Focus kaizen: thoughts to try to refine my information diet
My thoughts on what to keep. And what to cut. For anybody interested.
On the negative side, I’m:
- Quitting Quora
- Quitting Twitter
- Using LinkedIn predominantly for find network connections and checking the feed less frequently
- Refraining from answering questions on Facebook groups that have already been addressed and logging in more frequently.
On the positive side, I’m:
- Spending more time reading non-fiction
- Spending more time watching quality YouTube videos
- Spending more time listening to good podcasts
- Spending more time on continuous professional development / taking online courses / pursuing certifications
It’s Sunday. And in Israel that means the beginning of another busy work week!
To kick things off by instituting some changes (I’ve woken up with that kind of energy), I’m trying to institute some changes in my online productivity.
Recently, I feel like I have been getting derailed, during the workday, by excess information. And this blog post- call it thinking out loud-is my attempt to try sort the (digital) wheat from the chaff.
This brief thinking-over was already overdue because, as I explained in my recent podcast about the value of being (slightly) less responsive, my day-to-day workflow and productivity is in a constant state of slight flux. You could call this workflow . And trying to optimize media consumption will be this week’s change.
My focus, for this post, was going to be just on social media — trying to decipher what I should keep and what I need to discard. And then I thought that widening the remit slightly would be beneficial. Because ultimately (when it comes to influencing our happiness) I feel that whether the information we receives comes via a social media, Google News, or a podcatcher is irrelevant.
Like many, my everyday is saturated in information from various sources. And like many, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by all of it lately. This is often the case but perhaps more so now because, recently, I’ve been trying to synthesize information from various sources to think about what I’d like my next steps in life to look like professionally.
I’m in the latter stages of preparing for my first AWS certification (I need to get to 90% on the practice exams before booking my test; I’m currently at 80%) and am also busy thinking about how I might transition slightly away from purely writing for technology companies to helping them with their marketing communication challenges in a more multi-faceted way that, perhaps, will allow me to better express my creativity.
At the back of my mind, an idea for a startup always spins around. And — to be transparent, not that anybody that knows me doesn’t know this already — I’ve become rather pessimistic about political developments in Israel and am feeling a heavy pressure to start getting more serious about my preparations for a Plan B (in brief: I predict that nothing will come of the current wave of protests and we’ll be back to another carefully staged election and another Netanyahu victory in a few months. I also see the protests as having made more transparent that the state is becoming increasingly authoritarian and emulating the lead of the U.S. in all the worst ways).
Ironically, the pandemic is just about the only thing I’m not thinking about as, a few months ago, I determined that the vast majority of commentary about it was groundless speculation by non-experts (not that the actual experts, it seems, know much better!). Additionally, because the vast majority of information about the pandemic is unactionable (exceptions: things like knowing when stay home orders kick in) I’ve thought it better to minimize my intake of it and try to avoid engaging in speculation about what might be. Because … you know …. I’m not a scientist.
With that intro out of the way, here’s my attempt at an overview of all the sources I’m currently drawing in information from — and the platforms where I’m currently active. Trying to keep too may wheels turning is unsustainable and exhausting. So my goal here was to try help myself decide what to keep, and what to cull, going forward.
To make this actionable, for me, I’ll conclude with a plan. To avoid having to write it in every sentence, every one of the following points should be prefaced with ‘in my opinion’:
Social Media Information Sources
Good For Crowdsourcing But Strongly Addictive
Facebook Groups are useful communities for crowdsourcing specialized knowledge. For instance, I am in few professional groups and a medical groups. Both have proven indispensable sources of information and have even opened doors for creating mentorship opportunities. Facebook events are somewhat useful for organizing events within friends although that use is diminishing.
The main drawback I perceive with Facebook Groups is that people — including the author! — begin to feel a need to offer an opinion, or knowledge that they have, whenever it is asked for.
Sometimes I offer this knowledge to help out (somebody asks what the best ISP is and I can explain to them that really it ultimately depends on location, but X,Y,Z are worth looking into). At other times, people feel an irrepressible need to show off whatever knowledge they have on a subject knowing that their friends will get notifications.
Changes to make:
- Unless the information has not been asked before on some platform (including other channels) one should not feel obliged to answer a question even if you know the answer. This is a waste of your time.
Beginning to think that it’s just a massive waste of time!
