February 28, 2013

How to Break Our Addiction to Information. ~ Kyle Eschenroeder

This is a challenge to take back our productivity.

Hi. My name is Kyle and I have a problem:

I’m addicted to information.

The above photo is of books that I’m either currently reading or recently finished (missing: Antifragile, The Impact Equation). It’s a whole bunch of input.

I love digging into one book and then another and another. There’s so much fascinating information out there. Brilliant people wrapping up their brilliant ideas in a couple hundred pages. How can one resist?

It’s even worse when I go into Google Reader or my inbox and I see the headlines of a million bloggers with life-changing things to say. They have the key to life! They have the final answer to getting all the traffic in the world to this blog! They have the best business lessons we can learn from ancient civilizations! All the answers are there every time.

So I click. I click and I read and I find interesting information. Sometimes I even use that information. Recently, though, it’s just been a binge. Hours of shoveling ideas into my head. If you try really hard, we can know everything (read: zero percent) there is to know.

My head is so full of their ideas that my own are drowning. My own idea muscle is atrophying.

It’s time to reboot and remember that the most important ideas are the ones we act on.

I’m challenging myself—and you—to do an information reset. One week of input deprivation.

Here’s the rules:

>> No reading books.
>> No reading blogs.
>> No reading newspapers.
>> No going on Facebook (even just to post).
>> No watching TV (shows, sports, news, anything).
>> No watching movies.
>> No listening to talk radio.
>> No going on Reddit.
>> No going on Twitter.
>> No information input—only output!

I know this sounds absurd but believe me, this week (starting Monday!) could help establish our relationship to information input and output for the rest of the year.

Keep in mind that I’m not hating on learning by reading. Reading holds a near-sacred place in my life. The idea here is to reset our relationship with reading and watching and consuming. Mindless consumption can kill our creativity.

The Case for Input Deprivation Week

1. We’ll take more action. When we take out all the time in the day that we spend on reading and looking at pictures of kittens online we suddenly find yourself with a ton of free time. I understand that looking at mindless pictures online and reading a business book are two different types of inputs—obviously the cats are much more useful—but both of them drain us of opportunities to move forward on things we know we need to be.

It’s much easier to start in on the next item on our action list when we can’t distract ourselves with whatever people are deciding to yell about on their Facebook walls. I’m finding that it’s actually much easier to be productive because I’m not thinking of that book I want to be reading, or going on Reddit.

2. Increased mindfulness. While writing this post I have hit CMND+”T”+”FAC” about five times. Those are my keyboard shortcuts to get to Facebook. It’s my reflex every time there’s a pause in work. I do the same thing if a page is taking a while to load.

I deleted the Facebook and Pulse (app for reading blogs) off my phone because my reflex was to go on and read Seth Godin’s genius blog every time I was in line or stinking up a bathroom.

It’s amazing how much like crack addicts we information addicts actually are. We think we have to be getting new information and staying on top of the news or we’re falling behind. We think that if we go one minute without putting something new into our brains that we’ll become outdated or something. When we’re not allowed to quench these info-cravings we’re forced to notice our relationship to information. Very rarely do we go to a blog or book looking specifically for an answer to a problem. It’s a guiltless way of entertaining ourselves. We can call it education even though it’s almost always just an excuse to procrastinate.

3. We become aware of what we post to social networks. There have been three distinct times today that I’ve had an urge to post to Facebook and Twitter. It’s brutal. I had the wittiest things to say! They would have gotten a million “Likes,” it would have been great. If only I didn’t have a stupid rule stopping me… Posting on Facebook takes much more than just making the post. It’s the time I’d spend looking at how many likes it had and wondering if people would comment on it.

4. We have more ideas. It’s common for people to report that they get their best ideas in the shower, walking or something similarly relaxing. Albert Einstein said that he found solutions to the most difficult problems while playing the violin. By taking away our reflexive consumption of information we open ourselves up to way more opportunities to sit in that silence. When we’re not busy looking at other people’s ideas it’s easier to hear our own.

