Saturday, October 6, 2012

Productivity Experiments

Everybody with an internet connection is participating in a massive experiment. The experiment goes like this: what is the effect of a distraction machine on the human race? (The Amish are the control group.)

I'm incredibly nervous, all the time, about how effectively I'm doing stuff and getting better at doing stuff. And -- right now -- curbing my internet habits is the major front of that effort.

Here's what I've done so far:

  • Killed Facebook.
  • Got my inbox size down. Way down. I print out messages that I'll need to respond to later and post them on a bulletin board.
  • I've bought a bulletin board, by the way. It's great. I post my monthly budget and emails that I need to respond to. I'm less nervous about losing track of stuff. My mind is more settled.
  • I've set up a filter to eliminate the different between read and unread messages. So far? The results aren't great. I'm still checking my email very often, though. We'll wait and see on this one.
  • I'm pretty excited about this one: I've eliminated Google Reader and replaced it with FeedDemon. There are two reasons why I think this is going to make me a more effective blog consumer. First, my RSS reader is no longer in the browser. That means that I can't access it from any computer other than the one that I leave at home. It also allows me to set up filters so that I can try the read/unread experiment with my blogs also. (You can't do that in Google Reader, I think. And it costs $20 for the license to set that up in FeedDemon.) 
  • I also unsubscribed from blogs that post often enough that I could hope to gain something by checking my reader more than once or twice a day.
Overall, the goal is to start batching my consumption of online stuff.

I think that this stuff matters. A lot of folks recommend subscribing to hundreds of blogs and scanning them quickly to find the important stuff. Same with twitter. (Which I struggle with too.) That might work for some folks, but being distracted doesn't support my goal of being a thoughtful teacher that (eventually) comes up with some really good stuff. So they have to go.


  1. Great suggestions. I'm going to go now sort thru the hundreds of tweets and blog posts I've missed over the last couple of hours.

  2. I'm right there with you. I've essentially cut out Twitter entirely. I have IFTTT set up to auto-tweet new blog posts for me, and I check it about once per day, just for new mentions. It's given me back a lot of sanity and time. I check Facebook about once per day to see what my sister is doing, and I kill RSS counts using Reeder about once per day, though it usually takes me a while to read the posts I'm actually interested in (about once per week I sit down and read some of those). I just keep them unread in the meantime.

    I also have them sorted in folders. I have one for teaching, but another for "teaching try-outs". I promote or demote blogs as I go, and sometimes drop them entirely from the "teaching try-outs" (that is, unsubscribe) when I realize that I'm consistently not finding them worth reading.

    Distraction is a huge issue. I'm trying to be fully present in any activity when I do it, which usually means being as low-tech as possible whenever reasonable.

  3. I've had good luck with software like this:

  4. Hi Michael, I'm an aspiring teacher currently working on my MA in Education. I'm actually working on a project right now regarding blogs and education. My question to you after reading this post is: what are your thoughts on technology and education? Do you use technology in the classroom? Do you think student smartphone use needs curbed or directed (meaning showing students how to use cell phones for education)? I think Internet use can be great when properly directed, but equally detrimental when not. Thank you for any insights!

    1. Hey Mandy,

      Feel free to email me if you want to discuss this further. My email is mathmistakes - at - g mail.