I’ve started tweeting recently primarily to put on some kind of public record my disapproval for many of the actions of the Israeli government and my criticism of many of its members who I believe have become incredibly detached from reality and the plight of the average citizen.
I have also begun to undertake this activity to amplify — of course in the most trivial way possible given my almost non-existent reach — voices and facts that I think merit closer attention and which are not being heard.
The alarming fact that the Jerusalem Police Chief, Doron Yadid, brazenly echoed the government’s revisionist narrative that the current protests were “a protest of the left” during a TV interview fits squarely within that second category.
As somebody that chose to move to Israel, I assume that anybody that knows me — professionally or otherwise — assumes that I am as combatively defensive of the government’s policies as many Israel supporters are (note: despite my grievances I remain broadly supportive of the country politically).
To the contrary, and increasingly, I am disappointed by the increasingly totalitarian nature of the state I live in. I therefore feel compelled to explain this publicly.
Plan of action:
- As a platform, Twitter offers low barriers to entry because one needn’t think too coherently about one’s thoughts in order to sum them up into 140 characters. See, for instance, the Twitter feed of Donald Trump. As source for finding out about rapidly breaking news it has utility. But, notwithstanding the benefits of brevity, I feel that human debate would probably be more civilized and less focused on soundbites if people debated one another, as in days of yore, through lengthier formats — like books and articles. Speaking of which: my views could be promulgated more effectively, with less distraction, by writing blogs or articles about them. Putting the narrow potential benefit to business aside (I recently set up a business twitter account), I tend to think that Twitter as among the most egregious offenders when it comes to time-wasting by social media.
Love the connectivity. Hate the vacuous self-promotion.
I have to say it. Of all the online social networks, LinkedIn is probably the one I feel the greatest antipathy towards. I feel like I can’t be the only one that feels a mixture of revulsion and boredom after scrolling through my feed.
This is a pity. I have long thought that LinkedIn (and Facebook!) would be better and more enjoyable sources of information if it were not for the fact that they both allow users to maintain walls which they are supposed to fill with statuses.
As a sort of unofficial worldwide directory of people’s professional lives I find LinkedIn very useful. When I’m prospecting for new business it allows me to map out an organization and I identity the relevant points of contact. I can find out who does what at a company, connect with them, and initiate a conversation. Likewise people sometimes find me through LinkedIn.
However, I find that, overwhelmingly, the network is stuffed full of humble-bragging, self-congratulatory statuses, and inane corporate drivel which contributes precisely zero value to the lives of those that read it in their feeds.
Amidst this, of course, there are occasional pearls of useful information. But not enough to make the thankless job of sifting through the self-promoters and braggers congratulating themselves and one another on their latest job / promotion / lateral move worthwhile.
Plan of action:
- Log in to LinkedIn when I have contacts to add or connection requests to review.
- Keep logging in to review feed to a maximum of once per week expecting that the activity will probably not be worthwhile.
Great for discussing niche subjects, but anonymity breeds a propensity towards toxicity
Reddit is a strange sort of double-edged sword in my book.
On the one hand, because it allows users to hide behind usernames the network has a well-deserved reputation for harboring plenty of toxicity (although there’s nothing stopping people from registering a username with their real name the vast majority do not).
On the other, because of the way it is set up (with subreddits creating countless micro-communities bringing together people with niche interests) it can be a great source of crowdsourced information.
I continue to see enormous value in the platform with three caveats:
- For demographic reasons, I believe, the quality of debate on Reddit is sometimes low. But this varies enormously by subreddit.
- The aforementioned toxicity is a constant problem.
- The quality of debate drops precipitously in subreddits not bandying together people that are passionate about a narrow field of enquiry. This is particularly true whenever the debate touches upon politics.
It feels wholesome, or at least it did. But, to share knowledge, wouldn’t you be better off just reading and writing books?
To my mind, Quora remains just about the best source on the internet for procuring expert-level information about a subject.
Unfortunately, after spending time on the platform, one discovers that those kind of answers to the kinds of questions that prompt those sort of exemplary responses increasingly form but a small sliver of the information being shared on the site.
Quora has pushed heavily in recent years towards increased a more aggressive monetization models. Bot-authored questions now proliferate on the site and Quora’s human and bot-mediated moderation systems seem unable to keep pace.
While Quora has been a useful jumping-off point for me to write about several things that I would otherwise not have considered writing about, I have come to believe that Quora is actually another network that the word could probably do without.
