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How to Use the Low Information Diet for Better Day-to-Day Productivity

How to Use the Low Information Diet for Better Day-to-Day Productivity

Here’s a piece of news you might not be familiar with yet: You don’t need every possible bit of information to be able to function normally every day…

Information overload really is a plague of the 21st century. There’s just so much stuff going on at any given day, and so many people reporting it, that keeping up with everything is literally impossible.

But some people still try to do it anyway for some mysterious reasons. The fact is that the urge to get more and more information is one of the leading reasons of stress.

Okay, I just made up that last thing. But I’m sure that it’s at least one of the reasons. It has to be.

For instance, there’s a popular belief that more informed people have more success in life, so if you’re not up-to-date with things, others will overtake you on the path to victory (whatever victory is for you).

To some degree this is true. I mean, you have to know something in order to be able to succeed. I don’t think anyone has ever succeeded on lack of knowledge alone. However, the real problem is that it’s hard to stop once you start consuming information. This, in result, can sabotage your whole ability to get things done.

I had this problem once. I felt that I needed to know everything before I could do anything. And this was a big trap, because most of the days I simply ended up doing nothing.

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Then I switched to the low information diet, and since then the information overload problems are gone. Here’s what I did.

Don’t consume what doesn’t concern you

Quite a lot of available information (either on websites or on TV) does not concern you at all.

A simple test you can do is watch the news and count every story that has a direct, short-term impact on you in any way. For instance, more money being shifted towards healthcare has an impact, but not short-term, so it doesn’t count.

So … what’s the score?

Since now that you’ve probably discovered that next to no stories on the news have any form of impact on your life, you can probably kiss your TV goodbye for good.

And don’t worry, if something really important happens, people will tell you anyway. You don’t need to watch the news “just in case.”

Don’t consume information from general news websites

The thing with general news sites is that they are targeted towards general public, which is quite obvious. What this means in practice is that every bit of news has to appeal to everyone, which results in it being so general that you can rarely get anything out of it for yourself.

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If you want general news you can simply get a quick glance at a newspaper stand on your way to get coffee.

Consuming information from websites within your niche or range of interests is a lot better idea. And this is actually information you can use in practice. However, be careful here too (more on this in a minute).

Don’t consume anything negative

This may be the simplest and most effective trick here.

The fact is that there are way too many negative things being reported worldwide. This is quite understandable as a negative story makes a lot better news than a positive one, but it’s still no good for you.

Negative information brings nothing of value into your life. Block it completely. You probably have some problems of your own, so there’s really little point in wasting time worrying about problems of people you don’t even know.

    Consume only the bare minimum of information

    Now let’s talk about your work and getting some tasks done. Chances are that every task you have to take care of during the day requires some amount of new information before you can even start handling it.

    Finding the information is not the difficult part here. What is challenging is being able to stop searching and start doing the thing. Especially if you’re not conscious about it.

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    Here’s what I do to find the perfect stopping point when consuming information. Before I start working, I simply set a list of things I need to get in place in order to finish a given task. Then I try to be really ruthless about what information I consume. I don’t click links that simply seem interesting, I do it only when the thing still fits within the boundaries of minimal information required.

    Try this technique for yourself, you’ll probably find it useful too.

    One day a week for learning

    Even though you’re on the low information diet you still need to eat something. But make it a quality “meal,” which in terms of information means spending some time on learning and expanding your knowledge.

    The place where you go for this information is up to you.

    The point here is to acknowledge that some amount of information is still required to grow in your personal life as well as in your career, and in most cases, just one day a week is really enough.

    Create a barrier

    The information plague these days is so vast that simply not looking for it won’t be enough to keep you on the diet. Creating a barrier is a lot better idea.

    You can do this in a couple of ways. For instance, throw away your TV (or at least don’t watch it for 4 hours a day), don’t bookmark any news sites, install a blocker plugin that doesn’t allow you to access Facebook during certain hours, or even install a separate web browser for work purposes only.

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    Actually, you should design a whole distraction free workspace for yourself if you want to be a productive entrepreneur, productive writer, productive blog owner, or find effectiveness in any other area. (Also, if you want to be really productive you should consider getting familiar with a methodology like Getting Things Done).

    We, humans, are an easily distracted species. All it takes is a phone call and you lose a whole hour of your workday. Therefore, erasing all possible channels of distraction is ALWAYS a great idea.

    Apart from not checking Facebook every five minutes, you can also not use any Twitter apps sending notifications straight to your desktop, don’t remain logged in to Gmail permanently, and turn off your phone when working (this one does wonders, trust me).

    The strange fact is that the more isolated you are, the better results you’ll have. “Trust me, I’m an engineer.”

    That’s it for my advice about the low information diet, but what’s your opinion? Have you tried going through a similar thing yourself?

    Featured photo credit: Broadcast Tunnel via Shutterstock and inline photo by YuMaNuMa via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    Karol Krol

    Blogger, published author, and founder of a site that's all about delivering online business advice

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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