Time to Read

An idea that gets expressed a lot when people talk about web design is that you never really stop learning it. New techniques are discovered, innovations in browser and hardware technology continually ship that force us to re-evaluate our processes, better ways of skinning the proverbial cat are shared continuously. In short trying to keep a good working knowledge of best practises, even a modest distance from the bleeding-edge of developments involves taking in and processing a lot of other people’s words.

This was in my mind whilst I read Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre on my recent holiday; specifically the research he quotes which put a number on the hours of daily reading a practising doctor would need to keep informed on everything published on their subject*. It got me thinking to how much time I invest in an attempt to keep informed on developments within this industry I work in, and wondering how this compared with other web developers out there. After a little searching on the subject I couldn’t find even a ballpark figure published, so attempted to set one myself.

I’ve tried to analyse what it would take to keep up with all of the latest reading to do with frontend development released in a given week. My methodology couldn’t be as rigorous as the Medical study published in Dr Goldacre’s book: rather than a finite list of official Medical journals I’d be hard pushed to even get a total figure of blogs related to web design (Technorati found 15,778 blogs for “web design” when I checked) let alone check them all for content. So instead I opted to try to for a vetted whitelist of sources to analyse from an informed source within the industry, and the 275 frontend development feeds that Paul Irish bundled together for Google Reader fit my criteria nicely. I went with the estimate of reading 250 words per minute and solely based on the word count for the main body of the article in question. In the event that a link referenced an online video I instead opted for the full run time.

So for the week of 13 - 20th June 2013 the reading totalled 6 hrs 7 minutes, which equates to 52 minutes every day of the week to keep up with that feed of frontend dev news. Please feel free to check my working out.

Fitting in 52 minutes of daily reading in even a hectic schedule doesn’t seem too onerous a burden. The follow up question is when to fit this self-improvement into your timetable. My tendency is to do all of my reading outside of working hours, which also forces a natural upper time limit. I fit it around my routine of train commutes and lengthy daily dog walks.

I accept that finding issues with the figure above, and how it was calculated is easy, but it was only intended as a ballpark. I acknowledge it to be a very small sample to test, allowing for the data to be badly skewed if it happened to be a slow news week (which I think that particular week was). It doesn’t factor in for the next stage of the process, the thinking or trying out of ideas read about, crucial to the process but harder to measure. It also doesn’t really fit with how the web necessarily works. Following an RSS feed in isolation, perhaps. But really the great joy of reading hyperlinked content is all the jumping off points within: related articles, background information and miscellania that ends up getting read in tandem. Plus due to the constraints of time researching this blog I limited myself solely to the Frontend Dev topics, but what of the other surrounding topics required to keep your broader skills fresh and current?

It also doesn’t cover the time required to follow the other formats fresh content now takes, such as listening to Podcasts, reading slides, or just following posts and exchanges on things like Google Plus. But it gives me a little more data to better structure my day, to make a more accurate allowance for the time required to keep my learning up to date and ultimately attempt to improve my skills and knowledge.

* I’m not remotely suggesting it is an equivalent workload, or nearly as pressing a requirement that any other profession stay as informed as those in medicine, it’s merely where the germ of this idea was planted.