New Year; New Resolutions; New Approaches

NB: As a rule, I try and avoid the circular pitfalls of blogging about blogging – fimoculous sums it up nicely. However, this post touches on additional points so,  as it is a new year, I’ll make an exception.

My New Year’s resolutions are usually disappointing normal – drink less, exercise more and so on. For 2009, I have a different (additional) resolution that I hope I can do a better job at sticking with.

My resolution is to read and write less, better.

Reading

In addition to newspapers, magazines, social networks and bookmarked websites, I subscribe to 202 RSS feeds – reading roughly 2,600 items in the last 30 days (which is down from a high of around 3,300 at one point) according to my Google Reader trends.

This is far too many items.

To overcome this ocean of information, I skim; I parse; I bookmark, never to return. Reading lots doesn’t equate to being well read. How much of this information is actually processed?

So, I’m attempting to change my reading habits through:

  • Blocking time out to focus specifically on reading. I have a terrible tendency to refresh pages and habitually check for updates. It is partly this snacking culture that prompted Nicholas Carr to ask if Google is making us stupid. Will deep reading improve my recall?
  • Using the first three paragraphs (or so) as a barometer. If it isn’t grabbing me, I will stop reading rather than skim through the remainder
  • Focusing my reading subjects. There are many great blogs out there and it is important to have diverse influences, but it is more important to prioritise. So, less of the “nice to know” (SEO is interesting, but it is something I am unlikely to ever do) and the “echo chamber” (I’m well aware of the benefits of Twitter) and a greater emphasis on relevance and innovative ideas. Ultimately, I don’t need to know everything; ignorance in certain areas can be beneficial
  • Bookmarking pages  without reading them. They will contribute to my second point of reference after Wikipedia, without eating into my time. I’m already up to nearly 3,000 items – perhaps growth will be exponential
  • Making written notes on the key passages/insights I read. I am slightly sceptical about this – I’m aware that writing notes can assist recall, but I’m not convinced that it will be time-effective in that I will inevitably make more notes that I will ever need

This “less but better” approach to reading will create conscious and unconscious spillovers into my writing.

Writing

This is a personal blog written in my personal time. Unlike other bloggers, this (sadly) isn’t inextricably linked to my day job. By day, I report and analyse facts related to the business. By night I speculate and opinionate on everything and anything.  These aren’t mutually exclusive but it does mean that I cannot really justify blogging during office hours.

I do not yet know if deeper reading will create or consume more of my spare time. I believe the best form of learning is doing, followed by reading and then by writing (for me, writing formalises rather than creates). As such, I may have less time for writing.

When this blog started, I set out to write at least two posts a week, with the majority under 600 words. I’ve kept this up (even if one post a week was a list of links), but occasionally at the expense of quality – pressing publish before I was happy, or writing about something for the sake of it.

Inspired by Merlin Mann‘s words here and here, I will change this. I will only publish something that I think can be of value when I am satisfied – whatever the length. Maths fans may note that more time per post plus less spare time equals fewer postings. But this may not be the case – I could postpone watching my West Wing box set if needs be.

(Link updates should still appear weekly – though changes to my reading habits may affect their content. As to whether they become less esoteric, fewer in frequency or higher in quality, who knows? I am increasingly using Twitter for recommendations and diverting the more random links to my Tumblr account, so these will also impact)

Regarding content, Mark Cahill splits blogs into three categories – news, criticism and opinion. I have toyed with all three and will continue to do so, but envisage an emphasis on opinion.

Blogging is ultimately a selfish practice – we all have our own agenda for blogging and pure altruism will rarely be the sole motivator. My primary motive is enlightenment – formalising my opinions, and then evolving them through interactions with the blogosphere.

As this is a hobby, I’m unconcerned with hits or monetisation. Therefore, I won’t be pandering to Google-friendly topics, but to what I think is most valuable. My top 5 posts (in hits) for 2008 say it all.

For me, value is critical – both to myself and to readers. Of the above, only the 4th and 5th links are popular due to their value – one for signposting news, one for opinion. Going forward, I will be concentrating on posts I think provide value and can influence – whether news, criticism or opinion.

Inevitably, this won’t interest everyone. Some people like the link updates; some are interested in online video; others may be after research stats. That is the beauty of idiosyncrasy – something that is valuable to one person is useless to another.

The future and beyond

Until WordPress provide custom feeds, my unique view on value will constrain your enjoyment of this blog. And that view will continually evolve as I learn more from interacting and sharing.

