The Uncomfortable Truth About Being Productive

Things I don’t want to miss out on.

This post is not entirely travel related, but I figure that balancing priorities is something that everyone struggles with and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve had to work even more creatively to find time for everything I want to accomplish.  Previously, I used my willingness to work long hours as my go-to strategy for bailing myself out.  Once I had Cole, I couldn’t do that anymore.  I had to actually think about whether I “really” wanted to do a project because my time became even more finite, and over committing meant taking me away from my son.  For the first time, I realized what a spineless wimp I am!

I really hate it when people don’t think I’m totally amazing and awesome.  Total wimp-ville.

Over the last two years, I’ve gotten over that a bit and learned to really test my gut for the time-worthiness of any given idea.  Do I really want to do this or do I feel obligated?  Am I avoiding something?  Do I feel like I’m in service to my ideas (I must pursue them) or that they are in service to me (they help me refine my mission).

It’s better now, but even that wasn’t enough!

Now, I’m learning Mandarin, living in China, Cole is running around like crazy, I’m working on a plethora of essential writing, photography and video projects and — oh god — this is embarrassing — I’m spending way too much time on Facebook.

The truth is… I’m still pretty spineless!  I will stay Facebook-friends with people I only know vaguely and who insist on being negative, starting controversies or picking fights. I’m also following dozens of people that I honestly don’t know who they are, except they added me (on my personal account, not my almostfearless page), we have 100+ friends in common (mostly other writers) and I don’t want them to think I’m a snob!

It’s completely ridiculous.

There’s a lot of noise in my life.  At one point I allowed it in, invited it even.  It’s like adopting a Mogwai — cute and fun in the beginning but leave it unattended and bam! you’ve got a theater full of gremlins singing along with Snow White.  Your whole life is over-run.

My list of sins: travel blogging communities that I read, blogs about the business of travel blogging, personalities who say brazen things that infuriate me, others who speak on behalf of all travel bloggers in sophomoric open letters to the travel industry (look how important and successful we are!) which make me cringe and a slew of drama from a few people I’ve called my colleagues for almost four years.  And I read it all!

Since this fall, I’ve been slowly eliminating high-noise, low-signal sources.  I trimmed back all of my twitter followers.  I dropped out of every group that was catty.  I started unsubscribing (but not unfriending) people who I don’t know in real life.  I blocked anyone who pissed me off.  Say something insanely stupid: blocked.  I blocked people who insisted on posting links to people that piss me off.  That open letter?  I unsubscribed or blocked everyone who shared the link (thankfully due to my prior culling, it was only two people).

If I know you in real life, then I’ll tolerate your crap.  But anonymous strangers who happen to have the same profession as me?  You’re out!

I am of two minds about this: first, this is awesome!  My online life is so clutter free that I can actually read people who matter to me, and second, oh god, I’m such a jerk, people are going to think I’m a cold-ass b*tch!

By the way, I am a total b*tch.  A b*tch who gets sh*t done!

Being nice, helpful and generous with your time — at least in my case — was just me over-compensating.  By taking back my time and ruthlessly and savagely weed-wacking through my distractions, I’m actually making more time for my close friends, colleagues and family.

There’s a small quiet space opening up in my world.  It feels nice to have time to concentrate.  I feel calm.  I’m no longer beset by the negativity of others.  I’m seeking out inspiring people!  I have more time to read!

Drew was standing over my shoulder while I checked Twitter and since I just have 77 people I’m following, he was amazed saying, “Wow your stream is so high quality, every tweet is something interesting.”

Isn’t that the point?

I’ve been hearing a lot about this — mostly other writers and bloggers — and it feels like a theme we’re all running into… the big rush to connect, be online, have the “conversation” has now turned into a mass exodus of smart and talented people who are dropping out online (at least from the non-productive areas) in order to get stuff done.

The biggest benefit: I’ve actually had time to respond to reader emails.  (I’m still catching up, so bear with me!)

Is your online life cluttered?  What could you accomplish if it all dropped away?

Update: Just found out that Pico Iyer wrote a piece two weeks ago for the New York Times about this same subject: The Joy of Quiet. Worth a read.

Update 2: A-list blogger Chris Brogan also wrote this week about noise-signal ratio of the web and what you can do to improve it.

