Killing Busyness – Doing Less To Accomplish More

information overload

Focus has been a key goal and resolution for me in 2015. For years I danced on the deadly edge of complete digital distraction. It became increasingly clear I needed to take a few steps back. My meme driven life was destroying my concentration and preventing me from getting things done.

A couple of years back i wrote about the absolute joy I took in information overload. I dove into the internet every day and would barely come up for air. Likening the experience to “swallowing the ocean” I extolled the virtues of infinite choice and endless possibility. There was just too much great stuff to ignore. My insatiable curiosity combined with some serious FOMO had me staring at screens from the moment I woke up until just before I closed my eyes at night.

But then something happened.

With 30 tabs open, music playing on my laptop while I watched video on my phone, simultaneously looking through notes on my iPad, I realized maybe I had a problem. No focus. No focus whatsoever. Distraction was king and my waking life was ruled by beeps, buzzes and alerts leading me from one app to another, from website to video, from game to text to Twitter to Instagram to Facebook. My focus was fractured, my productivity likely suffering and my enjoyment of the real things in life had diminished.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with newsletters, blogs, apps, social, games and never ending clickbait. My goal wasn’t to go cold turkey, but to spend more time doing and less time consuming. Multitasking to one task at a time. I simply wanted (and needed) to draw the line somewhere. I needed to go on a information diet. But how?

First of all, I hit unsubscribe on dozens of daily and weekly email newsletters. I expunged as many apps from my phone as I could bear. I cut my RSS feeds in half. I stopped saving countless articles to read later. I’ve limited myself to only five tabs open at a time. Delete. Delete. Delete.

Then, I made a point of putting down my phone, often leaving it in another room at home. I stopped taking it with me to meetings at work. If I have it I will always look at it. It beckons and teases me and I am no stronger than the kids in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Better for me to leave it in my bag or out of reach than tempt fate.

So what happened next?

Suddenly I had time, not oceans of time, but time. That all-consuming busyness I had used as a shield for years began to dissipate. I paid attention. I listened. Where I once filled every second of available time with checking emails, opening Facebook or ripping through my Instagram feed, I began to have wonderful moments of silence and clarity. How nice to think about nothing for a change.

And here is just a short list of other things that started happening.
– Rich, undistracted conversations
– Deeper focus at work and home
– My daily to-do list gets crushed early
– More time to read real books
– Written over 100,000 words in four and a half months
– Exercising four to five days a week

The funny thing is I don’t think I’ve missed much of anything important online. While I thought I would regret letting go of those email newsletters, apps and all the other distractions, I’ve never looked back. I’ve still got plenty of great stuff to sift through every day, plus I have much better focus and the gift of time. By doing less I actually accomplish mush more. And I keep three things in mind whenever I’m online. Unfollow, unsubscribe, delete.

A Few Thoughts on the Social TV NYC Meetup

Social TV NYC logo

A few years ago I signed up to attend the Social TV NYC Meetup. It was right around the time that Social TV was really taking off. Twitter and Facebook were blowing up. Tunerfish, GetGlue and Miso were all jumping into the second screen check-in space. Every broadcast and cable marketer saw the opportunity to boost conversation and hopefully ratings. It was an exciting time to be a TV marketer.

The first gathering I attended was terrific, with everything that you want in a meetup. Great presentations. Great people. And snacks! I eagerly signed up for the next one only to show up and be greeted by a sign on the door that the meetup was cancelled. After that I never heard another word until I got an email last June saying the group would be shut down without an organizer.

Damn, I liked that meetup. So I reached out to the one person I know who knows everyone in the social TV universe, Natan Edelsburg of Lost Remote and Sawhorse Media, and said, “Let’s do this.”

Within a couple of weeks we had our first meetup. About 25 people showed up at Sawhorse early on a Thursday morning in July to talk social TV and eat bagels. It was great and Natan and I knew we had stumbled on something special. Nobody shows up at 8am in New York unless they are passionate about a topic and want to connect with others just as enthusiastic.

