During Summer I think most of us naturally want to feel a bit lighter on our feet, to get out and about (if the weather is willing) and explore, and have fun (yes such a thing does exist apparently).

Which is why I think a lot of people are re-examining their social media, email and online reading habits again and realising that maybe they are spending just a little bit too long staring at their computer/smartphone/iPad screens (or possibly all three).

It might also be to do with the fact we’re now more than half-way through the year, and people start to realise that they’ve not achieved as much as they’d hoped when the year began – and so decide to look at ways to make time for their creative projects.

Social Media Madness

I certainly find this a problem. In fact I’ve become slightly obsessed with keeping up to date with the latest blogs, tweets, Facebook updates and various other distractions over the last few years. As you probably know, it’s even affected my ability to get out of bed in the morning!

And it hasn’t been helped by the recent introduction of yet another social network, Google Plus, which I’m starting to suspect might have that name because it’s sur-plus to requirements.

I mean do we really need yet another info stream to supplement what often already feels like a deluge of (repetitive) trivia? And before you ask, yes I have signed up and downloaded the iPhone app. Well I had to see what it was like, didn’t I?

Beyond Social Media: I’ve Seen the Future and It’s Google Plus by Tara Gentile

Google Plus Circles you Can Actually Use Happy Place

Time to Turn Off?

Creative Kryptonite and the Death of Productivity by Jonathan Fields

When You Need to Stop Listening by Jonathan Mead, Illuminated Mind

A number of people are now consciously deciding to take ‘digital sabbaticals’, where they completely disconnect from all forms of digital communication for a set period of time, whether it’s a month, a week, or just a set day each week, such as a Sunday. Personally I find it an incredibly attractive idea.

The difficulty though as a blogger or anyone creating online content is that social media is really bloody useful in spreading the word about what you’re doing, as well as being a great way to follow what your friends and peers or (whisper it) competitors, and heroes/mentors in your field are up to.

So it’s extremely hard to unplug and miss out on all the inspiration, recognition, juicy gossip and plain silliness that is constantly occurring in our favourite online haunts.

(Lack of) Self-Control

My current compromise (which admittedly is in the very early stages of testing) is to compartmentalise my activities into ‘connected’ and ‘disconnected’ periods of time. So if I need to write, I turn off the internet in the house and on my phone for a few hours. If I need to use the internet for research then I’ll use the ironically named Self-Control Mac app to block all of my usual biggest timewasters.

This helps massively to avoid the ‘what was it I was meant to be doing again” syndrome where one finds themselves watching viral videos of kittens DJing instead of finishing that long overdue piece of work (this example may or may not be autobiographical).

Of course this takes discipline, and all it takes is being a bit tired and out of sorts and I slip back into my old habits.

Curating or Creating?

You Can’t Read Everything by LaToya Jordan for The Rumpus

Because we are all overwhelmed with information and content online, a lot of us are now turning to curators, or gatekeepers to save us time and effort.

These are people who seem to be able to survey all the disparate streams of social media at once, somewhat like David Bowie in the Man Who Fell to Earth where he is sitting watching hundreds of TV screens at once and seeing everything that happens in the world.

Not only that, but they are also able to consistently pick out the best stuff therefore saving the rest of us the bother of sorting the ‘wheat from the chaff’ ourselves.

I won’t lie, as someone who has always read a lot, I quite enjoy the role of curator myself. It is after all the basis of what these ‘creative catch-ups’ were intended to be – a round up of some of the best blog posts that I’ve found around the theme of creativity and clarity. And the Clear-Minded Classic book reviews are also a form of curation.

But is it possible to curate and also create, on top of all the other responsibilities most of us have? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s actually holding me back from blogging and achieving other things in my life, such as exercising regularly.

Brain drain

One of the best curators out there for the artistically-minded is Maria Popova of Brainpickings. The blog, Twitter stream, and weekly newsletter are near flawless examples of what great curating is all about.

