Hanging out Online: Why it's Important for me [en]

[fr] Aux abonnés absents: le temps passé à trainer en ligne sans but précis. La faute à trop de travail, peut-être, à trop de structure dans mon travail, et à une fuite de l'ordinateur lorsque je cherche à me détendre. Il y a un équilibre à retrouver -- parce que trainer en ligne, c'est quand même fun, et c'est ce qui m'a amené à faire le métier que je fais!

One thing I realized shortly after writing my article on downtime is that I have stopped “hanging out online”. And I think that “downtime” activity plays a more important role in my life balance than I’d realized until now.

I think two or three things led to this.

First, I’ve had lots of work this spring (nothing new, but I like to keep repeating it). I managed to preserve most of my “off the computer” downtime, and I realize now that what I sacrificed was the aimless tinkering-chatting-reading-writing-hanging-out online.

More importantly, I started using Paymo in April to give myself an idea of how much time I’ve been spending on what — and how many hours of actual work I was doing. It’s been really useful and has helped me gather precious info on my work, but it has had a side effect: I have started thinking more about what I spend my time on, and being more “monotask” in the way I work.

When I know I have the timer running on preparing my SAWI course, for example, or working on LeWeb blogger accreditations, I don’t feel free to drift off into something else, or read an article or check out Tumblr while I’m working. This is kind of twisted, because the only person who cares how much time I spend on something in this case is me.

So, I’ve changed the way I work, and I’m not sure it’s entirely a good thing. I think I’ve lost my balance.

Using the Pomodoro Technique has made it “worse”. I mean, it has accentuated this trend. It’s been really good for my productivity, it’s been really good to help me be less stressed, and it’s been really good to help me beat my procrastinative tendancies. But I think it hasn’t been good for my overall satisfaction about my work. Something is missing — that’s what I’ve been telling people all these last months. Everything is fine with my work, I have enough of it (more than enough!), it’s interesting, but something is not quite right.

And I think that part of this “not quite right” is that I’ve become too focused on just getting the “work work” done (the one that pays), and I’ve neglected the fun part of work, which is my interest for the online world and the people who inhabit it. I also suspect this can have something to do with my lack of blogging — there hasn’t been much to feed that part of me recently.

So, maybe I have to come back in part to how I was working before. Find a balance. This is not a new preoccupation of mine: for a few years now I’ve been lamenting the fact that I’m not managing to set aside enough time to tinker online, write, do research. But I think it’s become more extreme since I started focusing more exclusively on my client work.

Maybe what I need to do is do tomatoes in the morning, and work more “loosely” in the afternoon (or the opposite). Tinker, get stuff done, write, whatever I feel like doing (including dealing with emergencies or “too much work” if I feel the daily rythm of morning tomatoes isn’t cutting it). Maybe I need to have “tomato days” and “non-tomato days”. Maybe I need to watch less TV (haha!) in the evening and spend more time hanging out online on Google+. Maybe I need to find a way to allow myself to multitask more (!) when I’m working. I’m not sure what the answer is yet.

What hanging out online does for me is the following, as far as I can make out:

  • gives my brain time to wander around (cf. Downtime post)
  • allows me to keep in touch with what’s going on in the social media world, and the people who are part of it
  • gives me food for thought a something to do with those thoughts (if all I do is work and consume fiction, chances are I won’t have much to blog about, right?)
  • it’s a space to tinker with tech and new toys (something I like doing per se)

And more importantly (this is something I think I’ve already written about somewhere regarding blogging and its relation to my work), “online” is a space I enjoy. I like being there. It’s part of the reason I made my job about it. So, just as it is a warning light if my job prevents me from blogging, it’s a warning light if the way I organize my work life prevents me from hanging out online.

Now, as I’ve already said: it’s all a question of balance. Spending my whole life tinkering online and working does not work either.

But these last months (and maybe years), the balance has been off. And right now, I think I’m starting to get unstuck, and am on my way to finding (building?) more balance.