In August we invited our first guest speaker, Don Steele from Comedy Central. Kelle Rozell from truTV joined us in September, followed by Ryan Osborn of NBC News in October. David Beck from Univision took the hot seat in November and JP Lespinasse from BET finished off 2013.

What was remarkable about all these guests is how candid and insightful they were on the challenges, strategies, tactics and rewards of handling social for a broadcast or cable network. The informal structure of the group allows for a free flowing conversation that has everyone involved and fully engaged.

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Social TV has come a long way in a few short years and 2014 will be even bigger. Just this week GetGlue relaunched as tvtag, Yahoo put IntoNow out to pasture and Viggle acquired Dijit. Hold on folks, this year will be interesting.

I posed a few questions to some of our past guests about what mattered in 2013 and what’s ahead for 2014.

1. What was the most important advancement in Social TV for 2013?

RYAN OSBORN (NBC News)  To me, 2013 was the year that video producers moved beyond the shiny new toys of platforms and realized that at the core of any “social TV” strategy is good content. No one cares about a hashtag or a GIF if the story and media in its original form is not compelling.

KELLE ROZELL (truTV)  Tough question. The Nielsen causal report linking Twitter to driving ratings and ultimately creating a Nielsen Twitter TV Rating. Hopefully these numbers will help with monetization in the near future.

SEE IT logo

JP LESPINASSE (BET Networks)  SEEiT – ability to discover shows/tweets on digital, then take an action that directly affects your TV screen is transformative for #socialtv.

2. What is the biggest challenge when it comes to your brand and Social TV?

RYAN  Particularly in news, our brands are built on trust and a promise to our users that we take very seriously. Any social experience that we create meets a very high editorial standard that we are committed to upholding across platforms.

KELLE  Getting company-wide support. Education on the value of social is key, but not everyone understands it. Building an infrastructure even down to the Network Operations level has also been a challenge, but all parties are on board to breakdown the firewalls for 2014.

JP  Data. Sifting through it, making sense of it, making actionable plans based on it and resourcing. How do you staff social? Where does it live in the firm? How best to ensure it permeates the organization.

3. What do you predict will be a Social TV game changer in 2014?

RYAN  The biggest game changer is going to come from TV producers that experiment, but most importantly have the patience to play the long game in a very complex ecosystem. So many producers announce “social TV” products built by outside vendors that don’t scale and are gone by the time you’ve finished reading the press release. I’m most excited when I talk to innovators like the CTO of Zeebox, Anthony Rose, who has a vision for a real platform that aims to become a utility or when I see Comcast’s vision for an initiative like SEEiT. I think those are the initiatives to watch.

KELLE   Can I get back to you on this?

JP  2014 – Not sure. I know this though, 14 is mobile’s year to shine and with the vast majority of social happening there – outputs of this shift will impact #socialtv in a meaningful way. Your mobile will be your default credit card, your remote control and has already become the primary recommendation engine. Someone will make a mobile sumthin’ – and it will have HUGE social TV. implications. I’m just not sure what it’ll be…yet.

Tomorrow, we kick off 2014 with Jenny McCoy from IFC. It starts early, but the bagels are fresh and the coffee is hot. Join us!

Six Killer Newsletters To Power Your Job Search

For decades the go-to job search guide was Richard N. Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute. Every job seeker and recent college grad had a copy. It’s packed full of information on networking, discovering what you’re good at, what you love to do and how to find your dream job. First published in 1970 and updated annually since 1975, Bolles’ book was often the only job search reference guide necessary.

Then, the internet happened.

Here’s something I wrote for AOL Jobs about awesome newsletters that deliver smart career advice  to your inbox daily.

