Information Addiction, or Maintaining Focus

June 16, 2008

I was reading my favorite blog, Overcoming Bias, when a background thought I’ve been toying with for the past few days was thrust into the spotlight by Hal Finney.

My thought went something like this: I don’t need to consume so much information. I read too much and it’s distracting. At even the slightest hint of downtime, I’ll fire up Google Reader, and see if there anything new on Slashdot, Seth Godin, Overcoming Bias, Paul Graham, Steve Pavlina, JJ Astor — anything to fill my brain.

Sexy Librarian

Hal calls this Information Porn. It’s titillating, and it fills some chemical need in my brain, but it’s distracting and ultimately not very useful. Before reading his post, I had limited my reading time to once in the morning — spend half an hour reading all the material on all the sites I aggregate into my reader, then turn it off for the rest of the day.

I had taken steps toward limiting my time on any IM services, or checking E-mail as well. When one is in the habit of checking for new information continually, it becomes like breathing. Need oxygen? Breathe! Have a spare half second? Check for new information!

In fact, I checked Google Reader this morning, and dutifully closed it when I was finished. Then as I wrote the sentence above, I realized I hadn’t checked a forum I frequent. So I checked it. It’s now 25 minutes later, and I’ve read about 23 minutes of totally useless information, even while the topic of not wasting my time on information overload is on my mind and at my fingertips — such is the power of habit. New rule: Only check that forum once per day, and only click external links from it during the weekend.

Incremental Approach

Meaningful change is wine that one has to be truly prepared to drink, or he’ll choke it down to be polite, then it’s back to Budweiser. It’s often better to take sips rather than gulps, and to that end I recommend two tactics you can use to acquire the taste for change:

  1. Make small, incremental changes. Not long ago I limited my time on google reader. Today I realized that forum of mine was a problem, so I made a small change to solve it. Maybe in the future I’ll eliminate it entirely, but for now, I’ll take small sips.
  2. The 30 day trial is a strategy I learned from Steve Pavlina. In a nutshell, he says that making a change in your life is difficult, so create a window of 30 days that you will use to maintain self discipline. Make the change for 30 days, and 30 days only. The goal will be close enough to achieve, but long enough to have meaningful results so that you can decide whether to stick with your change at the end.

One Response to “Information Addiction, or Maintaining Focus”

  1. P Suede Says:

    I suffer from the same, thanks for putting it out there. I’ll try work on an incremental approach to cutting out some of the flab in my daily information intake because I know there is a lot of it. I’m sure it’ll help my focus on other, more important things..

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