A Mess Of Attention

I had to remove Twitter from my phone. This idea is not new for a lot of people. Hell, an uninstall rate is probably a marker of a quality app nowadays, especially when it demanded so much attention for so long. 

On the upside, my mornings are much more than just the lazy scroll of a bright screen in the dawning light. I actually have to get up and out of bed to get that. I’m sure this makes me healthier. I’m also certain this has resulted in being even worse at trivia than I used to be. 

The departure of Twitter from my phone wasn’t too hard. Months ago, Facebook left. Messenger still sticks around but isn’t set to notify me of anything. I’m sure Instagram is next. 

Why? Because there is goodness in not knowing. 

Not ignorance, necessarily. Rather, whatever it is that we’re calling the opposite of “information overload” nowadays.

Early this year I came across the Ryan Holiday blog about how this should be the year of no more news. Or, at the very least, a more controlled news diet. All the usual problems of our modern “news” environment are pointed out: the endless stream of it, the constant opinions of it being broadcast, and the total lack of need for any of it. 

Of course this all makes sense. Every morning as a deluge of thoughts and links of whatever happened overnight. I was learning more about the Kardashian family and Ed Sheeran than I would have ever cared to – purely because of Twitter moments and random retweets from someone that I don’t remember following in the first place. 

So, Twitter joined Facebook in the uninstall pile.

For a while, I justified having news on the phone because it was a good way to keep up on the current events that were ALWAYS referenced on the weekly quizzes I took part in with Geeks Who Drink. But as much as I kept up with things, the flood of garbage and snark that came with it was overkill.

As Holiday points out in his post

“I would say that one of the other reasons for our news addiction is ego. Facebook and news publishers understand how much of our identity is tied up in this consumption and that’s what they manipulate. It’s this need to be seen as well informed. We have this great word now: virtue signaling. Knowing everything that’s going on in the world, having an opinion on these news stories, having the right opinion on these news stories, we believe says something about us.”

What is the point in knowing everything that is going on if the knowing of it just drives anxiety?

All of this – the infinite news, the constant updates, the notifications, the endless streams of opinions and arguments and Twitter wars. It is no longer designed to inform.

It’s designed for profit. For revenue. For advertising opportunities. The point of any digital publisher in our modern times is money first, information second. Period. If there is an advertisement anywhere on the page you can bet that the information around that advertisement is an afterthought.

The presentation of most news sources is just window dressing for what it really is: a chance to make money off YOUR attention. The more attention you give, the more money they make. You will gladly trade that attention for some content. The more incendiary, the more likely you’re going to come back for more (resulting in the chance to show more ads, make more money). 

I’ve been working in the world of adTech for too long to think that everyone cares about anything beyond turning your attention into money.

So, maybe we go for something other than news?

Maybe it is time for something beyond the ego-feeding satisfaction of knowing that you know something more completely. What is the point of having an “opinion” if what you think is loosely built upon the not-so-subtle atmosphere of opinions that surround all of us, all the time, anyway? 

So I deleted Twitter and signed up to have a paper delivered once a week because maybe, just maybe, that’s how news was always supposed to be. Maybe news should be delivered in fragments. Pages should end. Stories should come to a conclusive thought. Comments should be sequestered to one section that can be passed over. News should stop at some point so that we have a chance to process it and think about it and develop something of an opinion in a complete fashion. 

When social and digital are added to the mix of news, it becomes less about fact and more about popularity. Good or bad, the most agreed-upon or hated upon position becomes the truth.

Imagine being the most-agreed with a person. That sounds like a drag.

Blank Links

I was on the road when I read it and randomly posted the link to my Facebook page. It landed as a raw link: no meta-data pulled in. Just a link. I think that’s why more people picked up on it and reshared it. 


(The story the link goes to? Well, I have a LOT of thoughts on it.)

It’s probably because I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone. I haven’t for a while. Although I did enjoy having the supplemented contact information, I’ve attempted to release my grip on the applications that offer bottomless bowls of content.

So, the link showed up as, well “Blank” – maybe that’s the right word or term? A blank link showed up as I was trying to share the story by copying the URL over on my phone through Facebook on a browser. If I had used the Facebook app, it might have pulled through the metadata.  

This metadata is what the publishers want you to see because a study somewhere showed that people are more likely to click on it.


