I read a fair amount of blogs, and I listen to a fair amount of podcasts. In fact, one of the reasons why I’m walking to work now instead of driving is so that my commute will remain reasonably long, and hence I’ll continue to have enough time to listen to podcasts! And I spend a good-sized chunk of most weekday evenings reading blogs.
But the chinks in my system have been showing. As we know from queueing theory, if you keep your queues too close to their average capacity, then, when something goes wrong, things go out of control pretty fast. And, a couple of weeks ago, I had a cold that dragged on for a while; that, combined with some evening events that I had to drive to, meant that I didn’t walk to work for two weeks straight. The result was that I now have way too many podcasts to listen to.
Which has caused me to re-evaluate my behavior. One question that it raises: why do I feel that I have to listen to those podcasts? Just what does it mean to me to be subscribed to a podcast? My meaning had been that I intended to listen to every episode of that podcast; as I’m discovering, that’s a significant commitment, enough so that I should make it consciously instead of through inertia.
And, now that I think about it, I’m realizing that that compulsion conflicts with one of my planning rules. I try to structure my life so that, as much as possible, I’m doing what I’m most interested in at any given moment; the mere existence of subscriptions encourage me to not even think about that question. And, to the extent that I do think about the question, it biases my results: for example, it makes it less likely for me to listen to CDs, because I have to fit them in between my podcast subscriptions.
Don’t get my wrong, I really like the podcasts that I’m subscribed to. Having said that, if I didn’t have time to listen to, say, In Our Time last week, is there any reason for me to make a point of finding time to listen to last week’s episode? Stated that way, my behavior is a bit silly: there are no end of episodes that were made before I started to subscribe to the podcast; I haven’t listened to them, so what makes the more recent episodes so special?
And that’s not an isolated example. Looking through what I have in iTunes, most of the podcasts that I’m subscribed to are ones that I don’t really have a reason to commit to listening to every episode. So, while I’m not unsubscribing from any of them, I’m also going to pause on listening to several of them while I catch up on other listening, and I’m unchecking the box that will cause them to be synced to my iPhone until I’m more confident that I want to spend time listening to them.
Having said that, I’m not completely giving up on my old conception of subscriptions. In particular, I really do like JapanesePod101, This American Life, and Planet Money enough to want to listen to every episode. (There are other podcasts that I also plan to listen to every episode of, but those three are the only ones that regularly come out at least once a week.) That’s about three hours a week of listening; that will leave me with quite a bit of unscheduled listening time where I’ll be able to explore more widely than I have been in the past.
My blog reading has gotten out of control a little more subtly: it’s not that I don’t have enough time to read the blogs in my feed reader, it’s more that doing so eats up enough of my time that I find it hard to get a solid hour to really concentrate. So, if I catch up on my reading on some evening, then doing so rarely leaves me able to, say, write a blog post of my own or play a game or read a book. (The latter of which I’m not doing nearly enough these days!) So, while I am spending too much time reading blogs, it’s also interfering with my time usage out of promotion to the total time I’m spending on it. Also, constantly feeling like I’m under pressure to clear out my reader means that I don’t always take the time to really think about longer form posts, posts that are saying something new to me. (Which is more than a bit ironic, given the average length of my own posts; I’m very grateful to those of you who actually read these!)
This is pretty screwed up: I need time to think and do, to not always be hitting the ‘j’ button. Fortunately, phrasing my behavior that way makes the next step pretty clear: I should cut out larger chunks of free time explicitly by timeboxing my blog reading. Concretely, I’m going to experiment with only reading blogs three days a week: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and once on the weekend. And I’ll try to clear out my feed reader every time: if I don’t make it through my feeds, that’s a sign that either I have to unsubscribe from feeds to fit my time budget or I have to get used to the “mark all as read” button.
It’s an experiment. But I need to make more time for myself; I also need to make more time that I can spend with primary experiences (games, music, books), instead of secondary reflections. I’m overcommitted right now: I need to rediscover the void in my life, or at least a richer texture.
This post has not been revised since publication.