Will I ever find a voice and a constant message? I hope not, as that implies stasis. Will I provide value to myself? Certainly. Will I provide value to others? I hope so.

I’m truly grateful to everyone that persevered with this blog in 2008. I hope you will stick around in 2009, but won’t be offended if you don’t.

sk

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bugbunnybambam/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/neil_b/

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8 Responses

  1. I hear what you are saying about the avalanche of links – after adding a stack more today, my subscriptions are similarly at 200+, and I wonder if that’s really realistic.

    An interesting experiment was carried out by a Dutch marketer, where he pared down his information sources to no TV (except recorded documentaries), one news website and two magazines – he said that the quality of his thought processes increased immeasurably:

    http://eweri.com/2Bs

  2. Thanks for the link Dirk – very interesting. Time pressure is a big issue for me, and I’m consciously trying to move away from multitasking to focusing my attention.

    Narrower but deeper – I shall see whether my thought processes improve through doing this.

    Cheers
    Simon

  3. Really thought provoking post. There are often times when I feel completely overloaded with information and ‘need to know’ facts from a variety of sources.

    I’ve managed to switch off over the break by having a few days of not going online, getting back into reading books and for the days when I am online, checking my feed reader once a day. We’ll see how this works when I’m back in the office, but it’s a start, I reckon!

  4. I read this post of yours yesterday and have been thinking about it since 🙂 Both of your main points there are things that I have considered in the past.

    Quantity vs. quality is something that I too have worried about, especially now that (much to my surprise) my readership is in the many hundreds and growing. In the end I decided I would go crazy if I worried about it too much, so I go with what suits me – posting about once a day about whatever I feel like. Blogging seems a bit like a habit – I need to do it regularly or I won’t do it at all?

    As for RSS feeds, I had a big cull about 6 months ago. I tried having different folders for different kinds of feeds but I found that didn’t really work for me. Now I just have a friends folder and a general folder. I aim to get through all the feeds I read by the end of the day and I rarely save anything to read later. I just looked and I subscribe to 141 feeds. Because of the nature of what I am interested in most of these feeds are image based which could be quicker to get through as I can see at a glance if it is of interest.

    I guess in both of these categories I asked myself why I was doing it. I blog because I want to share creative things that I have been up to. I read because I want to be inspired by the creative things that other people do.

    🙂

  5. Le’Nise – congratulations! The temptation of being at my computer all day is often too much for me – “oh let’s just see what’s new on MediaGuardian etc” – I need to get out of the habit!

    Alice – I too have my feeds in different folders – marketing, technology, media, friends etc and I do prioritise some over the others (I end up spending far longer on somewhere like Mental Floss than I do Comment is Free, for instance). However, my unread items can get out of hand if I leave it for more than a couple of days.

    It’s great that you have your motivations and your resolutions so top of mind – your photos are great and they make me long for an SLR camera 🙂

    Re. your readers, my opinion is that one just has to be open and manage expectations. I visit blogs updated daily and weekly – I am comfortable with their frequencies and both are equally valuable

    Happy new year both!
    Simon

  6. Oh yes one more thing! Have you tried the ‘Next>>’ bookmark link that you can put in your toolbar for Google Reader? I think it is in ‘Goodies’ in the Reader settings. Enables you to see each post on the actual site. You just keep clicking on the ‘Next>>’ and you can wizz through them all. I don’t actually use it because I like to control what I am seeing a bit more, but it is interesting if you have got very used to seeing things in a Reader.

    : )

  7. I hadn’t seen that before – a very neat trick. However I probably read 10-20% of the total posts in my Reader at the moment, and I’m trying to cut that back! Saying that, this could be useful for my priority folders…

  8. Don’t worry, I’ll stick with you through 2009!

    Although I don’t have a “serious” blog, I tend to post links to my LJ fairly frequently. I only subscribe to 37 feeds, yet read 3,759 items during the last 30 days. That said, 1,000 of those items were BBC sports or entertainment news.

    Having read your post, I think the key change I will make is to set up a Tumblr account for posting links. That way, I can “bookmark” items for myself and friends. Until now, what I’ve been doing, is leaving items in my Google Reader, and keeping them starred until such time as I’ve read them and/or posted them to my blog. But this usually results in my Google Reader being full of old news items – for instance, I still have an article marked as unread which was posted on December 11th!

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