Better organization is costing me too much time

January 22, 2008

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With some technology, for some reason or another, I end up being a slow adopter. This includes two of the most mainstream and useful media technologies of the past decade: RSS and DVR.

For a very long time, I was not a believer in RSS. As a web site admninstator I recognized its popularity and the necessity for me to make an RSS feed available to my readers, but even then I never used RSS feeds myself. They just weren't a part of my workflow and I saw no reason for them. I think the main problem was that I hadn't found a truly worthwhile way to read RSS. I'd tried a couple of feed aggregators, but to be frank, they sucked. Even when IE7 came out in late 2006 with built-in RSS support I was unmoved, because it seemed like a tacked-on afterthought.

Besides, I had my list of frequently visited web sites in my favorites, and I just visited the damn sites. What's so hard about that? Why do I need a bunch of feeds to tell me whether a web site has been updated?

Then Gmail went invitation-free for anybody to easily sign up, and I became a Gmail denizen — not to mention a believer in many of Google's fine products, incuding Google Reader, the first RSS reader that I came to love. Finally, here was a way to read all my RSS feeds from any computer, in a regular browser window rather than needing a separate application to read my feeds (which in my view defeats the entire point). Google Reader fit perfectly into my desired workflow. The interface was simple and pleasing. (I'm sure there were other web-based readers out there, but I wasn't about to seek them out. Google's wily pervasiveness online made it possible for it to find me.)

So overnight I went from an RSS skeptic to a believer, and I gathered all my feeds and have read them in my Google Reader account ever day since.

Also, for a very long time, I did not own a DVR. If I wanted to watch a show that I wasn't going to be around for, I just taped it with a VCR, which, yes, is soooooo 1999, but was simple and effective. I finally just recently got DVR through my cable provider, and, as I'd always predicted I would, I love it. I didn't get a DVR for such a long time for two reasons: (1) I didn't really want to pay for TiVo service, and, more important, (2) I knew what it would do to my viewing habits. Which brings me to the heart of my point here:

Better organization of my content into neatly delineated queues is costing me more time than it's saving.

I'm something of an organization freak. I need things to go where they belong. I need my content put into boxes, and into boxes within boxes, in a way that makes logical sense. My computer desktop, data, and folder tree is a paragon of efficient organization, as is any web site I manage. And now, with RSS and DVR, all my content is perfectly organized as well, just how I like it. I have a my list of items, and they're all there in a perfect Feng Shui of categorization.

But my problem with Feng Shui is that it leads me to add more, more, more of the stuff. More blog feeds and time-wasters on my feed reader, and more TV shows and sports and movies on my DVR. Eventually I become a slave to my own content queues.

Every morning I check my Google Reader queue, and there are all these items, and I feel compelled to go through them all until everything is marked "read." Even if I don't read everything, I look at the headlines. But. I. Must. Mark. Everything. Read. Before I. Log out.

As I add more and more feeds, it's just more crap that I have to mark "read" every day, and in turn, more time spent sifting through items and reading stuff online. In the process, I find some interesting articles on things that I'm specifically interested in that I otherwise would not have sought out. The beauty of the blogger phenomenon is that other people will find your related content for you. The downside is that you're not saving time via efficiency; you're spending more of it through increased volume.

The same with DVR. Now that I have it, my TV watching has become much more efficient and it is on my terms (skip the ads, watch it when I want, etc.), but I also find I watch a lot of programming that I otherwise would not have. Before, I had my must-see list and everything else came and went and if I missed it that was that. Now, I find myself recording even the kinda-wanna-see shows.

Meanwhile, so I can watch the final season of "The Wire," I have HBO and other premium channels again, and so I have stuff available to me that I otherwise would not bother with: Hey look, there's "Snakes on a Plane" on HBO. Hey, there's Super Bowl XXXII on NFL Network. I'll just DVR it and maybe watch it later.

So suddenly I have all this stuff in my queue that "needs" to be watched so I can clear it from the queue and be done with it. Sort of like an e-mail inbox: There's unfinished business in there that needs to be taken care of. Suddenly, plowing through content just so it can be deleted becomes its own obligation. Sure, I could just delete it and be done with (and I have with many hours of programming), but managing my video content has suddenly become a task-oriented operation. Before, it was just simply watching TV.

These technologies are very useful and enjoyable to use. One just has to be careful not to get so sucked in by the convenience factor that using them transitions into an all-consuming mission rather than just being the diversions they're supposed to be.

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6 comments on this post

    Yeah, you need to just be brutal and purge all non-neccessities. I recently became a feedreader, also with google reader, and you will be pleased to know that your site will never be purged, Jammer. Never! But I also keep 'high volume' sites like Boingboing off my feedreader. It's really more of a device to tell me my favourite site has updated- you, for example, don't update every day, so it's useful to see a little message telling me you've updated is very useful and saves me visiting your site and being disappointed. But for sites I KNOW will be updated every day, like Boingboing, I just visit them when I have time.

    I'm like you, I need everything to be uber organised. There's one rule I live by, boxes need lids. Think about it, if you have a box or container, say laundry, that doesn't have a lid you'll always fill it to overflowing and then it spills out of control onto the floor and you'll say to yourself I'll sort it later. Boxes with lids don't overflow. Once they're full up you're forced to deal with them before you can put anymore stuff in. My e-mail has quotes and my RSS reader (Sage) only has a screen's height of feeds and so on. My advice would be the same as Destructors, be brutal chuck out the time hogs, make you lids and keep to them.

    Props to you that you make the time to watch "The Wire." I know it's not a Sci-Fi show, but I think you should consider doing reviews of that show as well :D though every episode would probably merit 3.5 stars at least.

    I'm among those who believe "The Wire" is some of the best TV ever made. But I honestly have no desire to review it. I'd rather simply watch it. The show is so dense that reviews would be hard-pressed to do it justice without spending untold hours I don't have. So all I can say is that if you watch it, you already know why it's great, and if you don't, then that's your loss. But I've been planning to post a blog entry about it before it ends.

    I have an idea to put things in order. Get your self a DVD recorder. Then when you can’t watch a show, Save it to a DVD for when things get slow. That’s what I do and it’s pure heaven. I can watch shows 24 by 7! But more often than not I find it’s neat, Just to hit the remote button called “delete”!

    re: "Hey look, there’s “Snakes on a Plane” on HBO." Why, God?

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