Are You Butchering Your Time?

Last fall, I wrote about taking a break from social media and examining how I spend my time. At #EdCampKC 2010, I was forced to revisit that idea in an incredible conversation that Chris Miller led. The magic about his session was not that it was a talk to a group of people, but a seeking out of real questions through dialogue.

Chris spent the beginning of our time asking us to concentrate on how much time we spend on the most prevalent communication tool in schools: email. He challenged us to look at how much time we spend reading non-essential information in a way that resonated beyond a chiding time-saving lecture. Instead, we dove to a deeper level of value.

Among the more salient points in the talk, Chris challenged us to consider why we are so glued to our devices, our instant notifications, our check-ins, our tweet deck columns, or whatever.

“When you’re making lunch for yourself, are you continually worried about walking across the street to check your mailbox?”

We laughed, but were aware of the point too. In a particularly tech-savvy group–rather than a 1:1 ratio of computers to people, it was probably more like 3:1 in favor of machines–how do we begin to revisit the why of tech use? So often, those in our crowd are the early adopters, the ambitious over-users, eager trendsetters, and the always-on updaters (guilty as charged).

One brave member of the crowd began to share a story about worrying so much about “missing something” that she often neglected her real life. She cited a divorce and feeling of burnout which it seemed she was warily connecting to her desire to be successful in her professional life.

“What if I miss something? I can’t turn it off”

I’m paraphrasing, but the point about information overload was the same in her voice. I opened up and shared about my several failed attempts at a social media hiatus. Our rather vulnerable admissions were held in safety by the other people in the room and we continued. I started to ruminate about what new metaphor would help lead me to understanding the struggle to manage time; it hit me more quickly than I expected.



I’m always thinking about new mediums of expression, and currencies of exchange. The way we subject our information to different metaphors, be they about agriculture or filmmaking,  My father-in-law works in the medium of meat, and it was meat that came to mind for me at that moment for some reason. Vegetarians, vegans, and carnophobes may want to look away, descriptions and delicious details of  butchering follow.

Imagine the Internet as a cattle ranch.

Imagine the information is in each cow.

Imagine you are an information consumer in this environment.

What does it take to get a cow from field to platter? Does the ratio of steaks eaten to cows raised matter? How much meat is enough? When do you know you’ve had enough?

There has to be a process in which you choose the pieces you are going to prepare. I don’t know How to Butcher a Cow in any explicit detail, but I think I have a grasp on generally how it is done.

From cow to steak in layman’s terms:

  • Pick a cow
  • Take it to the slaughterhouse
  • Clean it and cut it up into managable pieces based on reason
  • Take what you want to eat to the kitchen to prepare it
  • Store what you can’t use at the moment
  • Prepare the piece of meat you’ve chosen and serve it up

From the Web to your blog:

  • Pick a text
  • Open it in its own space
  • Cut it up into managable pieces based on reason, highlight, etc.
  • Take what you want to understand to a word processor and write notes
  • Store what you can’t use at the moment in social bookmarks or on your desktop
  • Prepare the piece of text you’ve chosen and act on it, blog it, retweet it, share it, email it, etc.

Rather than spending an exorbitant amount of personal time poring over aggregated feeds of “news” and data, why not butcher your time a bit closer to the bone? Cut off a hunk of something interesting to read. Be intentional about it when you do; think of how you are going to process that information as you are consuming it much like you’d be thinking about the nutrition of a meal as you are chewing. Don’t just consume, do so with a mind to finish and process for a purpose.