5. We realize what we’re looking for. When we have the urge to read a book and can’t it’s easy to see why we’re trying to read it. We often go to read about a problem that we already know how to solve. The solution is usually better found by sitting and actually trying to think about it ourselves.

For instance, reading a tenth book on health won’t make us more healthy. We all know the basics—just stop eating shitty food and go work out. That will take most of us farther than any book.

Reading another post on writing well won’t help me nearly as much as continuing to write will. Reading the newest business acquisition almost definitely won’t help me grow my own business. When I have the urge to read about something I now have to ask myself, “How can I best solve this problem myself?” Often, the answer I needed is waiting right behind that question.

6. Makes us more social. The first thing I do when I get in line at the coffee shop is get my phone out. God forbid somebody make eye contact with me. I don’t want to talk to you people, I wonder if anybody liked that very purposeful status I just made? Maybe you won’t talk to a bunch of people in line—I know I won’t—but at least I’m not avoiding standing with some fellow human beings.

7. We realize what news matters. We’ll hear about any news that impacts us from a friend. People talk about the things that matter. A meteor hit Russia yesterday and did a ton of damage. It’s crazy! That’s news! And I heard about it immediately because people talked about it. I didn’t hear about anything else. Apparently it wasn’t all that exciting. One of my good friends loves tech—he tells me everything I should know about the tech world. If I looked at a newspaper today I would probably get excited or upset about tons of headlines and then do exactly zero about them.

8. We gain respect for our own ideas. When we spend too much time reading other authors it’s easy to get lost in all the things we should be doing. We begin to see all the things that we’re not doing and all the things that others are doing better than us. We miss all the things we’re doing right. Reading an article about building a relationship with an audience doesn’t help me build an audience with you. I need to spend time testing ideas and writing about them for you. I need to spend more time emailing and meeting with you. That can’t be done be reading, only engaging.

9. We gain perspective on information intake. When the week is over and we return to our information intakes, we’ll have a better relationship with them. We’ll catch ourselves when we run to Reddit to procrastinate. We’ll realize that we’re not actually on Facebook for anything productive most of the time. We’ll be more likely to take action on the information we read because of the self-discipline we’ve developed.

10. We’re forced to be original. When we can’t look for another person’s ideas on something we’re forced to come up with something ourselves. When we can’t go looking online for inspiration we have to find it around (and inside) ourselves.

How to Stay Strong

It can take a lot of willpower to stop ourselves from so many habits at once. Most of us can barely fix one bad habit at a time. I’ve found some tricks to make it easy though. The secret is to set up our environment so it’s more annoying to fall back into our bad habit than it is to maintain our input deprivation.

Take 15 minutes to guarantee that you won’t be tempted to give up on Day One.

  1. Install StayFocused or its equivalent and put all your time-sucking websites on there. All of them! Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, reddit, Digg, Chive, everything!
  2. Delete your consumption apps. I deleted Facebook, Pulse, and Twitter off my phone. Delete the apps that you reflexively go to when you have a minute of free time.
  3. Move your books and magazines. They’ll just taunt you if they’re sitting on your bed stand or at your desk. Make a stack and put it out of site.
  4. Carry a notebook with you. You’re going to begin having ideas pop up in your head, make notes of them. I like notepads more than phones because we associate them with creating instead of consuming. It’s risky to take notes on a smartphone if you’re trying to avoid inputs.
  5. Take the batteries out of your remote. When you have the urge to flick on the TV you’ll have to go get batteries for the remote. This is a barrier to TV that will save your willpower pool from draining as you stare down the remote thinking about all the Jersey Shore and MadMen you’re missing.

If you did these five things you’re good to go.

Let’s do this!

This is going to be tough, but it will be easier if we do it together.

If you’re game, comment below. Let us know you’re doing it with us and check in throughout the week.

If you have a question about the challenge (or a challenge for the challenge), let me know in the comments!

As always, feel free to email me at kyle at startupbros dot com.

Are you ready to make some shit this week?

I hope so.

Because it’s all starting.

Right now!

KyleEschenroeder writes about making life weirder (i.e., better) at www.kyleschen.com and mashes that up with business at www.StartupBros.com. Go tell him hello, he’d like that a lot.


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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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