63 Comments

  1. You know I’m your biggest cheerleader when it comes to eliminating idiots and distractions from your life. I started doing it much more actively towards the end of last year and the more garbage I eliminate, the happier I am and more time I have to do shit that actually matters with people I really know and truly care about.

    More time with people I care about, less time with people I don’t, higher quality work. It makes such a difference – I just wish I’d started much, much earlier.

  2. This year I am not setting a resolution- they never work anyway. Instead I have adopted a word and I hope to live by that word for the year. This year it is complete. The goal is to get rid of those distractions that interfere with my ability to get the stuff done. Good reminder and I am off to spend a half hour with family rather than online before I travel again today.

  3. Actual excerpt from an email I wrote to a friend earlier today where I recounted my daily activities in Bali: “Do some writing. Actually, go on Facebook and wonder if I’m addicted to social networking because it seems to interfere with me getting any actual work done. ”
    I try to keep my Facebook friends limited to people who, if spotted at a bar, I would say hello to and have an enjoyable conversation. I think I’m only friends with 2-5 other bloggers on my personal account who I haven’t met in real life: most of the time, I shoot a reply to a request saying that my personal account is for my personal friends and my blog page is for my blogger friends. This is my attempt at separating my “work” life and my “personal” life, and for the most part, I’m happy with it. I don’t really care if that means I come off a snobby, heartless bitch. (Probably because I am.) That being said, I’m due for a clean sweep to get rid of people I know but don’t really like any more.
    One of my favorite quotes: “We should cultivate the ability to say no to activities for which we have no time, no talent, and which we have no interest or real concern. If we learn to say no to many things, then we will be able to say yes to the things that matter most.” -Roy Blauss
    Cheers to an uncluttered (or less cluttered) 2012.
    p.s. I’ll stop rambling now, but I remember feeling really awesome when you followed me on Twitter–because I realized you didn’t follow every single bloody spambot on the planet.

    • I really tried to keep it at friends and somehow it became cluttered with travel people. I may try to go back to it but I won’t unfriend people. Not because I don’t want to look like a bitch but I really don’t want to hurt someone who would care if I unfriended them. Although the reality is that no one would likely notice.

  4. Right on! I am very selective about the people I social network with too, and it really helps! I used to have more than twice the number of Facebook fiends I have now, and I don’t miss the ones I unfriended! What I have lost in quantity I have gained in quality. :)

  5. I made some serious decisions over the last few weeks as I lay in my hospital bed. A lot of them were exactly what you have laid out here.

    I know that I would fall into the category of some of the people you have outlined here that you have culled, and I realize the part I was playing in that and have totally changed.

    I have disappeared from certain forums and groups, I only participate if I have something useful or helpful to contribute. I culled a lot of the negative stuff from my RSS reader, and am yet to cull twitter and facebook.

    I am being more ruthless but you have to be. My focus is back to what it always used to be, hanging out with those that inspire me and give off positive energy

    Just this last week I have discovered about 5 new blogs that I love and feel at home with. They are all about inspiration and positivity.

    And I have already achieved a couple of big goals. It is really exciting and liberating to drop the shit from your life. Sometimes it takes a health crisis to make you see what is important.

  6. Sing it sister!
    Yes, I think many people, even non bloggers, struggle with this. I have, since the beginning of using Twitter, made a concerted effort to keep out the “noise” and only follow people who interest me. I often go through and cull the people I follow in order to thin it back some. On Facebook, I’m even more discerning, keeping it to about 90% people I actually know in real life.
    That said, I still spend too much time in both places and considering I have a more-than-full-time job, this has left me almost no time for blogging of late. In fact, I’ve written nothing in over a month for either of my blogs and I’m feeling pretty guilty. But the reality is, right now all I have time for is social media. I’m too tired to write, much less cook when I get home from work.
    So if my online life dropped away? I’d feel a little disconnected and sad, but I’d probably get more cooking done and spend any other time reading a bunch of books I don’t seem to have time for right now.

  7. “It’s like adopting a Mogwai — cute and fun in the beginning but leave it unattended and bam! you’ve got a theatre full of gremlins singing along with Snow White.” jajajajajajajaja :)

    • I liked that reference too. And the issue of online distraction is something I’ve been trying to address lately too. I’ve slowly been trying to pair down the people I follow on Facebook and Twitter.

