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Weekly Blog #13 - A sickness called "information overflow"...

Updated: May 6, 2020

I am going on a diet.

Some of you might have read this in my first article on this website: for me, an important part of building better habits, being more productive and thinking clearer has been the attempt to improve my intake of social media, news and other sources of information.

However, in the attempt to create more clarity and reduce information overflow I realized that by learning about it and trying to find the best ways of being more efficient with media consumption I eventually created the opposite effect: it only led to new, different sources of information and distraction.

Here is one example: in the past years I have been spending a lot of time on Instagram scrolling through pictures and stories of other people's lives. Why? I can't really say. Maybe because I'm voyeuristic? Maybe because I loved the distraction from work and found it interesting to see what others are up to? Maybe because I didn't want lose track of what people from my past are doing nowadays...

As a consequence of reducing this kind of non value-adding information I blocked or un-followed many accounts that didn't really add any specific or measurable benefit to my life. But because there were new topics I got interested in and that I believed were more valuable, I started collecting useful information on those topics and ultimately started following the people who created this sort of information on social media instead. One source of distraction gone - a new source created.

Another bad example is my attempt to consume information from more reliable and sophisticated sources such as Financial Times, NYT, Tagesschau (German News), Yle (Finnish News), etc.. I even scheduled a reminder that told me to read at least the top 5 articles of several newspapers every morning. This created a whole lot of pressure: "You need to read these 5 articles or you won't create a good habit.". As a consequence I am not enjoying any of it and I am not really able to take in and reflect on the information I am consuming.

Right now I am seriously questioning my approach to this - and my wife is as well... She calls me stupid for receiving literally hundreds of notifications, news updates, breaking news, etc. every day. So here are a few things I am working on right now and trying to find solutions for:

  1. How can I make sure that news don't "find me" but I find and select them?

  2. How can I select the sources of information more deliberately and what criteria do I apply to select the "right" sources?

  3. How can I overcome the feeling of missing out on something when I remove or don't pick up certain sources?

  4. How can I become more time-efficient with what I consume and still find a lot of value in it?

The first thing I'm going to change is probably the most radical. I will disable all notifications on my phone and iPad. No exceptions. Re-creating this from the ground up might help me to understand what's really necessary and what's not.

It is the same approach I have used in management consulting while applying the principles of "lean administration". The clients I worked with and their respective departments usually created hundreds of reports over the course of a year. A common approach to reduce the amount of reports and free up time for value adding processes was to thoroughly select a few exhaustive reports for a certain department and then just stop creating all other reports to see if anyone was missing them. In many cases nobody ever asked for the reports again. This has different reasons. Sometimes, a report is not necessary anymore since a lot of reports are created during a crisis or other specific periods where a more thorough and detailed reporting is required. These times pass - but the reports usually stay. Another reason is that information is created several times from different sources - this counts for company reports as it does for newspaper articles: different source, same content.

The second thing I am going to do is to create a set of criteria that I will apply to the newspapers I usually read. These will include: relevance to my specific life situation, quality of writing, availability of more in-depth information and deep-dives, speed of publication (first come - first serve), reliability of sources,... After that I will use a news feed app to filter out the specific information from the different newspapers.

The third and final thing I am going to do is to discuss and reflect on the information I am picking up throughout the day with my wife. All of it! I have already started doing this in regards to my psychology studies, my attempts to learn programming and the books I am reading. By extending this to all of the news and updates I consume during the day I am hoping that it will help me to realize what was worth reading and therefor sharing and what was not since time with my wife is limited and I don't want to waste any of it.

I would love to start a discussion on this and get some of your input through the comment section of this article... I count on those of you who've already made progress in how to use social media and news sources more efficiently and to their advantage.

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