Fourstalgia vs NYPL Time Traveller

A few weeks ago the New York Public Library launched NYPL Time Traveller, an app that connects to your Foursquare account and surfaces historical pictures when you check in near historical places around New York City. When you check in, Foursquare alerts you that there are historical pictures nearby and you can click through to check them out. I love anything that supercharges the Foursquare experience and hooked it up immediately.

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Check out history when you check in

The photos come from the library’s Photographic Views of New York City collection. The archive is more than 54,000 photos deep ranging from the 1870s through the 1970s with the bulk coming from the 1910-1940 period. The app was created as part of the NYPL Historical Geolocation Hackathon.

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Step back 96 years in time

Another historical photos app that covers the same territory is Fourstalgia which launched about a year ago. The app was created by Jon Hoffman, a coder at Foursquare, and draws upon the archives of SepiaTown. I raved about it here last summer.

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Places that are gone

Having two powerful apps that make my check ins more interesting and informative only makes Foursquare a more valuable tool when I am out and about. History is a big draw for me and I love the ability to dig beneath the surface and add context to my daily travels.

However, I want MORE from Fourstalgia and Time Traveller. Give me information about the buildings, structures and places from the past. Photos are the primary attraction, but additional context, depth and knowledge are key to fuller engagement with both apps. One huge plus with Fourstalgia is the photos are big and well-captioned. The Time Traveller does date the photos, however they are small and dark. You can tap to enlarge, but they don’t get that much bigger. It is such a shame to have a rich archive only to shortchange the user with tiny photos. Another advantage with Fourstalgia is their photo library is global while Time Traveller is NYC-only. Both apps allow social sharing to Twitter.

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Please make the pictures bigger

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Big, bold pictures

In the end both are great add-ons to Foursquare and provide a richer way to explore the city. Give them both a test drive and let me know what you think.

Just in time for Spring – My Favorite Music of 2012

I saw the first Best of 2012 Music list a few days before Thanksgiving . It seemed premature and incomplete as there were 6 weeks left to go and I still had plenty of listening to do before I could even get my head around a year’s worth of music. Typically, I hit publish between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Not this year, not even close. Before 2012 is forgotten forever let’s get this one out the door so I can focus on the music of 2013.

Every year I hope to offer up the music that mattered to me as opposed to a balanced, definitive list of what we’re supposed to like. Plenty of other folks can do that. LargeHeartedBoy.com compiled over 1000 Best Of lists if you really want to dig deep into any genre and discover the music that defined 2012. I just want to share some great music and hear about what you liked. Oddly enough a record from 2011 informed and shaped the listening path I took last year. The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World set the tone with its quiet, otherworldly beauty and texture. Much of what I sought out in 2012 featured longer songs, older music, drones, repetition and less emphasis on guitars and individual songs.

TOP TEN

Godspeed You Black EmperorAllelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

It’s been 10 years since Yanqui U.X.O. and I had almost forgotten about the sprawling majesty of this band and their epic sonic assaults. I have most of their catalogue and it amounts to a mere 19 tracks, yet each record requires repeated, attentive listening. Allelujah! is an immersive journey best played loud. Two cascading guitar driven cathartic sound collages and two layered, scouring drones This is beautiful noise.

SwansThe Seer

Another epic from a band that could be hitting their peak (or maybe that was Children of God) after 30 years. Swans split in 1997 and leader Michael Gira focused on solo work, Angels of Light and running Young God Records. In 2010 Swans reconvened with the solid My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky. The Seer combines the best of the band’s pummeling, punishing earlier sound and adds light and space to an uncompromising, incredible two hours of music.

John Talabot – fIN

Combining deep house, retro techno, found sounds and samples, plus a strong pop undercurrent, Spanish DJ John Talabot has created a record that bubbles and percolates across 11 gorgeous tracks. He’s been around in various incarnations for over a decade but fIN is his proper debut.