      Almost 50% of my FB friends are other travel bloggers at this point — kinda crazy. I think I’m going to try the unsubscribe vs unfriend technique for a lot of them.

      One simple thing I did so far was remove Tweetdeck from my “dock” so it’s no longer showing every time I unconsciously move my cursor to the bottom of my screen.

      I also bought the “Freedom” app which cuts my computer off from the internet for a preset time, but I’ve yet to have the guts to actually take it for a test run!

      I’m trying to establish good work habits this month with the hopes that it’ll set the stage for a productive and prosperous year.

  8. I understand your problem – I struggle with the same thing…

    Have you read Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Week yet? Not all of it is very practical for someone with a family but the thing I found most useful in this book is how he managed to get control of his online-life. It worth reading just for that.

    Apart from that, it might help to work somewhere where you don’t have access to the internet, at least for some of the time

  9. Said so succinctly once again! I know where you are coming from Christine. This year we are planning to spend a month technology (apart from the camera, which I refuse to give up) free, and I think you’ve just explained why better than I could myself!

  10. Thank you, I found what you wrote very bold and inspiring. As a new blogger and passionate writer, I have felt a self-imposed pressure to engage in social media I don’t enjoy, or feel fits with my lifestyle. I haven’t been on Facebook for two years, and though I thought I would set up a fan page for my blog when we travel, now I’m not so sure. I want people to read my posts, but maybe a little patience and faith in my writing will see me through, without spending excess time on social media I don’t enjoy. Hmmm…

  11. I too realised how much time “social media” was consuming, without clear benefit. I thought about it as part of a wider piece about productivity and life goals, and decided to disconnect from sites which give me insufficient benefit. Hardest to let go for me was Facebook but, a couple of months in, and I have not gone back to visit. I wiped everything from my wall, locked everything down except permitting friends to read my wall, and then posted an update saying that I was disconnecting, and offering an email address for those who wished to keep in touch; I received just one email, from over 400 “Facebook friends.”

    Because I know I have an addictive personality, I coupled this mental resolve with the Firefox add-on “BlockSite,” into which I put the Facebook URLs – now, I cannot access it unless I intentionally disable BlockSite, which gives me the mental space to review my action. No more loading Facebook out of habit, and getting sucked back in.

    At the same time, I realised that I needed to up my communication with those who are important to me; email is fine, but I needed to remind myself to sit down and write to them, rather than dropping out of touch altogether. As I explained to each of them why they would (hopefully) be hearing more from me, I got several replies saying how, with all the online chatter, they were struggling to keep up with correspondence; I completely understand, and it as taken forcible, albeit voluntary, disconnection to help me find space in my own head, coupled with a better approach to prioritisation, and an increase in saying “no” to things – by doing less, I can do more, and, in particular, do more of what is important to me.

    So far, productivity up, mental space freed up and so less stressed, and, best of all, happier.

  12. HELLS yes.

    Too many How Long Is A Piece Of String arguments. Too much bickering. Too much posturing.

    Too much.

    And it’s hard turning around and shooing all of that crap away, because it’s (a) a general habit and (b) a personal habit. Even if you manage to get rid of the clutterous thinking in your head, you go online and BAM!, you’re exposed to it again – the pressure to tune in, follow, subscribe, click, rant, clutter thyself silly.

    It’s hard to say No.

    But I have way too much to do for the next few months (including, for a change, some actual *travel* and stuff).

    And I’m prepared to become the misanthropic a-hole in the room if it allows me to meet my professional targets.

  13. May, I, from my vast age, tell you that you are SO right – when it comes to children, there is, quite simply, no way you get the time back. Once they’ve taken their first step, said their first word, started their first day at school, been in their first school play/football game/spelling bee, that’s it done, there is never another first time. Because of personal circumstances I stayed at home (more or less) with mine. Am I now where I would choose to be in life otherwise? No. Do I regret one second? No!

    I might add that you have lots of talent, and also note that your describe yourself as a writer. Lots of bloggers have talent only for networking, and now that the novelty is wearing off that I wonder how long they will last. Talent will always survive.