For one, its data liberation policies are restrictive. Additionally, when it comes to writing, one could -like tweeting- argue that it simply makes more sense to centralize one’s thoughts on life by centralizing them in a repository that one (digitally) owns. Like a self-hosted blog built on WordPress.
For reading: one could read more expansive versions of other people’s Quora contributions — which are not tinged by the frequent accompanying motive, to knowledge-sharing, of touting one’s product or service- by reading books or listening to podcasts.
Other Sources of Information
YouTube — Lots Of Great Content (Admit A Lot of Bad)
I’ve often felt that — in the face of a steady avalanche of useless information and social media statuses — YouTube is actually among the better sources of information. By searching for specific topics and with the right filters one can easily find free webinars, training resources, and interesting documentaries.
Ebooks — Books Are Still The Learning Gold Standard For Me
Ebooks (by which I mean books that I buy as ebooks from Amazon) are enriching sources of information. Books remain the gold standard when it comes to learning in-depth about a topic (or trying to understand a viewpoint). Right now we’re at a relatively early point in their adoption in which authors actually incentivize people to buy ebooks, rather than hard copies, by marking them down. This represents a great opportunity for avid readers and I suspect that the return on investment (ROI) on rigorously edited quality books is probably the highest of any format on this list. The ease of self-publishing has meant that there is plenty of low quality work on the market. But with careful searching and review-reading it’s possible to focus one’s attention only on higher quality material. Non-fiction e-books are excellent sources of focused information.
Podcasts — Some Great Material. Key Advantage: Learn While You Do Healthy Things Like Go On Walks.
Podcasts really span the gamut between excellent professionally produced productions and … quite the opposite of that. I think the biggest negative about podcasts is precisely this: so much sifting is required to find the ones that are worth listening to. That drawback notwithstanding I remain, and always have been, an ardent fan of podcasts.
To draw a strange comparison to Reddit, because there are so many podcasts to choose from one can usually find one or several podcasts covering a very niche topic. And pick up a lot of information for free. I’m currently listening to the excellent Restore It All podcast (backups) and a couple more about business continuity. All great information. Additionally, unlike both video and text listening to podcasts (and audiobooks) can be done while out and about or while going to bed. This is a great advantage.
Backup Central's Restore it All on Apple Podcasts
A podcast dedicated to making sure you can restore everything you need to restore. Hosted by W. Curtis Preston (Mr…
The Business Continuity Podcast | The BCPcast
Business continuity and disaster recovery are often maligned as dry, academic areas of study. Throughout a series of…
Instagram — Not My Cup Of Tea!
As somebody that tries to consume information primarily for self improvement — and strongly prefers desktop computing over using a smartphone — I see very little value in Instagram.
When people talk about information to cut back on or avoid the news is usually billed as the top offender. I have definitely been on a mission to cut back on my news consumption in recent months. However, over time I have come to realize that I care about what’s going on in my country and the world. Particularly now with the social protests going on in Israel. I have also come to the conclusion that this information is in fact actionable. I need to know what things a country stands for in order to determine whether I wish to continue living in it and paying taxes to its government. Moderation is clearly advisable. But I have given up on the idea of cutting it out altogether.
Here are the changes I am instituting subject to the next revision (and my self-control). You could summarize this as “focused long information sources first.”
- Stop tweeting. It is probably not a positive ROI activity at this point in time.
- Limit time on Facebook Groups. And stop responding to people asking things that have already been addressed.
- Use LinkedIn solely (or at least primarily) as a contact directory to add connections. If the news feed is 95% irrelevant and useless information give yourself permission to simply stop checking it. Or check it infrequently.
- Reddit is useful for discussing and researching niche/specialized subjects but much less so for general debate. Use in moderation. Expect negativity.
- Quora feels wholesome but you’re probably better writing elsewhere and reading elsewhere in my opinion. And finding inspiration about what to write about elsewhere too.
- YouTube has a lot of great content (among a lot of garbage).
- There are some great informative podcasts (among a lot of garbage)
- In general longer more concerted forms of reading and writing (taking courses, reading books, writing books) are probably more useful and wholesome. The advantage to engaging in these as a writer is that fewer people ‘can’.
To summarize that further:
⬆️ Increase consumption of:
- Online courses
- Nonfiction books
- Quality YouTube videos
⬇️ ️Moderate use of:
⬇️ Greatly curtail use of:
- Synchronous communication channels
Originally published at https://www.danielrosehill.co.il