I get asked that question a lot, and variations thereof: how do you have time for Twitter and Facebook, how do you find time to read so many books? If you’re reading this post, you probably get asked the question too, since odds are you read many other blogs in addition to mine.
My answers used to tend toward the self-deprecatory, as if I were making an admission of guilt. Well, see, Scott does all the laundry and most of the cooking. This is at once a true statement and a completely worthless one. It conveys no useful information. It’s true that Scott and I—both of us work-at-home writers—have a well defined division of labor that puts the laundry and cooking solidly in his chore column. But I handle the bulk of the homeschooling (and even during our most unschoolish times that means a lot of planning and creative focus—arguably MORE so during our most unschoolish times), the considerable clerical and therapeutic tasks involved with nurturing a special needs child, the bills, the taxes, the scheduling, the medical and dental appointments, the overseeing of the housework, the shoe-shopping and sundry other tasks necessary to the running of a household and the raising of a large family. Deflecting the question with an explanation of what I don’t do isn’t really an answer. Or, to put it another way, Scott does all the laundry and most of the cooking, and yet he manages to read a staggering number of blogs and books too. More even than I do.
The truth is, I don’t know how to compare the apples and oranges of how I spend my time vs. how other people spend theirs. I had a flash of understanding on this point last summer, when a friend and I were discussing the number of outings and activities her family had planned for the weekend. I realized suddenly that the perfectly-ordinary-for-her-family lineup for this one weekend included more outings than my family typically makes in a month. We’re serious homebodies, here, and until that conversation I don’t think I’d realized just how very homebody we are.
And yet even that doesn’t answer the “how do you find time” question, because this friend of mine is a friend I met through blogging. She blogs, I blog, we both read blogs. If you were to ask her “how do you find the time?” she’d have a totally different answer than I would.
So if my self-deprecatory answers were unhelpful, so is my simplest one: I don’t know, I just do. I read a lot. Including: I read a lot online. It’s how I stay abreast of what’s going on in the world and in my profession. It’s how I keep my home education methods lively. It’s how I connect with far-flung friends and family and colleagues, how I encounter new ideas and points of view. It’s how I maintain cultural awareness—i.e. it enables me to get more jokes. (Sharing a joke with friends, or even better, with your kids, is surely one of the chief joys of life. There’s nothing quite like that burst of delight that comes with the well-placed quote, the shared laugh, the exchanged glance of mutual understanding. It’s half of what makes kindred spirits kindred.)
[Mewburn] addresses the “how do you have time for social media?” question that I expect every academic blogger (or tweeter) has encountered. (Mewburn links to this post on that specific issue. I agree that this question always seems to express “some kind of unspoken criticism.” Like the other question I often get about “how do you have time to read so much?” it also assumes a strict distinction between “real” work and other things I do that Pat Thompson notes is hard to make for her own newspaper reading.) The bottom line is that we all have time, or make time, for the things we believe to be valuable. So the harder question is why many academics still don’t consider spending time reading blogs (or being on Twitter) to be valuable.
Maitzen (and Mewburn, whom she quotes) is approaching the topic from an academic perspective; it seems she gets the question from her colleagues about as often as I do from the people in my world. She notes that part of the bewilderment may stem from non-blog-readers’ lack of awareness of how we use tools like Google Reader to streamline our online reading experiences. Certainly I have numerous habits and strategies that I use almost unconsciously now to help filter and track the content I read online—and off. I try to read The New Yorker on Sundays, for example. I have a digital subscription and download the new issue at some point during the week so it’s ready for me on Sunday afternoon. There’s something peaceful about knowing my Sunday reading is all lined up; I’m reminded (as I so often am) of Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on habit being easier than decision.
Other tricks of the trade: I have my Google Reader subscriptions sorted by topic, and I read certain topics at certain times. In the mornings, I catch up with personal blogs, many by friends (or people who have become friends because of our mutual blog-reading), as well as other homey, thoughtful sites I enjoy. In the afternoons, when I’m shifting from mom-mode to work-mode, I catch up on my book blogs. I usually hit a tipping point where reading about other people’s books generates a kind of urgent need to get to work on my own book. So there’s an example of how blog-reading helps me to be more productive, not less.
I save news, science, and general interest sites for the end of my work day, when I’m winding down. Often I’ll flag longer or more complex posts for later reading. “Send to Kindle” is one of my favorite tools. I zap several articles a day to my Kindle in this way, to be read in waiting rooms, in bed, on weekends, or while traveling.
I use Diigo and Tumblr to log my online reading: Diigo for marking posts I want to share with others (these are automatically fed to the “Caught My Eye” section of my sidebar) and Tumblr for things I’ve read and want to remember but didn’t want to add to the sidebar, for whatever reason).
GoodReads is how I log the books I read—imperfectly, since I record picture books and other read-alouds there with sad inconsistency. Too hard to keep up with. But my own book reading is chronicled there pretty faithfully.
As for social media, I recognize that it’s a fast-moving stream and I can’t possibly keep up with everything. I follow a wide range of people on Twitter, try to sort by topic or circle of acquaintance (this is only loosely possible), and use the list function in the same way I use my Google Reader folders. (For quicker access to my Twitter lists, I’ve got buttons in my browser toolbar that link directly to specific lists. Twitter’s site navigation is pathetic.)
Actually, it occurs to me my browser toolbar is one of my most powerful aids. All the things I spend the most time doing online are right there at the top of my screen, one click away. Gmail, G+, Google Reader, Facebook, Twitter, my blog dashboard, my blog stats, Evernote, Pinterest, Goodreads, the library, the bank, Tumblr, Wisteria & Sunshine, and various bookmarklets that let me quickly share a link to various platforms. I use abbreviations so I can cram as many sites as possible in that toolbar.
Since I’m a social media manager for GeekMom on alternate weeks, I have a separate browser configured for that role. It opens directly to all the tabs I need for doing my job there. (This division of browsers thing is in flux, though. Until recently I used Firefox for as my personal browser and Chrome for my GeekMom work. But Firefox has become persnickety to the point of unusable, so right now I’m doing everything in Chrome. It’s a bit annoying. I may have to rope Safari in for the GeekMom role.)
So that’s logistics. I actually find it more challenging to manage my time offline than on. Book-reading, for example: I’m constantly lamenting the impossible ratio of books to time. I’ve worked out a daily rhythm that (in theory) allows me at least an hour, sometimes two, to read each weekday after lunch, but it goes out the window more often than not. If I have to make a phone call, there goes my reading time. If we have a doctor appointment or an errand to run, it has to happen then. Sometimes, after a busy morning with the kids, the sitting still is a killer, and I have to get up and busy myself in the house or garden, or else take a nap. I don’t much like naps (too disorienting to wake up from) so it’s usually the former. Or I’ll wind up playing a game with one of the kids, which is never a waste of time. Lately we’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles.
To return to the question, I think Maitzen is correct in identifying its subtext: “How do you find the time?” may often mean “WHY do you spend the time?” or even “How can you justify the time?” And to that, the answer is simple. I love to learn!