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Lessons Learned During a Week Without Blogging

Like a hairy (but disarmingly handsome) prophet am I come back from the promised land.

In case you didn’t notice, I took last week off from blogging, both reading and writing. I responded to a couple of comments here to avoid being discourteous. Other than that, I put myself on a strict no-blog diet.

Twyla Tharp‘s book The Creative Habit (via 43 Folders) inspired me to swear off blogs for a week. Her examples of voluntary sacrifices that can foster creativity made it clear that blogs were a perfect choice for me.

My conscience had been nagging me that blogging had become an unbalanced part of my life. My daughters often came to me as I sat on the couch reading blogs and asked to read a book or play with me. I (irritated by the distraction) would brush them aside, “Not now. I’m reading. Maybe later?”

How fucking backwards! My time with my daughters is slipping away one minute at a time, and I feel obligated to get my feed reader down to zero unread posts? That is the very definition of having my priorities upside down.

Blogging is great. I love that people the world over are having conversations. I have let that conversation with relative strangers distract from my relationship with the people closest to me. There have been far too many days where I came home from work and spent no meaningful time with my family because I was blogging.

Blogging also provides an easy way to procrastinate while feeling like I’m accomplishing something. I do my duty to stay an informed citizen by reading blogs while I put off all those projects that intimidated me too much to even start them. The blogosphere kindly provided a never ending supply of new blog posts to read. Meanwhile, I left important things undone.

So I took the week off from blogging. I also took a week off from work and spent my time at home. So what did I do with all that time? I read the newspaper. I caught up on my reading (books). I played with the girls. I watched movies. I did a few chores. We took field trips to museums and state parks. I worked on long neglected projects. I relaxed. I remembered what it was like to live in a world without blogs.

I noticed something. The non-blog stuff that I read or watched was well thought out and lucidly presented. I felt rewarded for my time spent with them. I imagine the creators put their creations through at least two drafts before giving me the finished product. Let’s face it. With occasional exceptions, a lot of the blog world barely makes it through one draft. It’s a world full of rough drafts that we dash off and send out with a spellcheck (maybe) and a smile. It’s easy to waste time on this noisy channel trying to separate out the valuable from the dross.

Perhaps I am judging the blogging world too harshly. It is more like a conversation with friends than reading a book or watching a movie. Even so, I think I should spend less time chatting with friends and more time with my girls while they’re still interested in spending time with dear ol’ Dad, more time romancing my wife, and more time accomplishing something meaningful to me.

So now what?

I’ll make a deal with you blog-o-sphere: I’ll keep reading in moderation and put my posts through at least two drafts when it’s appropriate (I sat on this post all week), if you’ll forgive me for not reading everything that comes my way. Once I can read all my blogs in about 30–45 minutes a day, I’m done. Any new kid on the block who has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove will have to bump someone else off my reading list.


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Five Things

Today, I am thankful for…

  1. … having a good woman as my partner.
  2. … music and art. My life is infinitely richer because of them.
  3. … the time I’ve had recently with my daughters. I’ve been trying to focus more on the truly important things in life, and it has paid off with immediate returns.
  4. … homemade yogurt. It’s eerily simple to make. I feel like I’ve learned a secret art.
  5. … the philosophy of fire and motion.

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Five Things

  1. I’m grateful for a newfound mindfulness. I tend to make little rules and expectations for myself like “no eating after 7 PM” or “finish everything on today’s task list”. I start having a nagging sense of dissatisfaction when I break the rules, the rules I set for myself. When I get dissatisfied, I become discouraged and tend to fall even shorter of my expectations. Recently, I’ve become more aware of this self-inflicted cycle. Self-forgiving awareness has allowed me to notice the dissatisfaction, let it wash over me, and see it dissipate in the light of my conscious awareness.
  2. I’m grateful to be feeling healthy again.
  3. The weather is bright and sunny. It might as well be spring. I feel a little silly wearing my sweater.
  4. I am thankful that I’ve found renewed motivation in my job. I hate feeling like I’m slacking off, and yet I still do it when a task is so big or ill-defined that I don’t know where to start. Really, I should thank Thich Nhat Hanh. He said “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” I’ve been trying to practice this at work, and I’m much more productive (despite going slowly).
  5. I am grateful for the class that I was able to attend today. I am realizing that I need to brush up on some math, but I enjoy this kind of challenge.

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Desktop Simplicity

In my continuing quest for simplicity on my computer desktop, I have found a new tool: Emerge Desktop. Essentially, I have removed everything from my desktop—this includes the Start menu and the taskbar—except for an unobtrusive text clock and a couple of icons from the system tray. When all windows are minimized, this is what I see.

The reason the image is so wide is because I have dual widescreen monitors at work. (Don’t hate me because of my screen space.)

This also has the salutary side effect of almost completely obfuscating the use of my computer. I get boyish delight at the thought of a coworker’s befuddled look when they sit down down to my computer and grope around for their precious Start menu. Tee hee.

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Single Tasking

I’ve recently found a secret to getting myself to do stuff. The idea of cringe busting my to do list has made me aware of the sneaky feeling of panic that makes me want to procrastinate.

Not only does each item on my task list threaten to freak me out, the whole assemblage drives me to fiddle with addictive games and madness. I take one look at my task list and my eyes glaze over: I don’t know where to start.

The obvious strategy is to start at the top. You know that and I know that, but my gut reactions don’t. They tell me to head for the life rafts and abandon all hope. “The list is too long!”

I have a homebrew task management system (cobbled together using big ass text files, Bash scripting, and Vim). I recently programmed it to be able to give me exactly one task at a time.

The effect is magical.

My task list has lost its power to intimidate. “Sure, I have 15 minutes to create that spreadsheet. Easy-peasy!” I find myself ripping through my tasks so fast that I don’t know what to do with all the time left over.

Multitasking is a moral weakness. One task at a time. One. Task.

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