  14. This is frickin’ awesome. I’ve accomplished the same thing, but by setting up the limits in advance. My Facebook friends are only true friends and relatives—it’s not and has never been a business microphone or a place to promote. I can get by with spending five minutes a day tops on twitter because I mostly only follow people with something meaningful to share.

    I keep telling people that social media is a huge time suck that keeps you from getting real work done—projects that are more meaningful, more permanent, and more lucrative. Usually when other writers say, “I can’t believe how much you get done in a week,” I reply that it’s not so hard really. I’m a dad and husband too—so I can’t waste time on idle virtual watercooler chatter all day.

    • Hi Tim, I think it’s not always a time-suck – it can actually be really productive and great, and lead to wonderful opportunities. The key is to be diligent and picky about who you follow and why, and align those people with the goals you have in using the social network itself. If your goal is learning from Twitter, follow news / tech sites that are going to teach you. That won’t be a waste of time, but it will limit the noise in your stream. To each his/her own, of course, I just wanted to throw in my 2 cents as I think wiping out social media as a whole isn’t the point of the post (though Christine, please do correct me if I”m wrong!), just ferreting out what you really need from it. :)

      • Right. To me, it’s this idea of obligation — if I follow you, then you should be respectful and follow me back. For writers and other people who have “audiences” then it’s a total nightmare. Obviously no one can have a personal relationship with thousands and thousands of people. It’s a meanless gesture that ultimately burdens content creators.

        BUT for the regular joe user of Facebook, there’s still a problem. What about the family you care about and love but who are really politically different than you? Or the coworker you want to keep tabs on, but maybe not to the level of detail that seeing their daily status updates would give you. Unfriending them is like sending a bomb into a party. I like the unsubscribe function on Facebook now, but there needs to be even more tools like that.

        It used to be that you’d make a friend and if you drifted apart then you’d wonder about them several years later and say, “What ever happened to so and so?” Now you can never drift away, you’re bound by this digital link and it’s exhausting. Not everyone will interest us forever — in fact very very few people will be lifetime relationships. So why do the social media sites treat everyone that way by design?

      • Yes, I agree with Jodi. I would undoubtedly get more done if I didn’t spend as much time as I do on Facebook and Twitter and I struggle with that. HOWEVER, I also would have missed out on some genuine paid writing work. Through Twitter, people have contacted ME with work opportunities. Through Twitter and blogging and commenting on other blogs, I have gotten to know other professional writers, some of whom have shared editorial contacts with me and helped me find the right outlet for a particular pitch. It really does work as a networking platform. As a freelance journalist, only a small part of my job is actually writing – most of it is spent looking for work. I’ve found I need to look for work even when times are good because otherwise the pipeline can run dry. That said, the law of diminishing returns really does come into play with social media and therein lies the challenge – to be engaged without spending all my time away from my real work.

  15. Yours is one of the few blogs I follow. I started following it about a year ago when the wanderlust kicked in again, and I went back to work for a staffing company in August. I didn’t have Internet at my apartment for the last three months, and it was the best thing in the world for me – no Facebook to check obsessively, no FB games! Zynga is evil. It sucks my time more than anything. I haven’t checked twitter for ages, and honestly, I’m bad about keeping up with my friends statuses on fb, but the games… that’s what kills me. I’ve been home for two days and haven’t even plugged in my computer yet! My kindle fire can handle half of what I need. Hopefully I’ll still have willpower once I plug it in!

  16. I don’t have much more I could add – You said it perfect and true. I think once you have kids in this digital world you start to see what’s worth the effort. I’m glad I don’t see you on facebook groups much any more – that means your getting shit done! Doing what you’re good at instead of consoling and advising the masses sounds great!

    Excellent thoughts Christine!

  17. Bless your heart, you have reached the same conclusions that some of us who are a LOT older are just now arriving at. I am in complete agreement about what a time-drain social networking can be, even when it does allow you to stay in touch with those in a similar field. But after travelling and working through Europe for a year, we too are about to find a place to plant ourselves for 6-12 months and just see how it works. And yes, my productivity soars when I am not quite so ‘connected’ as previously. You are doing JUST the right thing at JUST the right time. Know that, embrace that, believe it in every cell of your body. And brava to you for sharing whilst downsizing the demands on your overstretched time.

