Deeper information consumption

Engagement is my theme for 2017. And, one of my sub themes is being conscious about how I engage with information. My goal has been to move from shallow consumption to deeper information consumption. And, I’ve learnt a few lessons over the past 3 weeks.

  • Checking less. I’ve begun keeping tabs at the number of times I check my phone. I’ve been averaging around 10 times during the day and 6 times during my work day. My zero notifications initiative from a couple of years ago helps a ton. But, I suspect this is because I’m aware I’m counting. So, looking forward to the results of this experiment over the next couple of weeks. I try not to overdo my Seth post recommendations (you do read his blog, right?) – but, this one on Pavlov in your pocket resonated deeply.
  • Batch process, batch process, batch process. Checking less enables us to batch process. And, batch processing helps us avoid regular task switching and the accompanying attention residue. This applies to both feeds and emails.
  • Remove the stress from reading stuff you’ve subscribed to. I did a major pruning of my Feedly list in December – prime among that was removing a couple of sources like “FiveThirtyEight” and Venture Beat. Both of these used to have a constant stream of articles that used to add stress. Additionally, I needed a break from politics (hence FiveThirtyEight). My learning from this is that feeds that don’t make you happy shouldn’t be on your list. The results have been great – my feeds are largely a collection of blogs – and I love engaging with long form blog posts.
  • More books. I’ve been thinking about ways to spend more of my time reading books. And, part of this is being flexible about formats. With a baby at home, it is important to be able to read books on a phone. :) And, yet, different books are suited to different formats. So, I’ve just tried surrounding myself with books across formats this new year. I have notes from 8 books currently on my devices (5 of them in active reading across Audible, Kindle app, and paperback) and I’ve enjoyed weaving through these. With less checking, I expect more time on these. Long may that continue.

Bad information processing can add to a lot more tiredness in our day. And, I’m enjoying the process of cutting out the noise and spending time on deeper content. The only exception I make is to football/soccer news. That is my not-guilty pleasure.

Of course, this is hardly the first post you’ll find on checking less, batch processing or reading more.

However, to learn and not to do is not to learn. And, I certainly expect to keep writing about this stuff until I really learn.

Choosing information

Not too long ago, your family would have received just one Sunday newspaper. In our home, we typically called dibs on the pieces of the paper we wanted to read. Someone wanted the “supplement” while someone else wanted the sports section. There wasn’t a whole lot of choice in the matter. Some households afforded two newspapers. But, most just worked with one. But, now, we don’t need to worry about information scarcity of any kind.

The fantastic Quartz newsletter had multiple powerful pieces yesterday. There was one about free trade – what populist leaders have gotten right and wrong about it. Then, there was an important piece on the evidence gathered so far about the effects of direct cash transfers (the basic income idea). They also had an informative piece about the problems caused by the boom in the sushi business – fish stocks are depleting quickly. And, did you realize that Giraffes have been placed in the extinction watch list?

The Economist shared that Latin America leads the world in renewable energy. This is driven by hydro power. However, they’re investing heavily in solar power. Costa Rica and Uruguay met their power needs from renewable sources for more than half the year this year. This stems from the fact that Latin Americans care deeply about clean energy. Wow. Wonder what we could do to improve the state of things where we are..

Of course, both of these can come straight to your email inbox. The Economist actually works out cheaper than an old school newspaper subscription – the kind we used to have 20 years ago. And, they deliver not just a weekly stream of articles but all sorts of specialized services. They earn that fee. The Quartz newsletter is free. At that quality, it is one of the deals of the decade.

But, just as easily as these can make their way to our inbox, others things can, too. We could be hearing about the likes to our latest photo of our coffee shop. Or, we could be clicking on some piece of fake news that showed up on a news feed. Or, we could spend our time looking at the latest collection of viral cat videos.

As kids growing up, we earned our freedom with evidence of responsibility. The more responsibility we showed, the more our parents trusted us. But, information in today’s age doesn’t work that way. We have unlimited freedom to choose what we consume despite no evidence of responsibility.

Here’s the impact of that – what we consume informs how and what we think about. Then, how and what we think about influences what we do. And, what we do influences our world and, in many cases, the world.

It is all up to us, then.

Let’s choose well.

Nap clarity

Every time I have a problem that gnaws at me, I find myself taking a quick nap. And, very often, I wake up with absolute clarity on what needs to be done next.

I remember a post from Fred Wilson on ‘subconscious information processing‘ a few years ago when he spoke about a lesson he’d learnt from his father about starting on projects as early as possible. In Fred’s words –

“He explained that I should start working on a project as soon as it was assigned. An hour or so would do fine, he told me. He told me to come back to the project every day for at least a little bit and make progress on it slowly over time. I asked him why that was better than cramming at the very end (as I was doing during the conversation).

He explained that once your brain starts working on a problem, it doesn’t stop. If you get your mind wrapped around a problem with a fair bit of time left to solve it, the brain will solve the problem subconsciously over time and one day you’ll sit down to do some more work on it and the answer will be right in front of you.

I’ve taken that approach with every big problem I’ve faced ever since. I used this technique to get through high school, college, and business school. I’ve used this technique to develop a career in investing and technology. I’ve even used this technique to deal with our own parenting challenges.”

I’ve begun to appreciate this concept since I read this on Fred’s blog 4 years back. It is true and it works.

The reason it works is because our brain processes information when we give it time and space. This process can’t be forced. All we can do is create space and wait. And, sleep/rest is a wonderful way to create space. To me, it also speaks to the importance of getting more than our fair share of sleep. It is when we get past our deep sleep phase / the minimum required for us to feel rested that the magic really happens.

And, it is magic – let’s make no mistake about it.