30 day challenge: no social media, no news

I realized that I didn’t mention this widely: my current 30 day challenge (July 2013) is not to read any news or social media. So no Twitter, Google News, Techmeme, Google+, Hacker News, Reddit, Imgur, etc. So if you’re wondering why I haven’t replied to a question, that’s the reason. I might still share a link if I run across something interesting, but I’m trying not to read any social media or news.

Why am I doing this? I find it to be a useful challenge. I’m crunching on a bunch of stuff and really wanted to get my head down and focus on some projects. I did this challenge in January 2013 and got a ton of stuff done. After the no-news challenge in January, I started surfing Twitter less often. I’d still check in every 3-4 days to read the tweets that people were sending my way, but otherwise I’d hit Nuzzel to skim just the most important tweets.

Longer-term, I’m trying to find a healthier approach to news and social media. On the spectrum of books to magazines to newspapers to social media with its second-by-second focus, I’d like to shift my media consumption more toward books and research. I’d also like to spend less time consuming media and more time doing things. See Clay Johnson’s Information Diet book for more about those kinds of ideas.

What I learned from time away from the internet and email

Hey folks, I just finished January’s 30 day challenge: no news, no Twitter, fewer emails, and no social media in general. For February, my wife and I are trying a gluten-free, wheat-free month to see what that’s like.

Okay, so how was January? I started with a week completely off the internet, which coincided with a reading vacation. The fact is that I *love* to read. I averaged about a book a day for a week.

In general, when I wanted to hop onto Techmeme or Google News or Hacker News or Twitter/Nuzzel, instead I opened up my to-do list. As a result, I got a ton of stuff done in January. I quickly learned that if something important was happening, I’d hear about it from someone else.

The month off also gave me a chance to think about email dysfunction. I try hard to filter my inbox aggressively: I auto-archive almost all mailing lists, I don’t sign up for newsletters, and I filter out notifications from web services. Despite that, here’s what my inbox looked like when I got back:

- 258 email threads in my inbox (I had 20 when I left). It was a quiet week: the first week in January.
- 153 threads were non-Google email threads
- only 14 threads directly involved members of my team
- 8 threads that involved my manager or someone up my reporting chain
- 6 threads involving PR or legal in some way

As you can see, a huge issue for me is email threads that originate from outside Google–that’s over half the email threads in my inbox! I’m going to keep ramping down on responding to external emails, because replying to a private communication might help that person, but in the same amount of time I could make a webmaster video or write something more general that would help a lot more people. In lots of ways, email just isn’t scalable.

Added: Someone asked how I stay in touch enough to know what topics people care about if I’m not answering email. Sorry if I didn’t explain that clearly. I still see what people are discussing on SEO blogs and on the Google webmaster forum. I know the most recent trends in how blackhats try to spam Google–that’s my primary job, after all. I look through the questions and comments that people send me on Twitter. When I put out a call for webmaster video questions, I use Google Moderator so people can vote up questions that interest them. I keep an eye on what flavors of spam snake oil are being marketing to newbies on various forums (“I know Google pulled apart my last link network, but now try my Social Rank Tout Suite product! It will automate 100% of all of your link building!”). And lots of people at Google keep an eye open themselves and alert me if they see issues. So I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the pulse of what people are talking about; it’s just that I lack the time to have one-on-one conversations with every person that emails me.

Going away for a week is also a great way to spot emails you should have filtered but didn’t. For example, I had 8 automatic emails alerting me to various people taking vacation. People work hard at Google; I usually don’t need to know if you’re taking a day or two off. I found 4 other mailing lists I could auto-archive or unsubscribe to. In general, taking some time off provides a useful perspective on what’s waiting for you when you get back.

Is anyone else doing a 30 day challenge? What are you tackling?

Taking a week off from the internet

The end of the year is a perfect time to think about goals. Did you get done what you wanted in 2012? What do you want to accomplish in 2013? Instead of setting year-long goals, I’m a big fan of trying out new things for a month at a time:



This month I’m going to try to unplug from Twitter and most news. I’m also going to cut down on replying to email.

I’m going to start out with a week without internet. Harper Reed called it a “reading vacation” and I can’t wait to curl up with a few books.

Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn or try? Why not give it a shot for 30 days and see how it goes?

New 30 day challenge: get good sleep

For October 2012, I tried to practice the ukulele every day. I ended up doing more traveling than I expected, but I managed to play ukulele most of the days. I’m still a total beginner, but it was a lot of fun! My favorite song to play so far is M.T.A. by the Kingston Trio. My Dad used to play that sometimes as I was growing up.

For November 2012, I mentioned to my wife that I was thinking of trying to get good sleep this month, like eight hours a night. My wife’s reaction could be categorized as skeptical at best. Which just makes me want to do it, of course. :)

So I’m setting a goal of eight hours of sleep a night for the next 30 days. We’ll see how it goes! If you want more context, here’s what I mean when I talk about 30 day challenges:



Why not think about something that sounds like fun, or that you’ve wanted to start, and give it a shot for the next 30 days?

My secret 30 day challenge and my new challenge: ukulele!

Last month I did a secret 30 day challenge: everyday I did something nice for my wife. It could be surprising her with flowers, doing some chore around the house without her asking, or just trying to be present and focused when she wanted to talk. This challenge turned out really well.

At first, I thought of writing down the nice thing I did each day, like when I tracked my “month of kindness” challenge. But instead, I found myself adopting an attitude of trying to be more supportive throughout the day. My wife noticed the change in my behavior and remarked on it mid-month, so I guess I still had some room to be a better husband. :)

If you’re married, you should definitely consider this challenge. I was a little worried that when I revealed my challenge, my wife would feel like I’d been deceiving her or holding something back, but she was just happy that I’d been doing thoughtful things for her this month.

Okay, so what’s up for the month of October? I’m going a little more light-hearted. My wife got me a ukulele a couple months ago, and I’m going to try to play the ukulele each day. The ukulele is a great instrument because you can’t take yourself too seriously playing a ukulele. It’s a very low-pressure instrument.

I’ve never had much musical training, so I’m complete beginner. Don’t expect me to upload any YouTube videos or perform in public. I’m just having fun with it, which is exactly what you should do with a ukulele. Here’s a little video to get your day started:



If you want to join me in a 30 day challenge, just pick out something you’ve always wanted to try and give it a go!

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