Time management vs. the unending flow of interesting information

We all have our time management weak points — mine involves a love of information. I could happily spend ages just reading all the wonderful things printed online.

As Robin Sloan wrote in his tap essay, Fish, found on the Tapestry app:

There’s so much to read and watch — and so much of it is good. I mean, just think of the links that flow through Facebook and Twitter. … All the craft and care that comes flooding through my browser tabs every day hour minute.

But, of course, I don’t want to spend all my time in front of a screen (or a newspaper, or a magazine) reading this wonderful stuff. I need to work. I want to see family and friends. I want to pursue other interests.

So, what is the answer to not being overwhelmed by all the possible stuff to read or podcasts to listen to or videos to watch? While I was driving to the dentist this past Monday, I happened to listen to a podcast called Minimalism for the Rest of Us, hosted by Robert Wall. Episode 26, called “Drinking From the Fire Hose,” had Wall in conversation with Patrick Rhone, and some of it really resonated with me.

Here’s the first thing that caught my attention, from Rhone:

What it really comes down to is: Instead of drinking from the fire hose of information, being real picky and choosy about the information that you want to engage with.

“Information you want to engage with” was a phrase that really grabbed me. So much of what’s out there might be interesting and important, but I’m not going to engage with it.

What information would I engage with? Here are some examples:

  • Information that helps me serve my clients better.
  • Information that I want to share with friends, family, colleagues, etc.
  • Information that helps me make a decision: who to vote for, what route to take.
  • Information that spurs me to action: calling my senator or cooking a healthy meal.
  • Information that helps me learn about a subject I’ve consciously decided to spend time educating myself about.

But that means there is a lot of information I won’t engage with.

And that brings me to another quote from the podcast:

Wall: I had a point at which I thought I should be just reasonably informed on world news. … If I just subscribe to like CNN Top Headlines, nine times of 10 I could read the headline

Rhone: and get everything you need to know.

I’ve had this same type of realization. Oftentimes, a headline or a tweet tells me all I need to know about a topic. If I feel I need to know more, the first paragraph of the article might be all I need. I still tend to have a nagging sense of guilt about not reading the full article, especially when it is a well-researched and well-written piece. But hearing Wall and Rhone talk about this might make me feel somewhat less guilty.

Here’s an example of a headline being plenty: As I’m writing this, the New York City mayoral primaries are being decided. I don’t live in New York; I’m not going to engage with that information. I do want to know the results, but a quick glance at a headline is all I need. I really don’t need any details beyond that.

Here’s some final advice from Rhone, about deciding whether or not to let an information source into your life, be it an article someone linked to, a podcast, an RSS feed, a magazine, or anything else: “No is the default.” If something is truly important, he says, multiple people will point him to it, and that might lead to a Yes.

7 Comments for “Time management vs. the unending flow of interesting information”

  1. posted by Mimi on

    This is a terrific subject. I resonate with everything said here. This in no way addresses my own obsession with information gathering and trying to contain same!

  2. posted by Carla on

    I don’t get the news. I don’t watch it on TV; I don’t read newspapers; I don’t listen to the radio; I don’t read it online. Whenever I read the news in the past, so much of it was negative. I would always feel so upset after hearing about what was going on in the world that it would ruin my whole evening. I finally decided that if it was that important someone would tell me about it. It has been a great relief to me. Perhaps I’m a bad citizen, but it has been a good choice for me emotionally.

  3. posted by April on

    I struggle with this a lot, though I’ve only discovered this problem of mine recently.

    I love to read and I’m on my laptop all the time. I’ve noticed that I keep getting frustrated because “I have no time!” to get personal projects done …and then I realized I had a few hours to devote to myself each day, but I was squandering it with trying to take in a barrage of information, most of which I didn’t engage with (to use your term).

    I also realized most of my “no time!” frustration came from feeling interrupted when I was trying to read and someone or something needed my attention. The light bulb went off when my two year old walked up to me one day and gently said, “Mama,” closed the lid on my laptop I was in the middle of reading, and then said, “Play. Please?”

    Boy, did I feel guilty. I realized then that my priorities were all mixed up.

    I can’t turn off my need and love of reading, but I can control how much of my time it takes by limiting the intake. So, now I’m slowly trying to cut back on what I let in, though I’m mostly still observing my reading habits. Do I thoroughly read this source? Do I tend to skim that source? Do I get excited when my RSS feed has another update from this blog, or do I not particularly care and let it sit a few days first?

    I hope to be able to cut at least 50% of my RSS feed, though 75% would be ideal.

    I also want to take the time to intentionally filter my Facebook newsfeed. I’ve decided I value FB for its ability to keep me connected with family and close friends who live far away, but I don’t care what the woman who was a grade below me in high school (and whom I’ve not see in person or had a conversation with for at least ten years) ate for breakfast this morning. Nor do I care about “liking” this or that page, or playing FB games.

    I need to apply Erin’s closet advice to my Internet life. What will I let in past my red velvet rope?

    This article from Zen Habits is particularly helpful on this subject too, especially the suggestion for the Impending Doom Machine.

  4. posted by DiAnne Wood on

    The mantra of “I don’t have time!” was a daily thing. I realized I have no self-control when it comes to the Internet — one link will take me to a dozen other “interesting” headlines that I just can’t resist.

    I installed a free Chrome add-on called “StayFocusd.” It’s basically a self-imposed internet timer. I chose to allow myself 45 minutes of internet (though I whitelisted the work websites I use throughout the day). At the end of my 45 minutes, it shuts down. (You can choose the length of time allowed and also the time of day to start/stop the allowance.)

    It’s basically “tough love for the techie” and it has totally given me back my free time.

  5. posted by Roxy on

    Don’t think this was said yet, but don’t feel bad about not reading a whole article. News reports usually follow an “inverted pyramid” in terms of the weightiest information is first. The same can’t be said for magazine articles however.

  6. posted by Ari on

    Shows the power of a well-crafted headline (and opening paragraph).

    Ari (a cantankerous copy editor)

  7. posted by lydiaaram on

    Better time management decreases overtime, increase our company’s value, can able to increase productivity and reduces stress for both the employers and employees.

    To manage my time and project, i use Replicon’s ( http://www.replicon.com/olp/timecard-software.aspx ) time software. I use this software at work. This software was introduced at my office six months ago and we’re enjoying the benefits of making the change. We love our work now because many difficult and monotonous tasks have become so easy.

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