Go on an Information Diet in 2012+Clay Johnson
has a book due out in early January, about healthy information consumption habits (http://goo.gl/tvT7Z
), featuring New Year’s resolutions from dozens of tech community members like+Gina Trapani
, +Baratunde Thurston
, +Tim O’Reilly
, +Jennifer Pahlka
and +Evan Williams
. How much information is rationally ‘enough’ to allow into my brain is a favorite topic of mine too, and I can already sense this post being a long one (ironic, isn’t it?).
A few months back, Gina referred to Quora post (http://goo.gl/KmkdM) by Johnson, that nicely encapsulates one of his guidelines:
My information diet consists of a cap of 6 hours a day of total, proactive information consumption. That means everything that requires my explicit attention that doesn’t involve another person—television, movies, the Internet, email, social networks—if it involves a URL, a mouse, or a remote control, that goes into that 6 hours. It doesn’t mean anything physically social or stuff I have no control over, like advertisements on the subway, or music in the grocery store.
Here’s a short list of my own tips that I’m already following, along with some that I’m still working on:
* Regularly re-evaluate what RSS feeds you follow. Take a close look at how many feeds simply contain duplicate articles about the same stories, or where blogs veered off from the original topic that made you subscribe to them. Do you need 10 Apple blogs in your feed reader? Are you still following blogs for a hobby you had 4 years ago ‘just to keep up’? Are you constantly declaring RSS bankruptcy?
* Stop reading comments for the sake of validating your own opinions. I have a nasty habit of skimming the comments of articles to find people with an opposing viewpoint of my own, just for the sake of tearing their response apart in my head, and feeling better about my own take on the topic. Tame your need to feel right and superior. That doesn’t help anyone. Even better, try not reading any comments for a week. There’s very few gems among them.
* Prune your YouTube subscriptions regularly. Confession time: I’m slightly addicted to lifecasters right now. I like how they give you an alternate perspective on how other people live and sometimes (http://goo.gl/BhGkx) they can be very inspiring. They’re like genuine reality TV, but with all video, it’s harder to skim and those minutes add up. Allow yourself a few guilty pleasures, but do the math. Cut back on the number of people that have invited you into their lives for 10 minutes a day.
* Listen to podcasts and audio books faster. I’ve been using my iPod app’s 2x playback feature for podcasts for years now, to the point of where listening at normal speed just feels sluggish. Better yet, try the Downcast app (http://goo.gl/V0h0Y), which lets you go up to 3x (I personally can do 2 3/4x right now). Keep in mind though, the faster you go, the less the content will ‘stick’.
* Also re-evaluate whether you’re listening to a podcast merely out of habit, or worse yet, because their voices are soothing in your head while you go about your day. As much as I love +Merlin Mann and +Dan Benjamin, I’ve put Back to Work on hold for a while, because I was unable to incorporate the things they talked about into my life.
* Don’t let Twitter notify you on each tweet. No Growl notifications or similar for any new tweet made by everyone you follow. This one is Productivity 101. The same goes for email reminders. If your job allows it, disable being notified for each incoming email. I don’t buy into dogmatic ‘only check email twice a day’ rules, but try out scheduled that work best for you.
* Cut down on non industry news. This one’s tough. Should I remain ignorant about politics, the economy and what’s going on elsewhere around the world? We all have to make decisions about how much of a well rounded world view we want to have vs. how much specialized knowledge for our professional and private passions we want to develop. I’ll refer to +Steve Pavlina‘s excellent blog post ‘Overcoming News Addiction’ for an argument against following ‘the news’: http://goo.gl/2GcEY. Try it for a month, and see how much you missed vs. what you built with the practical knowledge you learned instead.
* Choose not to channel surf. If you’re going to watch TV, make a plan of how many shows you’re going to watch a week and regularly review if you still like the shows you watch. This is especially important when you have a DVR that automatically records certain shows for you. I’m not against watching TV as mindless entertainment for a few hours, but don’t let the TV tell you what to watch.
Most importantly, don’t constantly treat information as pure entertainment. I’ve frequently falling into the trap of consuming excellent tutorials and screencasts on topics that I want to learn more about and then not done anything with that new knowledge. Not only is that time wasted, but you’re not even fully learning something if you’re not repeating it back by…