I don’t think that’s the truth anymore.

So this story is in two parts:

For the first: that link got quite a bit of feedback. It was shared around significantly more than other things. Of course, the link was about not consuming so much news this year, and everyone I knew was still off work at the office or was in that “I swear I’m going to make resolutions this year” hangover.

The second part: about a week later I’m out dinner with a group of friends. The lady sitting next to me, not exactly a friend – but familiar. Scrolled through Facebook as we waited for the check. I was nosy, her feed was full of political updates from her friends. A link posted, all of the metadata pulled through, a quick quote of frustration. And she…well, she didn’t click through on anything. She read the caption, then picked one of those emojis that let you “not like” something. A grumpy face.

A reaction formed without the full wealth of information. Her reaction and opinion developed by a few tidbits of information that were given to the feed and added to the pile of responses that were building up underneath the post. All of this, done without a close reading of the content through the link.

I get it, it’s really hard to go through the infinite amount of information that is thrown our way.

A blank link at least forces us to commit to reviewing something before commenting on it.

So maybe, then, we go back to blank links? After all, when something is presented without any context at all, then maybe we can create a more natural context for ourselves?

The Daily Journals

Every morning at our house could be the same. 

 Alarms go off to stir us, but we ignore them for a bit. Getting up and out of bed sets off a routine of blending smoothies, grinding coffee, feeding dogs and a cacophony of other noises to chase off the last feelings of sleep. This routine consists of 12 minutes of focused expending of energy while the wife showers and readies herself for a day at the office.

On weekends, especially in the winter, after the dogs are settled I may retreat back into bed with that day’s paper and three notebooks. 

 Yes, three of them. It’s all a part of a journaling process I’ve committed to.

The Books

The first notebook is a thick Moleskine daily planner. Every day is accounted for, marked out, perfectly fine and pretty. The pages are thin enough so the book isn’t too much of a burden. This year is a hardcover; last year’s was soft. I’m not entirely sure which I prefer just yet.

The second notebook is a blank, hardbound book that cycles through whatever I have available. I like these to be durable since they are books I’m hanging onto indefinitely. Moleskines are always nice to have but can get spendy. Currently, I am experimenting with the Amazon Basic’s version of it. I also have two other designs waiting in the wings and am usually on the lookout for others. I’ll make very weak justifications when it comes to buying blank notebooks.

All of this, of course, can be done with the $1 spiral notebooks which are readily available at any back to school sale. I used to like those woven composition books until they started falling apart. Maybe the quality declined, maybe I’m a lot tougher with how I write on things.

The third book is usually something expendable and light enough to go everywhere with me. I process through two or three of these books each month. I like the Fabriano – smaller, squarer. The staple-bound lay flat, the spiral-bounds hold together really well.

Seeing all of this written down – for something that composes 20 minutes of my morning – I seem like I am a lunatic. This observation isn’t a total surprise.

The Process

Book One – the planner – gets five minutes at the most. I use it to fill out the page from yesterday. I stole this idea directly from Austin Kleon as a way to finish processing yesterday and to put it all to bed. Places I went, errands ran, things I saw, ate, drank, and otherwise enjoyed (or hated!) and a way to capture the general mood I was riding that day. This is the kind of book where concert and airline tickets get stuffed into the binding.

I have been getting the 2018 book ready since the beginning of December. After all, it is going to be with me on a daily basis for the rest of the year. On the first page are various little quotes, tidbits, and highlights that I like to keep with me and reflect on time and time again. For 2018, so far, I have The Four Agreements and a few bits from a Tim Ferriss/ Rich Roll podcast I listened to at the end of last year.

The second book holds the morning pages.  Loosely adapted from a mix of Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday’s morning journaling processes. There is the idea that journaling should take place in the morning when the mind is somewhat fresh and everything you’re writing isn’t just a rehashing of the day and the energy/moods that came from it. Rather, I’d reflect on the sleep I got, the dreams I had, the mood that hits me naturally first thing in the morning before the world has had a chance to fuck things up. 

 I am also using the second book to consider the daily quote from my  Stoic Meditation book. It’s a quick reflection on the quote – enough to force me to read it carefully. I write enough on it so the residue sits with me for the day. Maybe I agree with it; maybe I don’t. 

