How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 2): Communication and Media

Just when you thought that the Tempo Giusto series was dead, here we go again. :)

For many of us internet people, finding a comfortable level of communication and media consumption is one of the major challenges on the way of reaching our personal tempo giusto lifestyle. While we enjoy the advantages and luxuries of broadband internet access, fancy smartphones and social networks in work and leisure, these same tools sometimes become timesinks and prevent us from using our time as we would like to. As a part of the Tempo Giusto series, here are some ideas on how to use communication platforms and the media at your own pace.

1) Ignore everybody

I’m amazed about how many people get stressed out because they fear they don’t use social media “effectively” and don’t have a million followers. While that indeed might be the case, the big question is: Why worry? Do you kick yourself for not running 100 metres in under 10 seconds? You probably don’t. (Unless you’re Usain Bolt, that is.) So why do you want to compare yourself to the full-time social media pros out there? The life of Chris Brogan or Gary Vaynerchuk certainly may be interesting, but do you really want to write a thousand e-mails a day? Honestly, that just doesn’t sound like fun. It may be fun to meet the people, it may be fun to do some interviews, it may be fun to cash the checks – but that’s about it.

Instead of having to film yourself when drinking a glass of wine (like Gary does), you can just sit back and relax, without a camera pointing at you. Instead of having to mail, tweet and chat with a million people, you can just meet your friends and cook dinner together. Read a good book. Edit some photographs. Paint a nice picture for your mum’s birthday. Or you just can take a hike through the forest. (Yes, you notice I’m not in the Caribbean at the moment of writing this. There’s actually snow in front of my window, and I’m not talking about cocaine.)
At the same time, you can still use the communication tools at hand the way you want to – and create a nice and small business, if that’s your thing. Remember: All you really need are a thousand true fans. And maybe, you can even start out with just a dozen.

So here’s the number 1 hint for communication, tempo giusto style: Remember Hugh MacLeod and ignore everybody. Ignore how other people do it. And yes, this includes me. It’s about your pace, not mine! I might be too slow for you, just as much as Chris Brogan might be too fast. Don’t compare yourself and get freaked out, but use the tools to your advantage, just the way you like. The whole internet thing is too young anyway for anybody to really know about how to use it in a perfect way.

2) Don’t be noise

Noise isn’t a receiver problem. It wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a sender – and in times where we all send more than ever before, we should be sure about what we’re doing.

Granted, we live in a culture where people get more attention if they blog more, tweet more, chat more. But we also live in a culture where people complain about information overload. The truth is, we are all resposible for it, and we are able to change it. Only speak after you have thought. Don’t pass on that chain letter. (You won’t mess with your karma or die of cancer, I promise.) Don’t retweet a mediocre article if it isn’t worth it. Don’t blog about hot air just to keep your schedules. Schedules can be a nice thing and I admire people like Trent Hamm who manage to produce lots of quality content each and every day. But honestly, schedules can also become a pain in the ass not only for you as the writer, but also for your readers. If it ain’t worth it, don’t blog it. If you ain’t got nothing to say, just enjoy the silence. You may even hear a bird singing.

3) Disconnect

This one is easy. This one is logical. This one is the most obvious of all hints in this post. It’s nothing new. It’s boring. It’s absolutely not innovative. Oh, and it’s the hardest thing to do in this world right after getting away with murder.
The problem is, even if we and some others reduce the noise a little, we still drown in information. What’s worse, we act as if we didn’t know how to swim. Hell, we act as if we didn’t know how to pull the plug and empty the tub we’re drowning in. The answer is simple: Disconnect.

Let me tell you a secret: You won’t miss a thing. You’ll probably miss some nice people you like to be in contact with, but that’s it. On the other hand, with every minute you disconnect, you will start to feel more and more at ease with yourself. And you will manage to get more things done than you ever imagined.

So: Disconnect. And do it at your own pace.
Do it for an hour a day. Or just for ten minutes. Or for one day each week, or – as I did recently, I’m sorry – for weeks at a time. (If you do the latter as a blogger, you will lose subscribers. If your site is your business, that’s probably not the way to go. On the other hand, why not give it some time for organic growth? If Chris Guillebeau needed 279 days for overnight success, I’m okay with doing it in 558.)

A simple rule to follow: If you want to work, don’t check your emails. Don’t browse the web. Don’t make phone calls, nor receive them. If you don’t really need to do research online for the task at hand, switch off your internet router or disconnect your ethernet cable. Don’t just mute your phone, turn it off. And focus on what you’re about to do.

Of course, this is even more important during leisure hours. While you may have some geeky friends, even the ultimate gadget nerd won’t be happy to see you writing e-mails on your Blackberry while he’s having a beer with you. Ask your date if he or she is cool about you checking the facts of your conversation in Wikipedia on your iPhone, and you’ll pass the night alone in a cold, cold bed. Stuff like that may be cool the first time you do it, but after that, it becomes just annoying.

Two tools that may help you to disconnect from your personal timesink websites and get a job done on your computer: SelfControl and Concentrate. The former will block traffic to whatever domains you tell it to. And there’s no undo button. Once you activate it, you’re out. No email. No Twitter. No Google. Nothin’. Even if you reboot, even if you log in as an admin, the moment it’s on, it’s on. And then you have plenty of time for doing whatever you want to do, 100% interruption free. (This totally should be a part of Mac OS X, in my opinion.)
Concentrate is a little fancier. It’s got a nice interface, it will also open the applications necessary for whatever task you’re up to – a word processor, Photoshop, you name it – and it costs a few bucks. Give it a free trial, if SelfControl looks too shabby for you.

