I’ve always been hungry for data. I sign up for newsletters, am on loads of email lists, follow thousands of people on Twitter, and am prone to getting lost for hours surfing online on a topic. As more people have been putting more information out there, I’m frankly feeling a bit overwhelmed.
In fact, I’ve been feeling less productive, and yet I feel like I’m running non-stop. A piece of that is coming from the sheer amount of information piling up in front of me. Not only do I blow through a lot of time researching topics, but I feel a growing amount of anxiety over the things that I’ve got piled on my desk and in my inbox that I just never get to.
It’s a sort of analysis paralysis. I usually think of analysis paralysis as a group dynamic when trying to make specific decisions. For example, when a team of people tries to make a choice between A and B but they’re so overwhelmed by data that they are unable to move forward. It turns out that this behavior strikes individuals and often on choices so small that you hardly think about them at all.
The book Freakonomics looks at this question as one of behavioral economics. If a store has samples of three flavors of jam, some people try them and quite a few make a purchase. If that same store puts out seven jam flavors, more people try them, but they don’t buy. Why not? Too many options creates a sort of cognitive dissonance that gets in the way. The consumers can’t decide so they do nothing.
This is the mental traffic jam that I’ve worked myself into.
And to handle this, I’m going on an information diet.
I’m not talking about tossing my smart phone or going “off the grid,” but approaching my information consumption in a healthier manner.
I started this before going on vacation over the holidays. I set strict limits on how much time I’d spend on email, social media and researching a particular topic, and as a result, I was able to finish a project that had been dragging on for a long time. Over my vacation, I took it a step further and cut out many of these things altogether. That’s not practical for me over the long term (I didn’t get any work done over vacation either, although it was vacation), but it did get me past the anxiety of missing something exciting.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to gradually reset my information inflows to try to find a point of balance between being connected and cognitive gridlock. Here’s a few steps I’ve got planned:
- Unsubscribe from 90% of the email newsletters that I receive today. If I miss one of them terribly, then I’ll know it’s worth adding back in (but I don’t think I will).
- Filter the remaining newsletters to a folder and check it no more than once per day.
- Attend to my email two to three times per day. Turn Outlook off when I have a block of time dedicated to something else.
- Don’t check social media more than twice per day.
- Re-think the way I have my Twitter consumption organized. I haven’t worked out the details here yet, but I anticipate purging a lot of people from my following list and reworking my groups (now Twitter lists) to be able to get a better handle on what I want to find in a shorter amount of time.
- Hold to strict limits on my browsing time. I’m the guy who automatically searches online for answers during a meeting or conversation and I think that’s fine. But, that’s not the time to dig in deeper to find answers and explore related topics. Block times to research topics in depth.
- Dump most of the print publications I receive. There are a handful that I routinely read and get something of use from. I will unsubscribe to the rest or toss them out.
Anyone else out there trying to kick their information addiction?