Understand the Problem
In the modern world, we’re bombarded with unprecedented amounts information, and much of it adds little value to our lives. The problem with all this low-value information is that it creates waste: not just waste paper, but wasted time and energy.
Consider, for example, the journey of a single leaflet that arrived through my door from our local pizza takeaway.
It was was:
- Picked up off the mat and put in the read later pile
- Looked at to see if it is important and needs to be dealt with urgently
- Checked in more detail to see if it has any special offers
- Put in the drawer because it has a buy-one-get-one-free offer
- Found in the drawer when we’re having a clear-out
- Checked to see if it is out of date
- Put pack in the drawer
- Found in the draw again when we’re having another clear-out
- Checked again to see if it is out of date yet
- Put in the recycling bin
- Put out with the recycling on recycling day
OK, I’m exaggerating a little to make a point, which is that in many households, leaflets like this have little purpose other than creating:
- More stress
- More clutter
- Extra work
For most of us, mail-shots like this are just waste. And even if you eat tons of pizza, there is often a better way of getting the information than the leaflets that arrive on your mat: a web site or a menu in the shop, for example.
Become Aware of Information
To see the waste that information creates, it makes sense to start with the information itself. Become more aware of the amount of new information you’re dealing with every day by considering the channels by which it finds its way into your life:
- Letter box
- Phone calls
- Text messages
- The radio
- Social networking sites
- Advertising hoardings
- Street signs
- Packaged with the things we buy
- In conversations with actual human beings
- From our own thoughts and ideas
All this information competes for your resources: your attention, time, energy and so on. Of course, much of the information you receive is of considerable value, but for most of us, rather too much of it costs us far more than it is worth.
See the Waste
It isn’t until you really start looking that you start seeing it: all that waste.
The worst offender? Advertising. The purpose of advertising is to encourage me to buy stuff that I wouldn’t buy otherwise. In most cases, things I don’t need.
Some of the other obvious stuff:
More subtle, perhaps, is the information that looks useful but has little real value. Do I really need to keep up with all that stuff on Facebook, for example? Or in the company news letter? Or in the paper? Do I really need all that mindless entertainment that’s pumped into my head by the TV?
Understand the Reasons You Hesitate
Why not get rid of all these things? I’ll bet that, if you’ve read this far, you’ve already started saying “Yes, but…”. I feel the same. Here are some of the reasons I hesitate to do anything about all this:
I Don’t See the Problem
I must admit, I didn’t see a problem with all this spurious information. I didn’t even see it until I started to look for it, and it was only as I started to stem the flow in my own life that I realised how much of a burden it all was.
I Don’t Want To Miss Out
Nobody wants to miss out on a great deal, a competition win, or a really juicy bit of gossip, right? The problem is that digging the diamonds from all that rubbish generally costs more than it is worth. The time and effort it takes to deal with junk mail etc. could be better spent on other, more valuable pursuits.
I Don’t Have Time
Then take small steps. Take a few moments to block just one type of information and you’ve blocked it for life. Surely, that’s worth a little effort?
I Don’t Know How to Begin
It doesn’t really matter, as long as you start somewhere. In general, however, it is best to start with the easy-to-eliminate stuff and move on to the harder stuff later. The rest of this article may help…
Graduate Through the Five Levels of Input Filtering
Some aspects of filtering your inputs are easier than others. The first level, eliminating non-essential information, is generally the easiest to tackle and usually gives the quickest wins. I suggest that, for most of us, it is the best place to start. As you begin to make progress in this area, move on to the higher levels.
Of course, you don’t have to get lower levels perfect before you move on: do what works for you.
Level1: Eliminate Non-Essential Information
Everything in life is simpler if you can eliminate the non-essentials, and filtering your inputs is no different. The best place to start is with any junk mail, spam, advertising, and anything else that is obviously valueless.
Level 2: Adopt a Pull Approach
Having got rid of the stuff that you really don’t need at all, change the way you acquire the information that you only use occasionally. One of the most powerful ways to get rid of unwanted information is to “pull” information when you need it, rather than allowing others to “push” information on you whenever they want.
For some people, for example, that pizza leaflet looks useful because it has the shop’s opening times, their menu and their special offers printed on it. However, much of that information is redundant, because if I really need it it is available on the company’s web site, or printed on a sign in their window or available over the phone when I ask for it.
So, you could:
- Disable email notifications in favour of checking email regularly
- Cancel magazine subscriptions and just by the issues that interest you
- Unsubscribe from email advertising and just shop for things when you need them
- Cancel the paper and just read news web sites when you’re ready
Level 3: Eliminate Redundancy
Do some of your information sources simply duplicate information that you’re already getting in another way?
- TV news, radio news, newspapers, news web sites… mostly providing the same news
- Emails from web sites that you check from time to time anyway
If so, cancel the services that prove least useful.
You don’t have to be suffering from information overload to benefit from trimming back the amount of information that pours into your life every day.
Level 4: Eliminate Channels
If you want to eliminate some of the information you’ve got pouring into your life, then you’ll obviously need to be more selective. There are lots of ways that you can filter the information that you’ve got coming in, and you’ll almost certainly need to use more than one.
Eliminate Channels Completely
If you can live without one or more of these channels by which information gets into your life, perhaps you could get rid of it altogether. For example:
- Delete your Facebook account
- Get rid of your TV
Eliminate Channels Some of the Time
If you can’t live without a channel full time, perhaps you could limit yourself to certain days or particular hours. For example:
- Switch off email notifications and just check emails a couple of times a day
- Switch off your mobile at night
- Go on holiday where you can’t be reached
- Have a “quiet hour” when you disconnect
Eliminate Duplicate Channels
For some of us, the problem isn’t just the variety of channels, but the number we have of a particular kind. For example, many of us have more than one mobile phone (work and personal, for example).
I’m a bit if a techie, I seem to have acquired quite a few email accounts:
- My personal account
- My work account
- An account from my broadband provider
- With my Facebook account
- With my Google account
- With my Yahoo account
- An account from my local supermarket (!)
- An email account for my printer (!)
- A bunch of others that I’ve forgotten about…
I don’t use most of them, and am working on reducing the number that I do use.
Level 5: Chose Higher Quality Sources of Information
The last level is to improve the quality of the information you need by exchanging low-quality information sources for better quality sources. Good quality information sources give you the most valuable information in the most accessible form. Quality information sources benefits from things like:
- Solid research
- Good structure
- Easy navigation
- Crisp, clear expression
- Beneficial commentary
Where possible, eliminate the lower quality information in favour of the richer sources.
Everyone has junk information flowing into their lives. By taking a small steps to filter your inputs you can reduce the amount of stress, clutter and work that you’re dealing with and give yourself more time and energy for the things that are worthwhile.
- Image used under licence.