To wait… seems like wasted time. Haste can be a life-saver, from our ancestors who fled from predators to today’s trauma surgeons who bring patients back from the brink. We can track the wait time to renew a driver’s license without leaving the house. And I’ve written before about how we fill those extra spaces in our lives.
Is there ever a benefit of acting without a sense of urgency? Where you wait first, and act later? You bet there is. Especially when you’re consuming media.
I have found myself saving time, money and my attention span by strategically ignoring new information at least for a little while. Here’s how.
The bizarre, depressing and historically unprecedented election cycle has left us with twists and turns almost every day. Stories that break and generate responses in a matter of seconds — not the hours or even days of campaigns past. This is an election year tailor-made for Twitter. And that’s where I turn when I want the latest news. But I catch myself sometimes, and remember that responsible journalists and good entertainers are still rounding up the news so I don’t have to catch every moment of it.
Wait for… TV
Two weeks in, Saturday Night Live is shaping up to be an important part of the season. Alec Baldwin’s Trump and Kate McKinnon’s Clinton are outstanding — at least as good as Tina Fey’s 2008 Sarah Palin. SNL and I are about the same age, and I remember becoming a fan as soon as I was allowed to stay up late enough to watch. “Party on, Garth!”
But these days, I don’t watch the show on TV for a number of reasons. One, we don’t own a TV and haven’t paid a cable or satellite bill in about 15 years. Two, I’m rarely awake at 11:30 p.m., even on weekends. Three, I don’t like commercials telling me I need to buy things. And four, SNL sketches range from absolutely hilarious to painfully terrible. I find myself wishing for minutes of my life back when I watch the terrible ones.
Solution: YouTube. NBC posts the highlights of each show the next day, in their entirety. I get a decent night’s sleep, watch only the clips I want to watch and avoid the relentless commercialism of commercials. I don’t feel any less informed for watching sketches the next day either.
(Warning: NSFW language in the clip below.)
Wait for… movies
Last night, before falling asleep having not watched SNL, we took our daughter and my mom to the movies. We saw Storks, which was fair. We had comfy reserved seats, lots of popcorn and the whole theatrical experience. It was a great night out for the family. We’re looking forward to a new nine-screen cinema that’s about to open within walking distance from our house. Yet seeing first-run movies in a theater is our least frequent way of watching them. When we watch movies, we tend to watch them at home.
Our house has an ersatz home theater in the downstairs recreation room. When we moved here two years ago, we bought a digital projector, a spandex movie screen and a little Bluetooth speaker. We used it to stream movies and play DVDs from Lindy’s Mac. Since then, we’ve added an Amazon Fire Stick. We can now watch just about any movie (or TV series) we want on Amazon or Netflix, for free or for a few dollars. The only catch is that we have to wait until the movies are released for home viewing. We often won’t see them within a few months of when they hit the theaters, or in time for the Academy Awards, but we don’t watch those anyway. We watch whenever the urge strikes, and can choose on the fly. It’s a nice little thing we can do at home together as a family — or with friends joining us — and it costs a lot less than going to the movies on a regular basis.
Wait for… books
Digital printing technology is amazing. You can declutter an entire room full of books by moving your collection to the cloud. On almost any device you own, you can have access to almost any book in seconds. I own a used Kindle that I use occasionally. But it’s rare that I need access to any book so quickly. I usually do the opposite.
I’m a pretty voracious reader, and I take advantage of a little down time at home or on the train to work when I can. I try to read at least one book every couple of weeks. I often find ideas for new books in magazines, newspapers and social media. But it really makes no difference to me in which order I So I’ve assembled a list of books I want to read next. I keep it in an Amazon wish list. On a regular basis, I look up books from that wish list on the public library website. If the library has a book, I’ll put it on hold. Anywhere from a few days to a few months later, the book will arrive at my local branch and I’ll get an email to go pick it up. I get to read almost all the books I want to read this way, without spending any money or sifting through the shelves to find them. (If the library doesn’t carry it, I’ll either buy it for my Kindle or decide it’s not worth the expense.)
The key is to be flexible and patient with the reading order. I do admit to the guilty pleasure of enjoying the latest John Grisham legal thriller whenever he writes another one, but I’ve conditioned myself to wait until the library has a copy available. It really makes no difference if that’s in six months or two years.
Wait for… online news
I’ve written before about how I try to organize my life online. Instapaper is a big part of that strategy. Instead of interrupting what I’m doing to read and absorb something that looks interesting, I flag it for later. Then, when it’s the right time, I get to read a text-only, ad-free version of that something. I don’t even need an Internet connection to do it. By segmenting my day and allowing time specifically for reading, I’m more in tune with the material and less prone to distraction by the new and shiny.
But there’s another benefit. At least once a day, I’m reading through and trying to get to Instapaper Zero like I do my inbox. And I think to myself, “Why in the world did I bookmark that?” I have lost track of the number of articles and blog posts that have simply become irrelevant because they sat in my queue and weren’t interesting anymore. Deleted! Instapaper also lists an estimated reading time for each piece of content, so I even have a good idea of how much time I’ve saved by deciding to skip something. Instead of reading it right away, I’ve got some of my life back.
There are probably thousands of blog posts, books even, about the wisdom of waiting before making a purchase. You’ll buy fewer and better things, save the environment and live a less cluttered, more minimalist life. I think the same thing is true for consuming information. So I hope a little frugality, a little strategic throttling of the information fire hose can bring you some inner peace in the next week or two.
Also published on Medium.