A Resolution for 2010 – Get on an Information Diet

A Resolution for 2010 – Get on an information dietI’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?

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Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

4 thoughts on “A Resolution for 2010 – Get on an Information Diet

  1. Whittling down our information consumption is a tough one. Every time I do it (unsubscribe to newsletters, eliminate TV news, etc) it slowly creeps back up to where it again occupies more time than I want it to. It’s a continuous process – but a very worthwhile one. As much as I would find a laptop or an iPhone useful in a lot of situations, I’m glad I have neither – I think I would feel compelled to spend even MORE time soaking up useless information!

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  3. This is something that I was coming to a realization over the past few weeks, trying to wrap up 2009 and move onto 2010. I came to notice an email folder that I created early in 2009 to accumulate things that I would read “later” when I had time and move them out of my Inbox. You mention overload, I looked to move this folder and realized that there were 4,500 items in it!! Wow, as much of this had become less relevent throughout the year and much, much of this went UNread throughout the year.

    Amazing, 4,500 items. Your first bullet is so appropraite, unsubscribe to 90% of the stuff.

  4. Pingback: Social Networking Burnout? – GeoVoices

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