I’m more selective about the information I put in my body than what food I consume. — Robert Reid
If you have wide-ranging interests or just a huge sense of curiosity, you may be like me — someone who could happily spend days just reading things online or in newspapers or magazines.
But, of course, we also want to do other things with our lives: earn a living, get exercise, see friends, pursue our hobbies, etc. So how do we cope with the never-ending flow of interesting information?
When I’m making my decisions about what to read, I focus on four questions.
Why do I want to know about this subject or read this article?
If it’s information related to my profession, it might change how I do my work. Since I do editing work, updates from Associated Press about changes to the AP Stylebook matter to me. As an organizer, sometimes there is a new product or an explanation of a specific technique or even just a cool way of wording a familiar concept that might really help a client.
News about what’s going on in the lives of family members and close friends matters to me, because I care about these people. So yes — I do use Facebook to follow the lives of the relatives and close friends who use Facebook for that kind of sharing.
Sometimes there’s information I need in order to take action. For example, if there’s an election coming up, I need to get informed about the candidates and the ballot issues. And I may want to learn more about a specific cause to decide if I want to get involved.
Irrespective of the reason, it is a good idea to be aware of why you want to know about a topic before you take to reading about it (even if it’s a simple reason like I want to smile at cute kitten photographs to lighten my mood).
How much do I need to know?
Do I need an in-depth knowledge of a topic? Often, I don’t. Sometimes just a headline is enough. Sometimes one thoughtful article by a trusted source is enough; I can read one article instead of 20.
Is this a source of information I want to pursue?
Many people write about the topics I care about. Over time, I’ve found which ones tend to provide the most useful information, so I can ignore the rest. I’ve also found which people tend to refer me to articles I want to read; if they share something, I know it’s likely to be worth my time.
Do I need to know now?
If the article relates to something I may do in the future — travel to a place, buying a product — I can just file the information away, often in the form of a bookmark to the article or others might save the link to Evernote. All I need is a very quick skim to determine if it’s likely to be useful; I’ll read it more carefully when the time comes (such as when I’m waiting for an appointment or relaxing on a Saturday afternoon).
Asking myself these questions allows me to skim through a huge amount of possible information and pick the few things I really want to read. It’s still a challenge — I’m an information junkie at heart — but these questions at least set me going along a path away from information overload.