Old habits die but it’s for the better – on digesting online content.
Last year I started writing an article about my content digestion habits (as I’m frequently asked about how I find time to consume it all and „I don’t have kids” is not a valid argument in that discussion). It became pretty lengthy and, as other matters popped up, I did not managed to finish it. I came back and revised some points, assumptions and choices. And boy, was I right in my choices.
A year and half ago I decided to put my productivity skills to good use and rearrange my habits concerning web content. All of it – from newsletters to Instagram feeds. I tested it, erased what was meant to go, juggled the options and finally made it into an efficient system. It works for me, it may not work for you but I suggest testing it. It not only saved me loads of time, but helped to develop healthy reading habits and got me rid of the FOMO syndrome (or helped me to accepted that I cannot associate with Trent Reznor singing “I want to know everything, I want to be everywhere.„). All of this because I wanted to reserve at least two hours everyday for quality reading(news + books). And it worked.
Here I will only focus on digital content like social media and newsletters, as they are primary source of content for me. I might do another feature on time management for books, learning and such in the future.
I assumed the following for the experiment:
- I would NOT read everything, NOT know everything and WOULD NOT have the time and resources to digest everything on every channel and from every content publisher.
- Sacrifices will have to be made. Your time is limited so spend it on quality content. Here we could discuss what does „quality” mean, as for everybody it’s something different. What was my criteria of selection? The point below explains it neatly.
- The rule what will be left and what would go was simple. Stick to the smart ones. Or just entertaining but witty and efficient. Or pure nostalgia factor.
With all those things written down, I spend weeks testing what worked, how it worked and what kind of ways benefited me the most. I cleaned my Twitter feed, worked my way on Instagram and Linkedin and gave up on Facebook (although not entirely).
After all of the experiments Newsletters and Twitter became my main channels. Nothing more, nothing less. Why?
I subscribed to hundreds of newsletters throughout my digital life and managed to stay only with a small percentage of them. While there are reasons not to rely on this channel as your primary and fastest source of information (from the speed to presentation – but it depends on the person), I tend to think of them as a Sunday Special, a longer read. Starting April, I devoted my Friday/Sunday evenings for the sole purposes of reading everything what have appeared in my inbox during the previous five-seven days (apart for the 15-20 minute breaks during the week, where I can scroll through what the great folks from Inside.com’s various newsletters have send me) which totally changed my approach to newsletters. With limited time, most company-oriented (and not reader-oriented) ones had to go.
„The” social media for me. There is no better social medium for content digestion. The variety of topics from curious hackers, my fav comic book people and obscure ASCI artists to video game translators, analysts, writers, futurists and heroines from my 20s. The possibility of creating lists is the cherry on top. It’s not as „heavy” when used as Facebook or as dull as Instagram. It’s harder to „get into” than most well known social channels (but hey, they said the same about Snapchat and TikTok and look how it turned out) but it’s highly rewarding when you will establish your own bubbles in the medium.
If I was to swap Twitter for any other medium, that provides it’s consumer with quality and entertaining content, it would definitely be Reddit. But Reddit has two big flaws that I cannot overcome – it takes a really good bite out of your time (I get lost there easier than on Youtube) and it’s harder to dig valuables here than on the Blue Bird.
So what was left after the Big Clense by example?
- Newsletters from companies that know how it’s done and provide value. Think Ladder, CXL or the great summaries by the inside.com team. What saddens me is that it’s 2020 and valuable content marketing is a phrase few understand.
- Curated newsletters from the smart and open-minded. Matthew Bell, Ben Thompson, Scott Galloway, Benedict Evans, nothing out of ordinary, if you’re following Silicon Valley and EU-oriented tech. I cut-off almost all my Polish newsletters, apart from Bartek Pucek (who is conducting a very interesting, and a very wise in my opinion, experiment on paid curated newsletter), Kuba Filipowski and Łukasz Prokulski (mostly, for the future, as I’m starting to dive deeper into data analytics nowadays). Why? I’d rather focus on the analysis, trend watching, experience and insights, and very few newsletters in Poland has that.
- Art and culture oriented emails. While I have loads interesting content on Twitter on that matter, I couldn’t find anything up to my standards in terms of culture / music / game art. Jakub Knera’s Nowe Idzie Od Morza is the only one I’m continuously subscribing and recommending. On the other hand – if my Twitter’s overloading with the good stuff, why double the content?
- Twitter. Period.
What about Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram and Feedly? Or even saving articles to Pocket?
Well, the first one got thrown out pretty early. Even by twitching it with Greasemonkey add-ons, unfriend and unfollow spells and other things – Facebook is quite useless as a news and quality content source. It’s a sea of noise, even if you throw some unfollows for people and pages. Linkedin is great for personal insights but still miles away from what newsletters and curated content tend to offer. And it takes really a lot of time nowadays to adjust it to your needs. It took me weeks to get rid of all the „wonders of coaching” and „deep quotes” from my feed there. Instagram is a channel I currently devote a couple of minutes every day so it was not a big deal – but it’s still a nice place to get high on art inspirations..
Don’t get me started on Feedly. It works wonders when you need content for social media presence or content for posting but if you want to read everything from your feed, get lucky or die trying. I still keep it for sentimental values of my times with the event industry, though. Pocket did not work for me either – leaving mind-catching articles in my browser or sending them to Evernote worked wonders for me. Pocket became a graveyard of „never-to-be-opened-links” in just a few weeks.
What’s interesting – the more efficient my consuming has become, the less time I spend in front on the screen (both, mobile and desktop). The longest times were at work (obvious) or when using the smartphone as second display (while movie watching). Apart from that, all the stats went down. The time I gained from downsizing on social media was invested in other activities – from sports to art making or book reading. A total win if you ask me.
- If you’re looking for speed, efficiency, value and tailor-for-your-other-needs(eg. feed sorting) channel, Twitter is the only social media platform I can think of that can provide it.
- If your goal is to find long, interesting insights, readings and you’re not a fan of scrolling your feed for the right ones, the way is either curated content newsletters by the people or publications you value. Relying solely on the curated content has it drawbacks as it’s putting the responsibility of choosing on to the curator. It’s also good to have various sources that do not overlap.
- Cut down on sources that recycle their content too often and too poorly.
- If you have problems with what to choose, simply focus on areas that you need the most or/and are the most interesting for you. I had to make room for more data/tech/art content, so things like social-media oriented content had to take the long goodbye road.
- And last, don’t feel bad for not reading everything that’s available. Nobody is able to do it. Kill the guilt and enjoy the ride.