Moon DuoCircles

Fantastic drugged-out psychedelia with a propulsive Krautrock undertow, Moon Duo’s music is driven intoxicating guitar noise barely masking groovy pop sensibilities. Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson is three albums deep into what seemed to start as a side project, but is now definitely much more.

DIIVOshin

With a sound reminiscent of early Echo and the Bunnymen or pre-Starfish Church, DIIV do dream-pop with sweet jangling guitars and vocals that ebb and flow across the songs. A few individual tracks stand out, but this all works together better as a blissful whole.

Andy StottLuxury Problems

Stott’s two 2011 records were my introduction to his bass-heavy, pulsating production. Both were stellar releases that revealed more and more with each successive listen. Luxury Problems slows down the tempo and adds layers of gorgeous vocals and textures to create something new and incredible beyond its dub, techno, house foundations.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted GraffitiMature Themes

Mr. Pink can be a bit polarizing. His lo-fi subversive twist on 60s and 70s pop isn’t for everyone. There’s a little Zappa darkness lurking under the bright, sunny tunes. His vocals take a bit getting used to and you always feel like he is playing an elaborate prank on his fans. However, it is difficult to deny the songs. If you hated it the first time, give it a second listen.

The ChromaticsKill For Love

The Chromatics defy easy description. As soon as you think you’ve pinned them down, they head off in a different direction. Combining synth-pop with disco, post-punk, indie rock and moments of icy minimalism, this album kicks off with a thrilling deconstruction of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) and just gets better from there. It had been five years since their last album, but it was worth the wait.

Field Music – Plumb

On their fourth album the Brewis brothers draw on both lush melodic pop and prog-rock, but strip the sound down to its essence. The clever songwriting, sharp musicianship and tight harmonies make this my favorite batch of songs since their debut.

DarcysAja

The Darcys take one of the most highly-polished, perfectly produced pop albums of all time and deconstruct it as a post-rock homage to Steely Dan’s masterpiece. Their tense, sparse take on the original material helps it transcend the novelty and stand on its own.

TEN MORE

Advance BaseA Shut-In’s Prayer Sadness and cynicism from Owen Ashworth who did the same as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone.

PinbackInformation Retrieved Better living through precision. They do what they do and they do it well.

Scott WalkerBish Bosch Difficult listening at its finest. Rumbling, clattering, caterwauling majesty.

YeasayerFragrant World The difficult third album from a band that nobody can agree on.

ShackletonMusic for the Quiet Hour Dub and darkness on an epic sonic journey to the center of your mind.

Grizzly BearShields It’s all about the details. Listen, listen and listen again.

Demdike Stare – Elemental Parts 1 & 2 Sloooowww, dark and droning. The low end will rattle your brain.

Lotus PlazaSpooky Action at a Distance Deerhunter guitar player, Lockett Pundt, creates an elegantly restrained album of gauzy, dreamy, indie pop.

Dan DeaconAmerica He shoots for the title of “serious composer” and scores.

ScubaPersonality Techno as an escape hatch from the world of dubstep

What were your favorites? I am interested in what YOU liked.

Coming soon – Best 2012 reissues and compilations, maybe just in time for summer.

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Celebrating the Cassingle

Music formats come and go. 78s, 45s, LPs, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel, cassettes, CDs, MP3s. Some come back again and others disappear. On one hand vinyl is stronger than it has been in almost three decades while the lowly cassingle (or cassette single) has been banished to the crap can of history. Even the much-maligned 8-track has made an ironic comeback, the cassingle will likely never make a revisionist return. It was designed to be cheap and disposable.

cassingles, cassette singles

Music you will deny ever buying

The cassingle emerged in the 80s as an inexpensive, portable replacement for the dying 7″ market. From 1987-1995 sales boomed. In 1990 there were more than 90 million sold. By 1996 sales had dropped off a cliff and by 1999 it was all over. Wrapped in a simple cardboard sleeve, shrinkwrapped and sold for a couple of bucks, they were the YouTube clips of their day. Some had the single and a b-side, but many just gave you the single on both sides of the tape. Kids could buy the hits and slap them in the Walkman, boombox or car stereo. Instant gratification in the analog world!

