Mum was speeding back home. It was 1991 and the season premier of Northern Exposure was on at 8pm. We had to hustle, I'd been at a friend's house, and if we didn't make it home in time, she'd miss it. So we sped down the streets of Atlanta, inches away from certain death so that we could see if Dr Fleishman and Maggie would finally get together. She had an appointment with them, and it could not be missed.
Appointment-based media is now all but extinct. We can time-shift television now and watch Northern Exposure whenever we want to. Instead of reading the morning paper before we go to work now, the paper follows us around all day long, in our pockets — waiting to be read at the dinner table or anywhere else we feel the urge to look at a glowing blue rectangle.
But the problem is, that convenience comes with a cost. Instead of killing ourselves in cars rushing home to get to the media we want to see, we're killing ourselves in cars by reading the media we want to read while we're supposed to be driving. Once we start staring at those glowing blue rectangles — no matter how big or small they are — some of us get sucked in. We lose track of time, and we can spend all day there, grazing instead of producing. We can lose our whole day, if we're not careful, to a passive over-consumption of manufactured information.
That's why I wrote The Information Diet, and it's why you should consider making your media consumption a bit more appointment based. It helps you maintain a healthier relationship with information. By scheduling an appointment with your media, for instance, you never lose a day to your Facebook news stream or your RSS reader.
I make appointments first with email. I check email four times a day, for 15-20 minutes a day. This is a practice we've heard over and over again. It helps you remain focused and not a slave to the evil notifications headed your way. But don't stop at just email.
If you're a heavy Facebook user, schedule time for it, too. That way, you'll never find yourself on Facebook when you're not supposed to be. You can't get "lost" on Facebook if you've made an appointment for it, and that appointment ends. If you're finding yourself spending too much time playing Words with Friends, then make an appointment with it instead. That way your relationship with it is both proactive and constrained.
And consider appointments with your television media too. Just because you can watch all 160 episodes of How I Met Your Mother in a row on Netflix doesn't mean that you should. Even though prime-time television can now be watched anytime, doesn't mean that it shouldn't come without some constraints. Allot yourself some time, and schedule it in.
Another thing you might consider is scheduling in your production time too. In my book, I recommend that you write 500 words before 8am to shift your mindset from being a consumer into being a producer. Consider also scheduling your producer time. Writing might be your thing, or you could make videos or write songs. Doesn't matter — just produce something when you wake up in the morning so that you spend your day being a producer. Separate your producer time and consumer time and be deliberate about both.
And the trick to making sure you do it and stick to it? Don't put it on your to-do list. Put it on your calendar. Make an appointment for it. And treat it like it's as important as knowing how things would end up between Dr. Fleishman and Maggie was to my mum.
Make More Time by Scheduling Your Media [The Information Diet
Author Clay Johnson believes that, much like junk food leads to obesity and health problems, junk information is killing our productivity, efficiency, and worse, feeding ignorance. His new book, The Information Diet, discusses this problem in depth. He was formerly the director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation and founder of Blue State Digital - the technology company behind Barack Obama's website.