How do you manage to read so many blogs?

February 27, 2013 @ 7:25 pm | Filed under: , ,

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.)

This post at Novel Readings (by Rohan Maitzen, a college professor) speaks intelligently on the subject:

[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!

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13 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Hannah says:

    I had to smile reading this, because a) I know exactly, without clicking through, who that full-of-activity friend is (ha! ;-)) and b) it really was serendipitous that I was reading it in the first place, because I feel like I barely have to time to blog these days, never mind read other blogs! I ask myself, “How did I used to blog almost every day?” 🙂

    I guess if I were asking you that question, I’d say, “How do you find the time to read so many varying things and still give the people around your focus and attention?” I struggle with this myself, not wanting my kids to remember me constantly checking my phone/email/Facebook or reading something (especially on the screen) while saying, “Uh huh, honey …” Yet if I AM reading something, it’s a challenge to deal sweetly with the interruptions, instantly dropping what I’m doing and giving them my full attention. I feel like I can’t give either the reading or the kids my undivided focus, and my ideal is that if someone wins, it’s the kids. Or my husband — the people. Note the use of the word “ideal.” 🙂

  2. sarah says:

    Loved this. No time to answer properly – which I find is one of the trade-offs I’ve made: I read more, because truly it enriches my mind and spirit, and allows me to engage in educating myself every single day – but I comment less.

  3. Melissa Wiley says:

    LOL, Hannah, too funny about the barely having time! 🙂 🙂 🙂 I loved that conversation for how it gave me perspective on how our life compares to others. And it filled me with admiration for how much you do for your family, your community, the world. If I have any guilt over my incessant reading habits, it’s because they make me less available to give my time to the world outside my home circle. I used to volunteer with the elderly (five babies ago) and such. I’m not out doing that sort of thing these days. Nor am I hosting out-of-state teens for an entire summer! 🙂

    Your question is a good one, a fair one! There are times when I’ve felt like I have to avoid picking up that Enticing New Book for the very reason you mention—I know I’ll become immersed and reluctant to leave the world, and I might react irritably to interruptions. But on the other hand I think it’s important to model reading for my kids, and I’m ok with saying “it’s about to be my reading time, so ask questions now or hold your peace for an hour.” (That works NOT AT ALL with the youngest, which is why my theoretical reading time is supposed to happen during his nap. Except now he’s edging toward no nap.)

    With the computer it’s harder. I used to have a really strict policy for myself of always looking up and cheerfully answering or patiently listening to the child addressing me while I was at the computer—theory being that this, too, is a good behavior to model. Screen time is part of mom’s work life and social life, but she can break away from it to focus on the people in the room at any time—that’s the theory. Not always so easy to pull off. Especially on my GeekMom social media duty weeks. So lately I’m trying to just plain be OFF the computer during my kid hours. Some days I can do it, other days not—and often the NOT days are because I’ll need to jump on and look something up in relation to our studies, or pull up a map/picture/song/etc to show the kids. And then, how tempting to quickly flick over to Facebook!

    The funny part is that the days I’ve been most successful at not getting on the computer until my work time, I’ll inevitably discover that Scott was IMing me from his office in the back of the house, needing something, and I’ve left him hanging!

    I do think as the kids get older, they understand about the abstractedness that comes when I’m reading—they can relate to that feeling of being deeply immersed and tuning out the voices in the room. Of course it happens just as much with writing as with reading. I’ll be standing at the sink doing dishes with Rose while writing a paragraph in my head, and gradually realize she’s laughing at me for not having heard anything she just said. The woes of being a writer’s kid, I guess.

  4. Melissa Wiley says:

    Sarah, YES! I comment on blogs a fraction as often as I wish I could. Used to be I did most of my blog-reading while nursing, so I could read but not type. Or else I was reading on my phone or Kindle, and it’s too much of a pain to try commenting that way. But more than that, it’s about the mental energy necessary to make a thoughtful response. I have only so much *writing* in me every day. It has to go toward my work and blogging and other pursuits, and there seems to be little time left for writing comments. But I *think* them. I leave four or five mental notes on every post you write, for example. 😉

  5. sarah says:

    Finished dinner and popping back in because when you do have a discussion its always so interesting. 🙂 I wish sometimes blogs had a “like” function in the combox, so I could at least let someone know I’ve been reading and enjoying.

  6. Scott says:

    (Closest I could get to a thumbs-up.)

  7. emily says:

    OK, how do you get google reader to send a blog post to your kindle? I am fascinated by this! I have several that for weeks I keep clicking “keep unread” but not having the time to focus on it. Would love to be able to look at them while I’m waiting in car line to pickup the kids or otherwise out of the house.

  8. Ellie says:

    I wrote a rambly post this winter (late autumn??) about reading, and how I find the time to read so much — at least, how do I find the time to read so much, when my brain isn’t interferring with my ability to read. Anyhow, one of the things I wrote about was the householding, and how things had changed since the brain tumor, and so, of course I have gracious plenty time to read, since I’m not doing all of those household chores or yarden work …. However, probably, as you say, what sort of household responsibilities one has has little to do with it. It’s a simple matter of priorities.

    The fact is, I **always** read a lot, from age four onwards, I always had a book in hand.

    Your comment about (perhaps) being irratable on being interrupted when reading a good book made me laugh: just like Sara in A Little Princess, all abosorbed in the Bastille, and alottie interrupts her, and Sara has to fight to hold her temper …

    And I, too, absolutely must forewarn the children when I am going to settle in to write: talk to me now, you know you can’t interrupt me …

    My best time to write — creatively, mentally, physically — is in the morning after breakfast. Bt now that’s exercise and PT time (an absolute) and then it’s Lesson Time (another absolute). I have to give my best energy to those pursuits now; by afternoon I am done. I miss the writing, awfully. But I just can’t do it all anymore. And, participating in the online world, the way I used to, that’s a moring energy thing too. So, very little of that nowadays.

  9. Ellie says:

    (Typos. Yikes. Sorry)

  10. Melissa Wiley says:

    Emily, couple of options for sending posts/articles from your computer to your Kindle. I used to use Send to Reader, but now Amazon has its own version: Send to Kindle. You can install it in your browser or on your desktop, and there are email and Android versions too. I have it installed in Chrome and it puts a small K icon in my top right corner. When I’m reading something on my computer and want to send it to the Kindle, I simply click the K. So easy!

    Send to Reader works the same way. You install the bookmarklet and enter your Kindle’s email address. (Important: make sure you go to Amazon > Manage Your Kindle and adjust your document delivery settings so that you have to be connected via Wifi for the document download to occur. You don’t want to make the transfer via Whispernet because you’ll get charged for it!)

    If you have a Kindle Fire (and maybe this works with the Paperwhite too? I don’t know) you can install a Google Reader app directly on the Kindle:

  11. maria says:

    Wow. This is not the first time I’ve said this, and wont be the last time I say that reading your blog makes me feel so very normal.
    It is the “me too” moments, which help banish all the times I’ve received those “huh?” looks. LOL
    Love this: ‘“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!’
    Me too! 🙂

  12. Joy says:

    Very helpful things to consider. You are right; I learn so much reading blogs. Thankful for this modern way of communicating.