Personal reflections

How to Consume Information

If there are guidelines on how to consume food for our bodies, what about for our minds?

I’ve been thinking about this question since I saw this tweet by David Perell.

David suggested a course but I thought an article might do the job. I’d try to answer this multi-faceted question using three ideas, actually, three reasons that highlight our need to regulate how we consume information.

Garbage in, Garbage out

In an era filled with an ever-increasing amount of knowledge workers, what we put into our minds has become more important as it determines what we produce. James clear better explains this:

For almost all of us, certainly for people who are spending their time doing knowledge work, or who are paid for the value of their creativity, the ideas you come up with are often a product of where you allocate your attention. So, what you read and what you consume often is the precursor to the thoughts that you have, or to the creative or innovative ideas that you come up with.

So by improving your consumption habits, or your attention habits, you can dramatically improve the output that you have at work as well. And we all live in this world that has a fire hose of information. And so the ability to curate, to edit, to refine, to filter your information feed, whether that be the people that you follow on Twitter, or the articles that you read each day, or the news sources that you select, or the books that you read. Those are very important decisions that determine the downstream output.

When we look at it this way, we realise that it’s helpful to ask ourselves if the ideas we’re being exposed to would ignite the kind of creativity we want to generate. A simple review puts things into perspective.

Create or curate a list of the type of ideas you want to be exposed to; find the best sources of these ideas. Keep refining based on your priorities. Having Pinterest boards of inspirations help many designers. For me, Twitter lists are becoming my go-to for this.

Everything’s changing fast

Our world is in constant flux. With knowledge changing all the time, even the most informed people can barely keep up. The faster the pace of knowledge, the more valuable the skill of learning becomes.

… simply knowing that knowledge changes like this isn’t enough. We would end up going a little crazy as we frantically tried to keep up with the ever-changing facts around us, forever living on some sort of informational treadmill. But it doesn’t have to be this way because there are patterns. Facts change in regular and mathematically understandable ways. And only by knowing the pattern of our knowledge evolution can we be better prepared for its change.

— Samuel Arbesman

It’s valuable to always be asking, “What do I believe that’s now likely wrong or outdated?”

The fast pace of the change of information often stirs up FOMO (The fear of missing out). Once you settle it in your mind that it’s impossible to keep up with the information produced, you’re halfway there. It’d be easier for you to pass on on content, bearing in mind that it’d soon be outdated anyways.

If you still have an issue with letting go, using read-later tools/ knowledge management tools helps. When you return back to revisit them, as I’ve often found from experience, you realise some weren’t that important or you aren’t interested in them again. It’s okay to ditch something if it’s not making sense, might not be the right piece or time.

But even with this you still have to learn something, so choose your formats wisely. Reading is highly spoken of because most of the information in this world exists in written form, but all that’s changing. There’s a growing body of work in other mediums. Audiobooks, podcasts and video are valid forms of learning. A good way to keep up is to combine different mediums, it makes it feel less like work.

Groupthink is a Big deal!

Social media and mass actions have shown that groupthink is often stronger than logic or common sense.

Humans are social animals who like to belong, as such, we all belong to tribes. Tribes reduce the ability to challenge ideas or diversify your views because no one wants to lose support of the tribe. Tribes are as self-interested as people, encouraging ideas and narratives that promote their survival. But they’re exponentially more influential than any single person. So tribes are very effective at promoting views that aren’t analytical or rational, and people loyal to their tribes are very poor at realizing it.

Morgan Housel

It’s painful, it’s inconvenient but it would do you good to expose yourself to opposing views. Check out contrarian content. A flaw that recommender algorithms have is they could get you trapped in a bubble — you only see stuff that you like, things that confirm your pattern of thinking. Recently, I almost unfollowed someone who tweeted something I thought was ridiculous (flawed logic) but then I thought, it won’t hurt to see some tweets like this once in a while. It reminds me that people see things in this light and maybe once I’d agree with their take. A helpful practice here is to seek out counter-arguments when you learn a new thing.

Conduct periodic reviews on the most helpful stuff you’ve come across to remind yourself. I do this monthly. It’s important to look back at what you’ve learned. Take out time to reflect. I also try to squeeze out 1 hr each week to reflect on my week. Reflect on what you’ve learned and what you’d do differently. The reason why we learn is to do.

Intentionally revisit previously consumed helpful content. The months of July and December are months where I intentionally re-read some of my fave books. I intentionally hold myself back from reading any new book (it’s one of the most difficult forms of self-control I have to do). It’s made me realise, though, that many times what you need is behind you not ahead of you. It’s not necessarily in the next book or video.

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