I am a freelance writer, editor, and story/script consultant. Almost everything about my job(s) involves collaborating and researching online. When things are going well, I’m usually balancing about five different projects on vastly disparate topics. Which leaves me especially vulnerable to internet quicksand.


Like most writers, while balancing several jobs, I’d also rather be doing just about anything in the world than writing, so I’m always happy to jump into an argument with trolls on twitter, an ex-boyfriend search on Facebook, or an envy-cruise through Instagram. Anything to avoid, you know, work.

Social media thrives on hijacking our attention. And as with most of us, my attention is my livelihood; if I can’t focus, I can’t earn.

This is where Factr came in for me. I started using it about eight months ago: and it’s made a huge difference in helping me streamline and discipline my research. And by “huge difference,” I mean saving me approximately a thousand dollars a week in wasted productivity.

Here’s why: back in 2017 I invested in an app that would send me reports on how much time I was spending on social media. The figure came to a whopping 4.7 hours a day. Based on how much I earn per hour as a full-time freelancer, that’s about three hundred dollars of wasted work time a day, before taxes. After taxes, a minimum of a thousand dollars a week. And I’m calculating that figure based purely on wasted work hours, not on all that fun psychological damage and self-loathing that we already know is brought about by spending time on social media.

I used to think the problem was my lack of willpower, but that was before I took an assignment that required me to do research on just how much money Facebook, Google, and Twitter spend on designing for “engagement” (i.e., keeping us online and freaked out).

But, no, I am no match for the teams of neuroscientists, graphic designers, and data analysts that those multi-billion dollar empires pay to keep my attention where they want it, rather than where I want it. Statistically, none of us are, which is why they are all so hugely successful.

Factr can’t give me willpower, but it can minimize my exposure to search sinkholes: I now block Google, Facebook, and Twitter during the workday, and I still get research done on all the subjects I’m required to track for the various new projects I get assigned. It takes about ten minutes for me to set up an aggregated stream that enables the platform to do my research for me, pulling only the information I need, from the sources I trust. Which means that over the past eight months, I’ve been able to set parameters that make Factr find the information I’ve needed to prep for work I’ve had to do around the following wide-ranging topics:

• The lives of undocumented immigrants post-deportation
• Arguments and counterarguments in favor of the legalization of marijuana
• Israeli-funded Palestinian documentaries
Mexico City socialites of the early 80s
• Sexual harassment in the Latin American film industry
• Recent disruptive innovations in the silicon wafer-cutting industry (I know, right?)
• Training tips for multiple-dog households
• The history of Afro-Futurist cinema
• Recent sex and rape scandals of Catholic priests throughout the Western Hemisphere
• U.S. military involvement in the early days of the internet
• 21st century anti-activist surveillance tech
• And...obviously, Wonder Woman

Although I love to follow other people’s streams, like The Trouble with Big Tech and Science Fiction, both for work and for fun, I actually prefer to keep my own research streams private. I love the fact that this particular platform makes it so easy to do that, while also giving me the option to share them with individual people or with the public, should I so desire.

My favorite stream, however, is just a pure testament to my own reportorial narcissism. It’s called Lightbulbs, and it is exactly what it sounds like. Whenever I come up with an idea for one piece while working on another, or while messaging with friends, or while watching Veep for the gazillionth time,  I simply jot them down in my stream. I label those jottings as I go, and sometimes they even organize into something vaguely resembling a first draft.

My job also involves tons of interview recordings and voice messages. The ability to upload those into my streams and keep everything in one place is especially useful for me. It gives me peace of mind, to know that I have the necessary documentation-- in case I am challenged by an irate source or subject.

Speaking of peace of mind, Factr hasn’t made me a productivity guru or even a productivity apprentice. I still waste an embarrassing amount of time, earning potential, and mental health on the mind-eating goblin that the web has become. The difference is that the virtual space I now use to compose, research, and re-inforce is not designed to wreak havoc on my attention and concentration.

–Sheerly Avni