Being a Producer vs. Consumer

June 17, 2014

When I was in high school, I was absolutely obsessed with computers. I'd walk into the computer books section of Chapters and think to myself "Gosh... it's gonna take me a long time to finish all these". I was always in a rush to read more. Back then I was not so concerned with how I spent my time, but I guess I didn't do so bad.

There was a problem tho... I learned a LOT but did very LITTLE. After years of learning and reading many, many books, I had nothing to show for it. I never made a single usable program or app. I started a lot of them, but I never finished. The problem wasn't that I was wasting my time - I was doing better than could be expected of my age - the problem was that I didn't know what it was to be a maker of things, a producer. It was all about taking in other people's works. I found it interesting, but I never had the volition to make useful stuff out of the knowledge. I was just obsessed with accumulating knowledge.

Recently, I did become very concerned about how I spent my time. It was a few months ago where I kept catching myself checking Facebook and Twitter on my phone repeatedly. It got to a point where I'd get kinda annoyed that people weren't posting interesting content fast enough to keep up with my pace of checking it. I was totally addicted to this external stimulus. It was time to change things up.

Step one was to delete all social media apps from my phone. I was checking all the apps at least once/minute because checking just one was usually not enough. So out went Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But Buffer stayed - it's a one way channel where I can post things to social media without being innundated with endless feeds. After doing this, a period of annoyance followed, where I'd keep getting my phone out of my pocket and realize there was no reason for me to do it. After 1-2 weeks, I had kicked the habit, and the phone sat firmly in pocket unless I wanted to contact someone.

After that little victory, I could clearly see my focus on my work improving - even though the impulse was still there and mildly distracting. I am now stepping it up a notch. I'm using RescueTime to measure my own productivity week after week. I'm actually considering paying for it to get more fine-grained data on my time in front of the computer.

Most importantly, however, I'm slowly eliminating all other sources of consumption. I've purged useless apps from my phone and most of the ones that remain have muted notifications. I have unsubscribed from various newsletters that clogged my inbox. I've had a lot of projects I've been wanting to do for a long time (including this blog). Now, when I have some spare time, I get working on one of these projects.

I'm kicking the consumer habit and trying to be a producer.

I think it's extremely important to read books, but if I want to learn something about programming, instead of reading about it, I'll try making something. This is actually a much faster path to learning anyway - because it'll make it much more likely that you won't forget it and have to relearn it later.

Similarly, when I have a few spare minutes, instead of jumping on Twitter or Flipboard and clicking on random links, I write a blog post. I may not publish it, but it does get me in a producing mindset.

When I started doing this, it was only to get off of a habit that was clearly destructive. But the more I've done this, the more clear it becomes to me that this different mindset is one of the core differences between successful entrepreneurs and... well... consumers. Taking on the producer mindset is taking on the habit of making a contribution to the world around you. If you're stuck in the cycle of consumption, making a meaningful contribution may seem like a distant idea. But if you've produced something regularly, however small, you start realizing that you can have an impact on the world around you - or make a ding on the universe. Like all matters of the mind, the more you practice it the more you build momentum. So even if you're producing at a small, even insignificant, scale, you're preparing yourself for challenges that would otherwise be out of reach.