I recently I wrote about unsubscribing from a good friend’s email list and how “I’m too busy” is a cop-out excuse1. That kick-started a post about how I consume the internet2. I thought it would be interesting to publish the full email I sent to my friend when I responded.
Sorry for the delayed response on this. Personal email takes the back burner sometimes when things get busy.
I know, because I have stopped reading a lot of things. But I have never stopped reading things that open the world, or open my mind or stir my imagination.
I think that is an amazing insight—very well said. That challenged me to re-consider my, “I’m too busy” answer. While it is true that I’m busy, I do still read things. So, I went back and really thought about what was under the surface of being too busy (or why I felt that way). Here’s my gut response:
- Because I receive a huge volume of email, I process messages in batches (for example, I’m working through a “respond” label in my personal account, which is why this message is being sent now as opposed to weeks ago).
- I also use email almost 100% for communication, not content consumption. That’s an intentional decision. Email can be a huge time-suck for me. That’s partly because of the nature of the medium and partly because of my own tendencies/lack of discipline. (I actually tried to write some thoughts about some of this stuff: http://ericdodds.com/making-it-count-distraction-is-the-enemy/, http://ericdodds.com/making-it-count-steward-time-attention-technology/, http://ericdodds.com/what-apps-on-iphone/)
- Because of those things, I’m a serial-unsubscriber. For me, email isn’t the format for long-form reading. In fact, I only subscribe to one single email, and that’s the Quartz Daily Brief (there are multiple versions: http://qz.com/re/daily-brief/). It’s a list of news headlines. I read it every day so that I’m thinking about the world, not just what’s going on in my life.
- For the long-form reading I do engage in, I treat it much like I treat email in that I process it in batches. When I come across something I think would be valuable to read, I save it via Instapaper. I rarely ever read anything the moment I find it (or that it comes my way). When I reach a critical mass of articles saved via Instapaper, say, 20 or so, I’ll actually sit down and read for a few hours. I find my mind consumes information better that way—it’s in reading and processing mode for a long time as opposed to switching back and forth multiple times a day.
- I subscribe to a very few blogs. The exact number is 16. Here’s the breakdown:
- 3 of those are focused on product updates (feature releases for software I use)
- 1 is a music blog and
- 3 are photo blogs
- 5 blogs by friends or employees
- Julie’s blog
- 2 by entrepreneur-esque people
- 1 by an author who studies technology’s affect on society
- It’s worth mentioning that the list of blogs I subscribe to rotates often—the 5 blogs by friends or employees has changed (both in the sources and quantity of feeds) a handful of times in the last few months. The only writing-based blog that has kept a consistent slot is http://thefrailestthing.com/. Interestingly, it’s the most dense of them all.
- I pipe both my Instapaper and blog feeds through a tool called ReadKit (http://readkitapp.com/). That way, all of my reading is in one place. When I sit down for a reading session, it happens in a single venue. (There are also organizational benefits, but I won’t go into my archival process…:)
So, considering all of those things, I think a simple answer is that I have a very defined process for consuming content and email isn’t a part of it. You could make the argument that if something is good enough, the medium won’t matter, but that’s a pretty subjective assertion to tackle. I personally know that there’s an ocean of good content out there and I’m never going to find or read it all. That’s somewhat disappointing because I know I’m missing some good stuff, but at the end of the day I have built a content-consumption process that works well within the bounds of work-life balance I’m pursuing as well as the digital toolset I use everyday.
I’d be happy to chat on the phone about this again now that I’ve had more time to think on it.