  18. Oh I totally thought you were a snob… until I found myself NOT reading emails and unable to reply to tweets in 24 hours. Being a mom, blogging, and juggling work is REALLY tough. And double the hassle for me since I’ve got two kids now.

    But I am for what you’re doing, really. It’s all about setting priorities and finding time for things that are more important in your life right now. And you don’t need to find yourself explaining to people (including me) who are complete strangers to you (: Just as they say – we can’t please everybody.

    I follow your blog personally btw. You’re one of the few creative writers I’ve encountered and I truly admire that. So keep doing what you’re doing! Continue putting smiles on people’s faces with your words.

  19. I am proud of you. I fight the same struggles (not just in blogging, which I’m new to, but in life in general). I am currently trying to remember that I am making choices constantly and that I want my choices to reflect the person I am, the person I want to be, and my priorities. I once read (sorry, no idea where!) that you should make a list of your priorities and how you spend your time and see if your time accurately reflects your priorities…wise, I think.

  20. Just wanted to tell you how happy I am for you.. and hooray for finding your priorities!

    You helped inspire me to do the same with our online identity a little over a year ago when we hung out in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve pretty much given up on Twitter (still there, but don’t follow it obsessively anymore). And we’ve concentrated on only putting energy into mediums that result in the type of communications we enjoy. I’ve streamlined my personal interactions, and don’t put up with stuff that ruffles my feathers.

    Being visible as a blogger isn’t our goal. Connecting with our tribe is.

  21. I really needed to read this today. Culling my Twitter and Facebook followers/friends has been in the back of my mind. Most of what I see is noise and my life has enough distraction as it is.

  22. So true! You first picture caption says it all: Things I don’t want to miss out on. We miss out on too much because of all the noise. Strange that we all see it, but we tend to hesitate to do anything about it..
    I follow almost 1000 people on Twitter. Ridiculous, but I have a secret Top 150 list that are the real gems. I could not have developed myself like I did (my blogging, my personality) without 2 years of following these gems on the Net. But the most important lesson is this: we don’t have to be connected all of the time.
    I am going to write a post on my blog next week about this attitude combined with travel. We miss out on great travel experiences because we always think about our online status update. Your story inspired me to put that new post on top of my list!

  23. So much noise, some loud, some just a whisper to Listen! Look! Buy! Go! Vote! The loud is easy to identify and therefore in my opinion, the less dangerous. It is the more subtle, seductive of the noise that is the more dangerous. The invitation to belong, be a part of something that can seduce us to not paying attention to our hearts. Silence is hard. You can actually hear yourself in it.

  24. there’s nothing like clearing away clutter to finally focus on cleaning your inbox :o) I totally agree. Have you heard of the happiness project? It’s a great book and I highly recommend it. It’s about creating daily habits that bring happiness, even if that means deleting 10 twitter followers a day. :o)

  25. I think you are right to protect your time and make sure that every activity is either productive or so enjoyable you don’t mind. By which I mean activities that recharge the soul, as opposed to endless digital networking, which can be sort of fun but leave you exhausted rather than energised. It’s like the old decluttering adage that you should not keep anything in your house unless you know it to be useful, or believe it to be beautiful, or ideally both.

    I have struggled with this as well, though I do find social networking incredibly useful as well. I said above, in response to Tim’s comment, that I have got work from Twitter and blogging and this is true. That said, I need to do some serious culling. I can’t believe you only follow 77 people – that is fricking amazing! I follow about 1600 people – still only a fraction of the people who follow me – but my stream is not nearly as good as it was when I followed 200 people.

    I know you’re not a bitch. You’ve been incredibly generous with your time. For example, I can’t believe you made the time – unasked – to edit the photo of me and the babies and Jane Goodall. http://www.roamingtales.com/2011/11/19/jane-goodall/

    Now, I’m getting off the interwebz to go and write some story pitches.

  26. We’re traveling through Mexico, and I don’t have much online time. I get on to post, and read and comment on a few blogs, but I’m not tweeting much, or Facebooking, or all the other stuff you do online, and honestly… I don’t miss it.

