I can't be everywhere at once!
It’s never been easier to be connected than it is today. I find the tech amazing – although you may not even think of it as tech. The great sci-fi/comedy writer Douglas Adams said (in ‘The Salmon of Doubt’) that:
"Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
Anyway, as a designer, we’re often told the importance of building your community, and that means being part of a range of different groups, in lots of different media. And today, that probably means Facebook, Twitter, Discord, YouTube, Twitch, BoardGameGeek, probably a handful of other blogs and whichever is your chosen virtual gaming environment. And for most people, that means being spread pretty thinly. Unless you have a time-turner, or some other means of bending time, you can’t be everywhere at once.
So how to make the most of the online time you have? Being present isn’t enough on its own and is a great way to waste time. So this blog is about how to avoid browsing oblivion, or the trance of endless, mindless clicking & swiping. This is a game design blog, but actually, this one applies to pretty much anything in life.
You might have come across Pareto’s Law, coined by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and made popular in books including Richard Koch’s ‘The 80-20 Principle’ and Tim Ferriss’s ‘The Four-Hour Working Week’. Basically this is the idea that 80% of your outputs come from 20% of your inputs, for better or worse, so:
80% of your stress, or happiness, is caused by 20% of people;
80% of your profit, or productivity, comes from 20% of your activities, etc.
Sometimes the numbers quoted are higher or lower, but the basic principle remains constant. And it’s something we can use here. How do you spend most of your online time? What are the areas where you give, or get, the most benefit, and how could you better focus on those?
Now if this all starts to sound a bit corporate, bear with me. Everyone’s time is precious, whether it’s work time or ‘me’ time, and time spent in a virtual setting is no different to being somewhere in three dimensions. You wouldn’t wander round every shop in town looking at every single product they have, so why would you spend hours reading every posting, tweet, and comment online? Find the virtual places you most like to be, and where you make a difference, and be there more (and other places less).
One of the great things about all this tech (or just stuff, if you’re under 35), is that for the most part, content persists, so you can get to it when you want. So if you’re consumed by FOMO, the chances are that you can catch that podcast, that video, at a time to suit you. You won’t miss out.
Laura Vanderkam’s book ‘I Know How She Does It’ also contains some great tips on managing your time. Her advice is distilled from interviews with hundreds of women with both a high-paid job and a family, in order to understand how successful people manage their time and get the most out of their week. Some of her advice includes:
- Looking at your whole week – rather than trying to do certain things every single day, as many bloggers and leaders advise, what if you aim to do something a couple of times a week? Can you actually fit in all the things you’re expecting to do?
- Working out what’s really important to you – what do you want to have made sure you’ve done by the end of this week, or any week? What can wait, or be dropped altogether?
- Whatever you do, do it with focus. Some call this mindfulness, but this just means that it’s better to do one thing well than three simultaneous things badly, and it also puts less pressure on your own mental health.
- Look back as well as forwards – acknowledge what you’ve done rather than just thinking about what you’ve still got to do;
- Go easy on yourself – if you don’t manage to do all the things you set out to do, give yourself a break. Setting yourself realistic goals is key to staying sane.
And to all of that from people better qualified than me, I’d add the following from my own experience:
- Be active, not passive: contribute, don’t just browse. It’s important to read and to learn, but don’t waste your precious time. If you’ve got something useful to say, share it!
- Set a time limit on what you’re doing, especially if it involves clicking/swiping/browsing – it’ll give you focus and avoid ‘life-stealing’;
- Set a goal before you start, eg ‘for the next hour, I’m going to playtest, find out about print on demand, learn how to make cards’, etc
- If it’s your own media/content creation, have a daily or weekly checklist, so you can see what you’re meant to be getting done and you can see if that’s actually realistic in total;
- Work out which tools are actually helping you (that 80/20 thing) and which are stealing your life – for example, I quickly fall into a browsing void on BGG because of the sheer volume of content there, so I try and be clear with myself what I’m logging on for, before I do it.
- Be selective about your content creators and follow the ones you find helpful.
- Get information pushed to you as much as possible – subscribe to emails, blogs, podcasts and to forum threads you’re interested in, then you’ll spend less time browsing and can go to that content at a time that suits you best.
Ultimately, you don’t need to be everywhere. No-one does. Spend your time in the places where you get and give the most benefit. Recognise when you’re wasting time. And don’t stress about not getting it right – this stuff is hard, so cut yourself some slack!
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