At the end of this I list specific tips for escaping from information overload, but first I address why and how I’ve chosen what I personally read.
For the last few years I was in two book clubs, before that I ran my own, and my yearly resolutions have usually had a “read more” clause. Not this year. I still love reading, but I’ve decided that it must be either a pleasant escape or practical for work. Cutting back has been tough for me, because I enjoy the newspaper, classic fiction, contemporary nonfiction, philosophy… I could read for days and days . But I’ve canceled my Washington Post subscription, I’m focusing on the authors I enjoy most, and constantly trimming my RSS.
One of the reasons why I’m so into “productivity” is because I usually feel I have too much to do. There’s nothing more daunting than a pile of unread books and periodicals that grows ever larger. So I’ve cut back on my inputs and focused on leaving time for reading things I truly enjoy. Never letting too much material get in front of me in the first place has been the key.
For fiction I’m trying to make it through all the Milan Kundera, Alain de Botton, Haruki Murakami, and Mark Helprin (with only occasional speckles of Fitzgerald and Tolstoy) before I venture too far off. They all appeal to the same thing in me–brilliant prose, powerful narrative, different perspective, somewhat educational, usually only somewhat heavy. While I might enjoy Nabokov or Joyce, they’re just not a pleasant enough read for me anymore. And I’m trying to lay low on the nonfiction, since I haven’t figured out the magic formula yet (though these are some of the most worthwhile reads, imnsho).
All the links in the last paragraph may not seem in the same spirit as my advice. But the point for me isn’t to stop reading, it’s to be wiser about it. Dieting isn’t being hungry all the time, it means being conscious of what you consume.
- When a book sounds really good, don’t just buy it–consider what else you have to read. Add it to your Amazon Wish List first
- When a book isn’t that good, put it down and move on. (Accept the book as a sunk cost)
- Try another book by a favorite author (and check the reviews) before taking a friend’s recommendation
- (Similar thought to the last one:) a movie may be hit-or-miss and last 2 hours…but a book is a heck of a time commitment; be discriminate
- Ditch the subscriptions to magazines you don’t absolutely need
- Try out or subscribe to Brijit [via 4HWW]– a 100-word summary of articles from major periodicals like the Times, Journal, Wired, The Economist, etc. Just be sure to stop after reading their summaries
- With newspaper articles, just read the first few paragraphs. If you must continue, read the first and last sentences of paragraphs thereafter. Good news writers use the inverted pyramid
- Trim your RSS feeds every month
Much of the advice in this article was inspired by Tim Ferriss‘ concept of the information diet. One of his guest bloggers, Zen Habits, also had a great post on the elimination of email inputs that’s along the same vein.
Any other tips for slashing inputs from your life?