Content consumption vs. content creation

If you’re trying to start producing more content (whether it’s through writing, art, music, or other side projects), I would recommend to start paying close attention to the way that you consume content first.

This will help you get a sense for the right way to build habits in place to set yourself up for success. Because, after all, the hardest part about writing often isn’t the writing itself but about the very act of carving out time for yourself to do so.

You might be a habitual “always on” content consumer — reactive to every Tweet, news alert, and email as it flows into your inbox. Maybe you read only the headlines but you’re always the first to share the latest with your friends.

You might be an “evenly self-moderated” content consumer — you’ve trained yourself with the discipline to read and react to the world around you on a steady, even cadence.

You might instead be a “block and tackle” content consumer— maybe you separate your day into different themes or motifs based on how you approach the deluge of content around you. (News in the morning, celebrity gossip in the evening…)

You might also be a “binge” content consumer — marked by longer periods of content-free time, followed by hour-long blocks of consumption.

I’m sure there are even more.

As much as I wish that I could be an evenly self-moderated content consumer, I have to face reality — I binge on it. I don’t read 20 pages of a book every day. I read an entire book at once. I don’t read every article as it flows into my inbox, but I set aside time for all of the long-form reads in one luxurious sitting. When I decide to spend time touring art galleries on the weekend, I will make an entire day out of it, rather than just an hour or two.

This help me give the content that I consume 100% of my energy and focus. And ruminating on it for a longer block of time helps me to retain information a little bit better. But yes, sometimes this means that I forget to come back to things. This is a negative side effect of the “binge” content style.

The reason that any of this matters is because I have found my content creation style to be very similar. I don’t like sitting down for 20 minutes at a time to write, nor do I like setting aside “writing time” for the middle of my day — when I’m pulled in 50 different directions at once.

Instead, I like setting aside a 3–4 hour long chunk of time and writing a longer form essay or dedicating one of my morning work sessions to writing. Similarly, at work, when designing a new project strategy, I will often sit with it in my head for weeks, then approach a fresh whiteboard or a Google doc and write a 3–4 page project brief in one quick sitting.

If you’re trying to create content, you need to understand your own preferences well enough to set yourself up for success. If you’re an “always on” content consumer and you set aside a 3–4 hour window to write something, that might drive you crazy and leave you with a blank page at the end of the day. If you’re a “block and tackle” content consumer, you might find it impossible to context shift if you try tacking on personal writing into the frame of mind where you normally consume the day’s headlines.

In an ideal world, there’s an even mix of both content creation and consumption. This is often easier said than done. But starting off by paying attention to your own habits will help you design your days in a smarter way to get the payoff of creation that you crave.