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Offline for work – Online for education

April 26, 2012
Twitter 6x6

Twitter 6x6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

For the last several months I’ve been struggling with two notions: I don’t feel like I’m creating anything new and I feel overly tethered to the Internet.

That’s not to say I’m not getting anything done, but I like to create things, and lately I’ve been lacking the juice to start a new side project – building/fixing something around the house, working on some web-based idea or formally starting up a freelance photography/writing business.

I’m not a fan of the desk or the couch, though you wouldn’t know it from my physique. I like to do things. I don’t mind the TV or a podcast on in the background, but I really don’t like to be sedentary. It literally makes me feel unhealthy, because it is. Sadly, for reasons that cropped up slowly and quietly, I became a full on couch/desk potato.

I hate to blame a group of inanimate object for what is essentially self-inflicted behavior, but it’s true – the Internet, my laptop and my smartphone keep me immobile. But it’s not their fault; I allowed it to happen under the guise of efficiency, opportunity and education.

All three are very useful, but I missed a fourth element – moderation. Having the ability to be connected doesn’t mean I need to be.

What’s worse, I think I’m overly connected. As a devotee of the power of social media, I was immersed in Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other sites and apps. (Thankfully, I only succumbed to one mobile game – Words with Friends, probably only because I tend to win a lot. I played Angry Birds (or Bad Ducks as my son cutely calls it) for a while, but eh, didn’t hold my attention in the long run.)

With regard to Twitter, for a while there, I couldn’t miss a tweet. If the mobile app reset, I’d go to any measure necessary to find the missing tweets.  And not without reason, of the 230 people I follow on Twitter some are very engaging. They range from celebrities, journalists, news organizations, forward thinkers, a few friends and co-workers.

In Twitter’s defense, if you follow the right people, it’s a great source of under-the-radar and breaking information that might be missed on CNN, your local news organization or partisan radio.

However, I had an epiphany while sitting through my third of six WiFi-less US Airways flights (you now, the airline that hasn’t made it out of the 1990s) from Philly to LA over the span of three consecutive weekends.

Being logged off felt good. It took three flights to force myself to do two things. Read my favorite magazine from cover to cover in one sitting – Wired. And stop listening to podcasts and start churning out something, anything on my laptop (for instance, this very blog post and a fundraising portfolio for my church.)

So here’s what I’m thinking.

I won’t go off social media, because it is a valuable tool, but I will make four efforts to limit it.

1) Downsize my connections. Stop following any major organization/company, particularly if they primarily tweet/update marketing notices. Stop following celebrities unless they routinely tweet interesting nuggets of information – sorry Kaley Cuoco, I’ll need more than just behind-the-scenes Instagrams from Big Bang Theory tapings.

2) Go off the grid. Fifteen minutes in the morning, fifteen minutes in the afternoon, thirty minutes in the evening to be online news surfing, whether by phone or computer. I’ll still be online for work purposes, but personal time gets culled.

3) TV only when working on something else. Making a meal, fixing something in the kitchen, living room, office or bedroom. No more sitting on the couch and vegging. Ideally, this will gravitate to even less TV watching, but considering that it’s baseball season and I DVR a lot of good programming, I wouldn’t bet on it.

4) Do stuff. I don’t care what it is, take the dog for a walk, cut wood, draft a billion dollar idea, go visit people, walk through an art gallery, travel, whatever.

There’s a fifth effort I’m considering, but I haven’t figured out how to balance it yet. I listen to podcasts, a lot of them – Nerdist, the Adam Carolla Podcast, Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy, WTF with Marc Maron, This Week with Larry Miller, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, The Rich Eisen Podcast, and the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. That’s a lot of ear candy right there and I have quite the backlog of it.  I listen to Carolla in the car and everything else while working out, mowing the lawn, working on projects.

But here’s the thing, I noticed last summer that when I’m working on monotonous tasks, like those listed above, without a podcast in my ears that my mind likes to wander. Sometimes it likes to wander into really interesting areas. And occasionally, there are glimmers of a good idea in those wandering thoughts. So I’m thinking it’s time to remove the ear buds.

On the flip side, I get easily bored doing monotonous tasks, so I’ll need to find some balance. Instead of a hard and fast rule about the podcasts, perhaps I’ll try and make it situation specific. If there’s a project or problem I can’t get my head wrapped around, no ear candy. If I’m feeling uninspired, no ear candy. If there’s anything that needs my attention and I’m just not bringing it, no ear candy.

I’ll let you know how this fifth idea works.

However, as for the rest, there’s my plan to be innovative and productive by stepping away from the stuff that’s supposed to make us more innovative and productive.

This should be interesting.

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