Cassingles

Enter the Goldmine

Little did I know that in my very own basement there lurked a treasure trove of these three minute nightmares. While moving things around so I could paint the walls and floor I made the discovery. Tucked away in a box, more than a hundred of them waited for me to come along and unleash their big-haired, shoulder-padded power. There must be at least one nugget buried in this goldmine. I dumped out the box and began digging. George Michael, Janet Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Roxette, Paula Abdul and countless other misdemeanors against music. Shuddering as I dug further, I uncovered three true atrocities, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, Gerardo and Billy Ray Cyrus.

cassingles, billy ray cyrus

Crimes against music

I almost gave up. And then I found it buried underneath everything. Pure gold. A song that will live forever. Yes, it was BIZ MARKIE! Now I just need a cassette player and I am in business.

Biz Markie Cassingle

Nobody beats the Biz

If you want to know more there is a website, Cassette Single World,  dedicated to fans and the digital collection of “every Cassette Single ever released.” Enjoy!

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But we don’t even watch TV anymore

It started as a debate over where to put the Christmas tree. I wanted it in the corner of the living room where it would cause the least impact. My kids had other plans. They wanted it in the window so you could see it from the street. I countered that it would block the TV. Their response:

“But we don’t even watch TV anymore!”

In unison, they shot down my argument. What was once the centerpiece of the living room was now just another piece of furniture they didn’t care about. The fears of advertisers and television programmers were embodied in those seven words.

I’ve written about my kids and their decreasing use of screen #1 before, but it bears repeating. They never watch TV. Maybe a bit of wii here and there or a family movie, but when it comes to watching video, the iPad, iPhone and desktop computer rule at our house.

My son is rooted in front of the computer playing Minecraft and watching countless YouTube fan videos and mod walkthroughs. Yes, he skips ads like a master. His current goal is to create his own YouTube channel. My daughter hides behind furniture or in her room with an iPad exhausting the Tween shows on Netflix. Sorry television, it’s not them, it’s you.

The future of media isn’t the second screen or third screen or some new manifestation of broadcast and cable. The future of media probably isn’t technology at all, it is users redefining a new unbundled experience that is personal, mobile and immediate. The future of media is sitting on my couch. Or more likely hunched over the desktop or squirreled away in a bedroom with an iPad. The future of media wants great content, but they won’t wait, so we’d better hurry.

 

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Swallowing the Ocean – The Case for Information Overload

One of my favorite books as a kid was The Five Chinese Brothers. I loved the story of five identical siblings who escaped a wrongful conviction and death sentence through smarts and special skills. However, my favorite part and the bit forever burned in my memory was the first brother who could swallow the sea. The thought of uncovering hidden treasure, pirate skeletons, shipwrecks, exotic fish and the unknown, unseen bottom of the sea was irresistible to a curious kid.

Today I am just as curious if not more. I want new information, hidden knowledge, the practical and the ephemeral. Every day I want to swallow not just the sea, but the ocean. Scouring websites, twitter, email newsletters, rss feeds and countless other sources, I strip mine for the remarkable, the random and the wonderful. Deploying apps and search engines, I connect the infinite dot-to-dot of our world. My desktop, iPhone and iPad are gateways to the curated and serendipitous discovery of knowledge, both useful and useless.

Ten Steps to a Successful Brand Portfolio Strategy. Read it. Peter Saville’s inspiration for the cover art on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Watched it. A new book about the Mars Attacks trading cards. Ordered it.

My meme driven life can be a daunting task. There is so much ocean and I can only devour so much. When I finally end my day and reluctanly put my phone on the bedside table for the last time, I recount what I learned and try to synthesize and make connections. Like the first brother I must release the ocean and start again the next day.

