Saturday, June 5, 2010

Information Diet: Less Twitter, No More Hacker News

I'm a big fan of Amy Hoy's idea of information hygiene. I think of it a little differently, as a matter of diet and nutrition, but it's the same basic principle. This past week I got myself out of the habit of checking Hacker News(paper) several times a day, and out of the habit of spending too much time on Twitter as well. (Too much time on Twitter is a subjective measure, but I'm spending less time on there, I'm sure of that much.)

Here's what I see when I wake up in the morning.



Here's a closeup of the clock.



The time is unrealistic - I shot this hours after getting up, and I know from a meticuluous spreadsheet that I get up around 6am every day now. The early rising time happened after I moved my bed to a room which floods with sunlight almost the moment the sun rises, and the spreadsheet happened after I bought my iPad. (I've been tracking my waking time every day since December or so, but I moved it to a spreadsheet once I fell in love with my iPad.)

Anyway, beneath the clock you see two note cards: one says "no Twitter or e-mail until you've done your hypnosis and visualizations" and the other says "Hacker News banned til August." I put up the Hacker News card after I noticed that the Twitter card was working really well. I put up the Twitter card because I was aggravated at how much time I spent diddling around on Twitter and how infrequently I hit my target of doing hypnosis and visualization daily. Since October, I've been tracking a variety of goals daily and weekly on a calendar system I created, so I know for a fact that I've done my hypnosis and visualization exercises way less frequently than I intended; I also know for a fact that visualization is a part of success for a wide range of masters in their fields, and that deep relaxation exercises such as hypnosis assist in heart disease recovery, in addition to a range of other benefits. By contrast, Twitter diffuses my focus and scatters my brain; I enjoy it, but it's not the way to start your day.

Anyway, these note cards have worked great. I used to check Twitter and Hacker News every morning before I even got out of bed; now I don't get to Twitter until I've listened to a hypnosis mp3 and done my daily visualization exercises, and I don't read Hacker News at all. Looking at my calendar, I haven't missed hypnosis or visualization once since setting this up. (It helps that tracking your accomplishment of daily target habits every day sets up a meta-habit of sticking to the committments you make to yourself.) I hadn't intended to check Twitter less, actually, I'd intended to get to my hypnosis etc. first thing in the morning, but I'm totally OK with using Twitter less for a while.

One last thing, the reason it says "Hacker News banned til August" instead of "Hacker News banned" is that it's really, really easy to commit to a change if you constrain it to a time frame. If you say "I'll never check Hacker News again!", it's bullshit; it's too much too soon, and your habit will re-assert itself. If you say "I'll read Hacker News less", it's bullshit too; setting non-specific goals doesn't help anybody. If you give yourself a temporary time frame, it's just an experiment, and you're free to change your mind later, which means you can commit to the experiment fully while it runs.