Maybe it’s something that can change the way I do things or how I view the world.

The second book gets about two pages – however long that takes – and I keep focused on the thought and mood of the morning, never the stuff that comes up that can distract me. 

For that, I have the third book.

The third book is to jot down whatever might leap out of the head while the first two books are being worked on that morning. There is this thing that happens when ink races across pages: my mind starts to come up with all sorts of other crap. Emails I have to send, things I need to order, story ideas, grocery lists, and so on. I scribble down enough of those ideas in the third book so I don’t lose it and then go back to finish the meditation of the other books.

The third book follows me throughout the day. It is where everything goes that I need to recall or remember while I’m working on something else. 

Towards the end of last year, I realized that my biggest impediment to getting things done was in chasing the rabbits that came up while I was working. The OTHER ideas that look good on the surface when they show up. Each of the shiny new projects was always far more appealing than that which was in front of me. Before long I wound up with a wake of dead and half-finished projects, lower quality work, and a general feeling of exhaustion.

The third book is also for all the other crap you need a piece of paper for. Meeting notes, stuff that comes up on calls, random stories and articles that I need to sketch out, the foundations for projects that aren’t quite ready for commitment to a keyboard yet. I will hold on to these books for months, years even, and review them from time to time to see what else I might be missing. Sometimes, lingering storylines and meditations that I thought of months back and forgot about spring out and take a new life.

Other times, they sit around until I can’t bear to look at them anymore and they’re used as kindling.

Both of these are usually equal endings.   

Eighty Percent

I stopped making stuff for a good while. 

For the most part, I had no confidence in anything that I was doing. Nothing was perfect and I feared putting my name on pretty much anything. 

 Then two things crossed my perspective at the same time.

First, a quote I heard – don’t recall from where – which now sits on a sticky note on my monitor: 

“If they aren’t playing, they don’t matter." 

A simple reminder to keep the critics in check. Athletes take to the field, usually in stadiums full of fans that are loaded with opinions. Yet, the only thing they have to care about are the people who are playing on the field.

In other words – I have to stop listening to anything anyone else says about my writing if they aren’t also putting something out there. 

The second thing – Hank Green’s video on his productivity: 80%.

Fuck perfection, just get it to 80-ish percent done/perfect.

Zefrank has a similar line: "Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes, but he’s a little bit of an asshole and no one invites him to their pool parties.” (this, too, hangs over my workspace) 

Earlier this year I participated in my first ever showcase. I spent weeks preparing for it and the end result was pretty much a clusterfuck. All of the time I worried over perfection to show off to a crowd of drunk folks all distracted by the glitter and noise.

If I had only invested 80% of effort into it, maybe I would have enjoyed myself and I’d still get the same result.

I see a ton of content on a day to day basis. Some of it is phenomenal and perfect, but most of it is just fine enough to hold my attention. 

The rest is just gambit to profit off a few seconds of me looking at it. Most of the internet is garbage for the here and now. Production over perfection.

Fewer Features

It seems I am never totally satisfied by having just one project. This is probably indicative of a much larger problem that I’ll likely never get around to addressing. I know that my head works better when I force it to work along numerous different mediums, languages, and formats. I write better when I take the time to shoot pictures. I’m more encouraged to undertake a creative project when I’m working on something that is analytical.

Keeping everything moving forward requires some organization.

I’ve been freelancing full time for the past year which requires keeping on top of everything all at once. I figured there would be a decent app out there that would help me make sure nothing fell through the cracks.

Spoiler alert: this app doesn’t exist. For the most part, they just become another thing to do.

I’ve learned that there isn’t an application out there that will get me to finish something I never wanted to do in the first place.

Email is the fastest path to chaos, yet it is the common language we’ve all come to hate.

Slack is usually a waste of everyone’s time.

I liked Evernote as a collection point, but the sync-errors frequently get out of control.

More and more I find myself returning to the pen and paper to keep things organized. It may not be pretty and it will never have the insight analytics presented in a nifty graph – but at least things aren’t falling through the gaps.

Lately, everything stays in a notebook until it absolutely has to be pushed out – drafts for stories, emails I need to ship, checklists that need doing.

No collection of apps will increase the realistic bandwidth I have. As a freelancer who typically works alone I’m really only accountable to myself.