    I love writing. I love photography. I love sharing it on my blog. But I don’t miss all the ‘noise’, and instead I’m studying Spanish everyday, and spending time educating myself and my five kids. (and swimming, and visiting ruins…) It’s awesome.

    What else would we be doing if we didn’t spend so much time in the online world?

  27. I pretty much agree with all of this. Actually, usually I can find something to disagree with, but I can find nothing :)

    After living in Myanmar for a year, I really don’t miss all of the internet time that I was putting in before, especially Twitter. I , too, paired down my Facebook friends and completely stopped using Twitter, mostly out of the fact that the internet is usually too slow to follow all of the noise, anyway. And now, after about an hour, I don’t know what to do with the internet; I see the things that are important, then get bored, then move on to something else. I’m glad that you were able to do it more organically without having to re-located to a severely underdeveloped country! (Although, it’s probably harder to raise a kid)

    I’ve dumped a lot of other blog reading, but I’ve kept yours so, keep on keeping it real, yo. And, it doesn’t really matter if you write about travel stuff or not…just keep writing well and people will keep reading.

  28. Ha! I am such a wimp – and I never realised it until now! I experimented a lot when starting out in social media and now I’m following all these people that I don’t really want to…But it would be such a breach of etiquette to ditch them. Similarly, as Caz mentions above, I’m probably guilty of a few of the things you mention – again because friends ask for favours and I feel bad just saying no when all it would cost me is a tweet or a FB share. Hm, but this post has made me realise that it also costs me followers/friends who I AM interested in. And that’s not good. Hmmmmmm….

  29. Hiya Christine. This is a fabulous post. I have been following you for a couple years as a former travel blogger, now as a coach who works with women-preneurs who work from home and need to manage their time better so as to not sabotage their health and sanity. (www.johannavoss.com)

    I have recently eliminated noise in my world in the form of enewsletters that I get all about health and wellness and how to be happier and healthier etc. All good stuff but a total distraction to what I was trying to do and focus on. It also fed some competition in me in a negative, comparing myself to others etc which is. not. healthy. So I unsubscribed from all but a small handful.

    I also stopped reading celebrity blogs, which was my “I am taking a break from the work” thing which as I came to realize, was a TOTAL time suck. I went onto them way more than I originally thought and they filled my brain with rot. So I went cold turkey before Thanksgiving and feel as if I have all the free time in the world to be productive. And I am. Way more so now.

    Keep up the great work!
    Johanna

  30. It must be the right moment, Christine.
    All the time you have spent reading, socializing and away from your family before has paid off – you have built something. It was not wasted.
    I think this is just the next stage on your quest to make a life that fits your family best and I wanted to wish you good luck.
    By the way, I like the new look too 😉

  31. THANK YOU for this post, Christine. I have been enjoying your blog and I am actively working to de-clutter my life as well. I have 2-year-old son too, I work full time, I have a blog, I’m active in the Austin blogging community. Enough. It’s time to focus more sharply on what matters most.

  32. I hear you Christine, I recently did a big declutter myself for new year and it felt good. I am focusing on the people who I like or mean something to me, those sharing common interests or ideas. The people that make me ‘want’ to come to the internet to read or interact, (you’re one of them) and not the people who make me feel I ‘should’. Good luck!

  33. I am with you on this one. When I returned back to Toronto to work it really helped me put perspective on things and burst the bubble I was trapped in.

    I now work 7 hours a day and don’t want to be connected all night. Before I saw it as an obligation but now I’m looking to pull back quite a bit.

    I’ve only been blogging for two years I don’t know how you managed to last so long, perhaps there was less noise.

  34. While I don’t have the responsibility of parenthood, working full time, plus running several web projects leaves little time for socializing.

    This makes me really question the long term benefit of each time investment.

    Feeling obligated is a good point. Just because you made a decision to focus on a project months or years ago, doesn’t mean it’s still right for you today.

    Reducing this clutter is a great idea, it gives you time for the stuff you REALLY would rather be doing.

    Sometimes, it all get’s to be too much with maintaining an online life.

    Focusing on just your biggest influencers on a couple networks seems like a good approach.

  35. Pingback: Need Help focusing? Here Are Some Great Resources To Focus Your Attention | NuNomad Location Independent Living, Lifestyle Design, Independent Travel

Navigate