4) Skip the news

Not long ago, I was a news addict. I would read two or three papers a day, watch the evening news and political talk shows, and in addition to that get RSS updates and news alerts from a bunch of interesting news sites from all over the world. Only slowly did I notice that the news in reality don’t matter. There are days without newsworthy occurances – but as the papers and websites have to be filled, journalists will just make up stories out of thin air.

The problem with news is twofold. First, they take your time. Second, they cause unneccessary anxiety, even if they don’t really affect you. Reading about crackbrained terrorists all day long will get you worried, even if you live thousands of miles away from them. Now, this ain’t a call to ignorance. Everybody has to decide for himself how informed he really wants to be. But consuming this information several times a day – without acting on it – probably isn’t the best appproch to achieve a tempo giusto lifestyle. My personal solution? I ditched daily newspapers and web alerts and subscribed to the Economist RSS feed. Once a week, the current issue will get posted there. It contains articles on pretty much everything that’s happening on the planet, but it doesn’t have the space to ramble about the unimportant trivia. And if I feel the need to know more about local issues (wherever I am at the moment), there are always other weekly journals available.

Another thing to consider is that what’s most important for your life is happening right in front of your house, anyway. But there probably won’t be news about it, unless somebody gets killed. The easiest way, then, to be informed, is to walk around with a friendly smile and your eyes wide open, and talk to your neighbors. Only by doing this will you get the relevant information for your environment that may even lead to action and a positive change right outside your front door.

5) Ask “why”

This is probably one of the easiest and at the same time most effective things to do when you find yourself spending too much time with impersonal communicaton and media consumption. Whenever you open a new website or your RSS reader, whenever you start up Outlook or switch on your iPhone, ask yourself: Why? And try to find a plausible answer.

Your answer to this question doesn’t have to be good for anybody, but for you. If you take a moment to think about it and if you have a reason – even if it’s just something like “I achieved what I wanted today and will now relax while surfing the web” – that’s fine. But if you don’t, look at hint no. 3 and disconnect. Get off that computer, phone, iPad, whatever, leave your house, and do something useful.

The psychology behind this is similar to a personal finance approach of not buying anything without thinking about it for a certain amount of time. Just as many people find themselves entrenched in a lifestyle of material consumerism, others are dependent on the web. By creating a moment of reflection before continuing, you can change behavioral patterns you adopted many years ago.

If you like this idea, but have trouble to implement it, setting up a timer might be helpful. Program it to ring every 30 minutes – and when it chimes, ask yourself why you are doing the thing you’re doing. After a few days, the question will become pretty much automatic.

The reason why I recommend this questioning to you is because tempo giusto is all about you. You decide. But if your mind has become open for manipulation through marketing departments and media outlets, you will find yourself spending more time and money on these matters than you initially wanted. This is not your fault. We human beings just work like that, and the marketers know how to use this fact to their advantage. By questioning your actions, you become once again the gatekeeper of your own mind, and can take conscious decisions about what to spend your time on.

6) Experiment with information diets

The first habit I created in 2010 was an information diet. I reduced checking mails to one or two times a day, and prioritized my RSS feeds into the categories of Essentials, Maybe, News, Inspiration (mainly for photo and art blogs), and On Review (where everything new would go). I would only read the important ones every day, while leaving the others for times when I had nothing else I wanted to do. This worked so well that during March I didn’t read any feeds at all. (Actually, I didn’t even read my emails most days, which sometimes can lead to uncomfortable situations. Not sure about recommending this, then.) I may get back to it soon, though, but from now on a lot more limited than before.

Instead of only reducing the information you consume, you may even consider getting rid of one or more of the channels that blast at you. Think about it as information fasting, instead of only going on a diet. For example, I never had a TV since moving out of my parent’s house ten years ago, and I have been living for more than a year without a cellphone in Colombia. The latter will reduce costs and permit me to get lost, while the former will save a lot of time. Of course, you might also consider to drop other media and communication channels temporarily or permanently, like the web, email, Twitter or your newspaper.

7) Embrace slower communication channels

When did you receive your last hand-written letter or a handmade illustration? Probably some time ago. How did you feel then? Probably good.
Letters nowadays are an ugly thing, because they mainly consist of bills and advertising. Let’s reverse this trend and start to write beautiful letters again. Much more enjoyable than email or calls, not too expensive, and certainly a good use of the time you free by watching less TV. If you’re a lazy writer, you could also just send some photos or one of Jeb’s postcards.

Also, direct personal communication may need a revival for some of us. I got the impression that many people nowdays have hundreds of Facebook friends but seldomly talk to someone face to face – and this is truly a pity!
People tend to think that face to face communication is slower, but I’m not sure about that. Concerning emails containing jokes and humor, researchers found that more than 50% of them are misunderstood by the receiver. But even with serious mails, similar things tend to happen. Your colleague doesn’t get what you want, so you have to write him again and again, clarifying your point, and at the end you may still be at cross-purposes. It may be hard to do with your friends and acquaintances living in another country, but the next time you consider writing an email or a text message, why not talk to the receiver face to face? By talking to him directly, the clues given through non-verbal communication will make things a lot easier.

Other posts in this series:
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace: An Introduction
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 1): Your Speed of Mind

Written in four countries on two continents, this post still isn’t complete, but I decided to post it anyway and invite you to propose further additions. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, or drop me a mail at fabian (at) friendlyanarchist (dot) com!