I firmly believe that what and how you engage with information shapes the way you think.1 I kind of think of this as another version of the trash in / trash out problem. So I like to experiment with the way I consume and process information.
Some of the things I’ve been doing have been working well:
- I’ve been rigorously unsubscribing from stuff I don’t find interesting, and of course things that I find too unpleasant/harsh/rude. This includes newsletters, Twitter accounts, etc. Hard-to-unsubscribe newsletters, where it’s made hard to unsubscribe by design (hiding the unsub button behind a login screen, etc.) go straight to trash and are marked as spam.
- Taking this to the next level I’ve also been blocking offensive accounts on Twitter quite liberally for some time, and feel better for it.
- To put my money where my mouth is, I’ve left Facebook some years ago and found out, to my own surprise and delight, that I didn’t miss it for a second.
- Unlike Facebook, I do miss Instagram, because I like taking photos and sharing them online somehow triggered more attention to my surroundings. But since I found myself scrolling endlessly, especially early in the morning or late at night, I dropped out of the platform altogether. That’s something I might restart at some point, and who knows: Maybe I can resist the endless scroll.
- I occasionally switch my default news sites for general news. Bad defaults are the worst habits, good defaults are an easy way to get to good habits.
So that’s the input / consumption side. On the processing side of things, I’ve developed some habits that might or might not apply to others but that have helped me:
- I send longer articles to Pocket, where I can read and/or tag them later. There are some simple automatisms in place to send stuff there even faster (browser extensions, an IFTTT that shares links from tweets that I fave, etc.). It’s a simple catch-all in the GTD sense.
- I bookmark extensively and tag those bookmarks religiously. Pinboard is my platform of choice, because it’s owner-operated and I love the philosophy behind it as much as the actual implementation. It’s a web service as it should be.
- As much as possible I share thoughts as blog posts — even fragments of thoughts, emerging ideas, etc. — which helps me document and shape my own thinking. If it’s helpful to others, that’s a bonus. It helps that I don’t particularly mind being called out for the occasional silly idea, and it offers a great documentation for future reference.
- More recently, I’ve been trying to get better at documenting what I find online for myself through annotations. The workflow I currently use, but not sure if it’s sustainable for me, is to have a folder in my main text editor Ulysses that’s called “Interesting” and I include text files with headlines, links, some notes. Some of this could easily be done with Evernote, and sometimes I wonder if I should just have stuck with using it 10 years or so ago but I was always nervous about them shutting down and losing my stuff and my habits. So this local approach feels nicely robust and custom-tailored, as basic as it is.
So yeah: I try not to ingest too much trash, and to be intentional and attentive about processing what I ingest. The habit of sharing outputs regularly and frequently helps me get there, and has some other nice benefits.
- An admittedly superficial glance at research in that space seems that science confirms this, but since that’s not my main point here I’ll leave it at that.