So I was interested to read this fascinating account of her day, which is part of the Atlantic Wire’s media diet series (which features quite a few other interesting people too).

I was blown away by how much content she is able to consume within a day, and by how regimented that day is. I was hugely impressed of course, because of the end result.

However I was also slightly horrified, because whilst I aspire to what she has achieved in terms of the quality of and recognition for her website, I’m not sure that I could keep up the pace she manages, or even want to live that life day in day out.

So I find myself rather stuck. On the one hand, I want to be as clear-minded as possible, and have the brainspace and time to get my creative work done, whether it’s paid work for clients or my own, more self-indulgent projects. Plus, I want to get outside and see my friends once in a while!

I’ve Spent 2 Long On The Computer Again by milomclaughlin

On the other hand, I love knowing what my friends who don’t live nearby and the people I admire are doing, what’s happening in the worlds of technology and social media, and finding out about all the amazing art and ideas that appear online every day. And I love sharing it with people.

Summarise This

I think though that I need more of a balance. I need to prune my various streams of information -e.g. most tech blogs I follow are just publishing the same information, and do I really need to know all the Apple rumours when I can just wait for their official announcement about the latest shiny thing I can’t afford?

I also need to put a time limit on how long each day I’m spending in these places. And I need to make sure I’m finding the most useful content out there to share with you.

One thing Maria Popova mentioned was a service called Summify which takes your Google Reader, Twitter and Facebook streams and sends you the top 5 or 10 stories so that you can quickly catch up – I’m now using this every day and finding it really useful.

The iPhone app is handy for getting a quick overview of what’s being shared the most (the layout seems to be inspired by the iPad app Flipboard).

But even with this overview of the most popular stories, you could still miss out on something really special that didn’t go viral.

Speaking of which, there are a few things you might enjoy over on the Clear-Minded Creative Tumblr blog.  Now I’m switching the internet off. Honest..

  • How do you deal with information overload?
  • Have I just added to yours unnecessarily?
  • Would you consider a digital sabbatical? Let me know in the comments.

Main photo of bookshop by pfala (used under Creative Commons licence)

10 Comments

  1. Instapaper has become my go-to tool for taking back my life from all this stuff I feel I ‘need’ to do online. The first thing I had to do was stop feeling so guilty about there only being a certain number of hours in the day with which to catch up with everything – easier said than done. The next – when it’s time to stop, I stop. And bookmark whatever open tabs I have for next time I’m online.

    Summify looks interesting – I saw that come up in my mentions last week. Shall check it out.

    • I clip things to Instapaper but I’ve never worked out a satisfactory routine with it, I tend to forget to check it. Might need to revisit that.

      What is this self-discipline of which you speak? Yeah I’m liking Summify :)

      • It’s one of my bookmarks, and I have a system for going through those every time I log on… ;)

        • Obviously you have some smart systems set up. I actually get mine sent to my Kindle every week but it’s not so good if you want to follow links or watch video.

  2. Milo – I read this post to figure out how to be clear minded and reduce the information in my life. 30 minutes later and after reading 15 posts on Brain Pickings, I’m back here?!?! :)

    • Vishnu – welcome to my world! In retrospect though you’re right, that was a particularly cruel trick.

      Don’t give up on me yet though. As Sam Cooke (amongst others) said, a change is gonna come.

      I think with this post I’ve come to the end of what’s been an unofficial series of ‘problem’ posts, and also I’ve come to the end of my patience with myself.

      It’s time to look at the solutions and start seriously becoming that ‘clear-minded creative’ I keep talking about.

      Stay tuned!

      • I’m not giving up. I’m only going to stop reading when you say stop reading blogs. And even if you say that, you may attach a caveat or two. (i.e. only read my blog!)

  3. Just reading that account of a typical day for Maria Popova is enough to give me a headache! I just can’t fathom how that model is sustainable over the medium to long term…

    Will try and offer a ‘proper’ comment when I’ve had chance to look at all those links ;)