Last week I heard a terrific Creative Mornings lecture from designer Simon Collison who advised us all to clear away the distractions. Ignore the endless twitter stream, avoid email, turn off your devices and focus on the task at hand. Be productive. Design. Build. Make. If the information is important enough, it will find you.

I agree that we need to step away from distraction to focus and finish the job, but there is too much to learn, see and experience. Too many great ideas. Too much remarkable brilliance to fit into such a short day. I am on information overload and it’s a good thing. The hunting and gathering energizes and drives me forward. It’s what I do. Excuse me, but the tide is rising and I’ve got an ocean to swallow.

If a song gets played in the woods and there is nobody there to meme it, does it make a sound?

I had a fascinating conversation with a great and very smart friend last week. Among the many things we discussed, we touched on what it means to be culturally relevant in 2012.

With mass audiences rapidly splintering and subdividing into various tribes and subcultures, does broad cultural relevance exist beyond huge news stories, live sports and blockbuster movies? We all watch our own shows, listen to our own music and find the news and information that matters to us. Everything that isn’t interesting or relevant, we just ignore.

So what is a hit anymore? The shelf life for anything that sparks our imagination has become so short. New shows, songs, articles, movies, books and memes crowd our inboxes and social feeds every day, demanding our limited attention. If something doesn’t grab our immediate interest, chances are it will disappear quickly.

Music is especially hard hit as physical formats are rapidly disappearing and most music can be found for free without much effort. Plus, there is just so much available. We can all find the music that matters most to us and the multi-platinum crossover records just don’t happen anymore. I’ve noticed that the only songs that really ascend to mass popularity are those that become omnipresent cultural memes, parodied, lip dubbed and burned into our collective cultural conscience.

So does the song make the meme or does the meme make the song?

Two recent songs we’ve all heard way too many times are perfect examples of what it means to be a hit in 2012. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” have both become mega-hits, overplayed and hogging the cultural spotlight. But are they relevant on their own merits or because they have become ubiquitous hit memes that reach way beyond the original work?

I heard “Call Me Maybe” several times, but it was the Harvard baseball team’s video that seemed to propel it into the stratosphere. A friend sent me the Gotye video months ago, but it was just another catchy song until the Walk Off the Earth cover or the Star Wars parody showed up on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Cultural relevance almost seems determined by the broad meta-meming (yeah, I think I just made that word up) of the original rather than the original itself.

Will this phenomenon extend across all forms of content where everything becomes an ultimately disposable meme? Or will content become a truly fascinating and creative space where art, music, film, television and books all serve as source material for a virtual cultural palimpsest with deep meaning and resonance? My guess leans toward the former, but I want to know what you think.

Little Bear is Everywhere – Kids, Cable and Commercials

Back in 2006 when my son was 3, I realized how profoundly different his relationship with media would be than mine. His favorite show was on TV, DVR, iPod, DVD, cellphone, online and even on VHS for the VCR at a remote summer house. He could watch it whenever and wherever he wanted without commercials.

Yes, Little Bear was everywhere!

Fast forward to today and I have noticed something even more compelling. My kids haven’t turned the TV on in weeks. Yes, they don’t watch television, but they watch plenty of content. They are almost in complete control of their media diets and they avoid commercials at all costs.

My daughter is 7 and she consumed a fairly high percentage of the billion hours streamed on Netflix in June. She has appropriated one of my iPads and is usually found in her room or sprawled on the couch enjoying hours of commercial-free shows.

My 9 year old son is glued to YouTube and he can skip pre-rolls and delete InVideo Ad Overlays like a pro. While he can’t quite keep up with the 48 hours of video uploaded every minute he is giving it a good go.

Yesterday GigaOm announced an e-book called Cut the Cord: All You Need to Know to Drop Cable.. I might spend the $4.99 to shake my last bit of cable addiction, but I think Little Bear and my kids already beat them to it.