[Originally written in May, 2009. I’m posting it today because it became relevant again.]
You think you had problems with your productivity when you were watching too much TV? Here’s a bigger problem – today we’re spending too much time on social media sites.
I recently found myself spending loads of time at social media websites browsing through information streams. In the last few weeks, my personal favorite has been Twitter. That’s where I found interesting links and stories.
Twitter had long been just the next new thing my geeky boyfriend (now husband) was trying out. Until I signed in… Then it became my primary information source. I started following cool people sharing design and tech-related stories. And all of them were so interesting! And I wanted to bookmark and favorite them all, and share them all…
But guess what: while following ~75 people, I often found myself scrolling and clicking and browsing through their links for hours… Especially when I didn’t have urgent work to do. It’s so much information that the brain can’t really cope with it, and in the same time it all streams real time, even more, and more, and more…
It’s not the information itself that is the biggest problem here. It’s even not the most boring piece of information. It’s what we do with it. In my case: not much. Or to be precise: Nothing. I find interesting and useful tips every day, and I make almost nothing out of them. I consume the information only passively, and don’t use it actively.
It’s even worse than receiving no information at all. If you’re just sitting around not being a passive consumer, at some point you’d get creative. Or at least active. You’d not read ‘Top 10 ways to kill bad habits’, bookmark it and then forget about it—you’d really try to kill some of your bad habits. Interesting enough, if we sit and think about our problems, we’d easily come up with some solution. But while we’re just passively reading about people’s best practices, we’d still be stuck with our own problems.
Another problem is: we are often served information we don’t really need right now. It used to be different – with libraries and scarce information sources, you would only receive new information when you needed it and when you were searching for it. Now, we usually don’t need that much information, but we receive much more of it, and we’re receiving it constantly. It is interesting and might one day be useful and valuable, so we fear we’d miss it. But guess what: the theory saying you could contact any person in the world through 6 or 7 people applies even more to online information streams. Someone wrote an interesting post about a particular problem in design? Until you really need some design work done and face a problem with it, you don’t really need that article. And when you do face the problem, you’d just type your inquiry in the search field, and you’d probably find the solution at ease. Of course, there are the occasional ‘breakthroughs’ that we hear about, ideas that change our perspective and make a big difference to our lives. But is it worth it to wait for these breakthroughs all day long, clicking from link to link? We need to think about that.
A problem is solved not because of the fact that you have a brilliant idea; it is more productive to have any idea—even not a brilliant one—but to try and apply it as soon as possible, succeed or fail, learn your lesson and move forward.
Because productivity comes from action. Being active is more productive than being passive. Not watching TV is more productive than watching too much TV. Not following the information streams is more productive than following them all and ending up doing nothing. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.