Productivity Tip: Let It Cool

The Problem

Do you wish you could get more done on your core projects?

Do you ever find yourself consuming content (articles, tweets, facebook, etc) to the detriment of your core projects?

This was a constant struggle for me.

Consumption-to-Production Ratio (C2P)

A few years ago Rob Walling wrote a great article on how people tend to be either consumers or producers. One sentence struck me in particular:

"If you’ve been reading startup blogs for years and never started anything, it’s time to accept that your tendency is to be a consumer.""

This really scared me.

I was always a super producer on other people's projects, but had launched nothing significant of my own despite working at it on and off for years.

I had started a ton of personal tech projects, but had never finished and launched even one.

I realized that one of the main reasons for this was my own C2P ratio. My free time was filled with consuming the work of others. Some of it was truly worthwhile, but most of it was sadly just a waste of time.


About 18 months ago a project I was working on got so busy it ate up all my spare time. I had to defer all my tech reading. I started saving all the articles I wanted to read later to a folder in my email.

When things calmed down, I went back to the articles folder and discovered that I no longer cared about most of the articles.

What had happened?

They seemed super important and worthwhile when I discovered them, but then later most of them seemed only mildly interesting at best.

I had just discovered what a strong bias I had for NEW articles.

There is a strange allure that newly discovered articles have that cause me to overvalue them.

Let It Cool

Learning this has helped me to significantly improve my C2P ratio.

What I do now is this:

This simple change in my consumption has provided me with many more hours per week to work on my core personal projects.

I still consume articles - but now I only read the cream of the crop that hold their value after the cool-down period.

Rely on Aggregators

Another strategy that has helped me and that I'm trying to rely on more, is letting others aggregate the content for me.

For example, I subscribe to the Ruby Weekly and Hacker Newsletter which are both excellent aggregators and which I could rely on 100% if I was more disciplined ;)

Apply Liberally

I've spoken specifically about reading articles for this "Let It Cool" approach. However, I've found this works great for other things as well - movies in particular.

I'm especially prone to over-valuing new movies. It's so exciting when a movie is BRAND NEW! To combat this bias, I generally wait a few weeks before seeing a movie to see if I'm still excited about seeing it. If I am, then yay! If I'm not, then I pass or perhaps wait for it to hit Netflix or iTunes.

I'm not strict about this - there is plenty of wiggle room. The main point is to reclaim time from consumption activities and put it towards production activities.

I hope this tip helps you regain dedicated time for you to work on your most important projects!

Good luck!

Update: August 22nd, 2013

The Guardian recently published a very relevant article on how bad the constant consumption of "news" is for your brain and creativity. So, I've further reduced my regular news consumption and it's amazing how much more focused my brain feels.

Update: April 15th, 2014

Just added another productivity post: Adaptive Timeboxing

Last Updated: 15 Apr 2014
Original: 07 Jul 2013

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