On walkabout in life and technology

The News Routine

Twitter, Facebook, RSS, all wonderful services, all bombarding us with information, all taking time and attention away from things we should be doing. In order to remain productive, I have moved these services onto the iPad and created a reading routine to eliminate the temptation to waste hours on these services.

Two screens are now one

Previously, I did all my work on my Mac Pro with dual 24" Dell monitors. The main monitor had my work on it, and the secondary monitor had Mail, iChat, Skype, Twitterriffic and Reeder running all the time. Result: The secondary screen always had something happening on it and I constantly interrupted my work to glance over and pay attention to it. 88 new tweets. 34 unread RSS items. 5 unread emails. And my productivity suffered.

Last year, I switched to doing development on the laptop. It enabled me to work in coffee shops, become more keyboard centric and it saved my eyes because the Dell monitors I have don’t do font smoothing properly with Macs (and no, the ‘fix’ does not work, it creates red halos). But the main benefit of moving to the laptop is that all these distracting programs have nowhere to display, I moved them to other spaces. Since I no longer see them, I’m no longer distracted by them. I even hide the dock now, so I do not see the unread badges. Achievement unlocked: productivity improved, but at the cost of feeling disconnected.

Time to read

Since I am no longer distracted by Twitter and RSS streams, I also miss out what is happening in real time. Instead, I have simply made reading time part of my routine.

I start the day with coffee, and process my email, news (via Reeder) and tweets (via TweetBot) on the iPad. I use lists on Twitter to follow groups by topic, leaving the timeline for key people to follow.

Then I put the iPad away and get to work, occasionally checking email on the laptop when I take breaks. Around lunch time, I pull out the iPad and revisit news and twitter. And I do it again at the end of the work day. If I come across any long form articles, I Instapaper them for later.

After dinner, I settle in on the sofa with the iPad for a final pass at news, twitter and read any new Instapaper articles.


One thing I do keep running on the computer are Growl notifications on Twitter, but only for DM’s and mentions. People expect a fast response to these, and I want to be interrupted by them. Otherwise I’d not launch Twitterriffic at all.

I still run iChat and Skype, as these are interruptions I want and expect. But they both remain hidden unless someone calls in.

Launch all, hide all

One thing I am trying out these days are my ‘Launch Social’ and ‘Hide Social’ macros in Keyboard Maestro. These keyboard shortcuts launch all my social applications for when I do want to see them on the laptop (or know they are alive), and kills them when I don’t want any interruptions at all. Having them a keystroke away makes me feel that they are close by, even though the iPad is always within reach.

By moving my use of news feeds, Twitter, Facebook and the like off the computer and onto the iPad, I have taken away the temptation to glance at them all the time. By integrating the reading cycle into my daily routine, I still feel up-to-date and connected.