Trying to balance real and online life

Apologies for the radio silence, family illness has made it difficult to post over the last few days. But this event fits quite neatly into something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and tried to do something about while I was away on holiday.

Over the last year or so I’ve found myself increasingly drowning in links, requests to connect, RSS feeds etc etc. The more I did online, the more the addiction grabbed me.

So I took my laptop away with me (doesn’t that in itself suggest some kind of problem?!) and determined to reduce the digital clutter in my life, and make some more time for me and my family. Every time I checked my feed reader I cross-referenced stories against similar feeds and discovered that one or two in each subject area were authoritative enough to cover the others. So I started deleting, and deleting. Until I’d dropped from over 260 feeds down to just below 90 (and around 25 of those are ‘watching feeds – software updates, feeds that reference my employer but are often about government departments abroad so get immediately deleted etc). As I read through the feeds, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one thinking the same thing.

About halfway through I realised that I hadn’t saved the URLs to the deleted blogs. Far from panicking, I sensed relief so plunged on to finish the job. Then I cut down my facebook groups by over half. Then I organised my bookmarks and kicked out over 150 links that have followed me around over the last decade.

Has it made life easier? Too soon to say. I don’t miss any feeds and am more diligent about adding new ones, rule of thumb is one in one out. I’m not sure if it saves me a great deal of time, but the time I spend online feels more productive. If I leave my reader for a day, rather than returning to over 500 unread posts (and getting RSI by pressing ‘delete’ too many times) I’m faced with less than 100 on average. This might sound like a lot, but compared to before its managable. I’m hoping to reduce it further, to less than 50, but find myself now with a rump of legacy sites that I have read for years. Some are nowhere near as good as they used to, but I keep hoping they’ll regain their mojo. They’ll have to go at some point…

Why is all this important for government webbies? As we go around evangelizing about the benefits of social media tools and social networks, is important we are realistic about the amount of time all this stuff could consume. Everybody in government is increasingly busy (contrary to popular opinion) with little time or appetite to take on additional tasks, so we need to be clear about the time implication as well as the benefits.

A colleague recently asked me how long it takes to write a (really, this) blog. I replied that two posts a week (optimistic I know, but thats the new plan – one shorter, one longer) take about an hour each from sitting down to completion (already having had an embryonic idea). This didn’t sound too bad to my colleague.

But later I realised that the writing bit is only the output from all the surfing, reading, networking that I do. With the amount of feeds, memberships and links that I have accumulated I estimate I have spend between 3-5 hours a day on average over the last nine months online. Some of this has been at work, much of it at home. In fact, that’s a very conservative estimate. How can one possibly hope to see the daylight, play with children and generally enjoy life glued to a screen? My spring cleaning of feeds has lifted a great burden without reducing my access to the important stories. Social media is very seductive at the moment, especially in government, its important to respect it and use it, but not be sucked in too far.

So I’m now writing this at a much more sensible 11.15pm, rather than half one in the morning. But its still too late in the evening to be writing…

  1. You’re right, the time does all mount up when you look at it. But I class most of my feed reading time as training, and my blogging as brand-building and contact-making. Both of which, for other jobs, would be considered essential uses of your time.

    After nearly 13 years working in ‘new media’, I’ve still never spent a penny on training courses. I’m running a small business, and haven’t spent more than £50 on ‘marketing’. But I have spent time on both, and continue (happily) to do so. I (l)earn more this way than any other.

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