook.com) to understand the detrimental effects chronic information overload is having. I am better off when I do things that satisfy me professionally and personally. For me that means being more focused with my information consumption.
It has been a big help to actively reframe what online personal productivity means to me. I realized that focusing on doing a few things well leaves me more satisfied, produces better impacts and keeps me energized. Spending my time in mediocre ways leaves me dissatisfied, disappointed and feeling burned out. I get much more satisfaction from writing one or two good quality blog posts a week than cranking out low quality posts with typos and other errors every day.
Each of us has to decide what leads to our own satisfaction. For some, they might find satisfaction in producing work that meets minimum requirements. Others like me may realize that we are left wanting when we buy into the more-is-better myth.
Having clear objectives for my time online is a great first step. Defining those objectives first allows me to have a heading instead of only wandering organically through the information ocean. Both objective-focused and organic time online are valuable, so defining your best balance will be helpful.
Some actions to consider:
- Reflect on what kinds of online work really leaves you satisfied and energized. How might you reduce the skimming and scanning you do? Be laser focused on what you are looking for online and do a lot less “browsing”. Social media channels want you to stay and browse for as long as possible - so they can serve you up more ads and make more money. Do what’s best for you, not best for Facebook, Twitter etc.
- Realize that time spent “taking a break” looking through social media channels can actually be adding to stress, burnout and information overload, not regenerating. Explore alternate ways to recharge and take a break - walk around the block, sit outside and be present in nature, do something creative offline, work on learning something new, or - gasp - actually do nothing for five minutes and let your brain recharge.
- Forget about the worry of “missing something”. For each of the past few years I have taken breaks for several weeks from being online and guess what? I missed nothing important either professionally or to my happiness and well being. Reject the notion that you need to be constantly plugged in, finger on the pulse, hyper-aware and constantly vigilant online. What is truly important will find you at the right time if you are true to what satisfies you.
Be purposeful with your time online and to catch yourself if you are wandering aimlessly too often. Beth Kanter’s blog has some great related articles on being mindful online for further reading:
How to Train Your Attention and Be Effective When Working Online
Stop the Glorification of Busy & Thrive