I'm on a diet

June 25, 2013

My typical work day starts with me browsing through my RSS feed, looking for the most interesting items to read quickly before going on to work on more important stuff. I usually start with Daring Fireball and The Loop, because they make a pretty good job of gathering the most significant news of the day. Then, if something catches my eye, I will bookmark it and I’ll get back to it later in the day. The whole process often takes about 20 minutes.

I started doing this a few years ago, mainly because it’s a nice way to ease into my day, ramping up my mental cycles until I’m in the right mindset to get some work done. However, it’s also a very good way to stay on top of the things that are happening in the tech world, which I enjoy doing, and it serves as a good way to find source material for Analog Senses.

This approach has worked nicely for me for some time, but lately I’ve been reflecting on it and I’ve come to believe it is fundamentally flawed for several reasons.

After a regular 20-minute session of browsing through my feeds I may have come across one or two interesting items that I would like to comment here, but I keep finding that the right format for this type of commentary is usually through links. I will typically post a link to the source article with a paragraph or two of my own, along with a via to the place where I found the item. That’s all standard practice on the Internet. It’s a nice system and it works well, but it has an unfortunate side effect: it discourages original writing, or at the very least it does nothing to encourage it. That’s a problem for me.

Perhaps it is just me, and many writers find their inspiration by reading through other people’s work, but my mental process is different. Instead of placing myself in a consuming state, I need to be in a creative frame of mind in order to be able to actually write something in my own words. I need to clear the air around me and hear the silence before my voice comes out, almost like a whisper at first, doubtful and unsure. Then, after a few minutes, I quickly pick up my confidence and my discourse starts resembling something coherent. And then all of a sudden, what do you know, I’m writing.

It’s a marvelous process, and one that makes me feel calm, collected, and at peace with myself. I just love writing.

And so I have come to the realization that reading and consuming information early in the morning is the wrong way to approach my days. Let this be an experiment: for the time being, I’m on a diet. Not a physical diet, mind you, but a digital one. I’m on a diet of information. I have found out I can’t reasonably keep up with all the news and blog posts every day without dedicating a disproportionate amount of time and attention to it. By the time I’ve covered everything I tend to be exhausted, and my mind is no longer in the appropriate state to write. And what’s more important: keeping up is not my job. I tried to do it out of fear of missing something cool that would have made for a good article, but that’s missing the point.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is what I started Analog Senses for in the first place. It was supposed to be a refuge from our every day burden of information. A place to take a step back, reflect and realize that all those sources of info, when not managed sensibly, can quickly become an issue. Well, they have become an issue for me, hence this post, and the change of plans.

From now on I will schedule my reading time toward the later part of my day. Once I’ve dealt with everything at work, I will dedicate a few minutes to find the most interesting items and send them to my Instapaper account, to be dealt with later on in the comfort of my own couch. My only purpose then will be to come up with something that I’d like to write about the next day, capture the gist of it in a sentence or two, a paragraph at the most, and then sleep on it. The day after, first thing in the morning and with a clear slate, I will revisit my own notes and try to turn them into something different.

I can’t be sure that this new system will work any better than the old one, but I’m excited to try it. I’ll let you know how it goes, but that’s a story for another day. And now, it’s time to work.