Surviving information overload and FOMO

When you consume information, the information consumes your attention. And between information and attention, the scarcer resource, unquestionably, is your attention. So optimize how you allocate your attention.

For better or worse, we have an endless supply of blogs, books, videos, podcasts, and newsletters (including this one). And when you add Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social channels, the information overload is just way too much.

Now admittedly, some of this information is of real value. But we have only so much time. So what do we do?

We often get sucked into these resources, jumping from one thing to another, even in the middle of work. We don’t know what to consume and what to ignore. The end result is this ever-present overwhelm and fear of missing out (FOMO).

Then how do you make the best use of this opportunity-cum-curse?

One might be tempted to say, ‘Ignore everything.’ But that would be foolish. Instead, here is an approach I suggest.

1. Be clear about what you are looking for.

There are many things in life that may seem interesting, e.g., career, mental and physical well-being, relationships, financial security, and so on. But our ability to absorb and act on things is limited. So we need to ration our attention and only give it to a few things that are of the highest priority.

So think about:

– What areas or subjects will have the highest impact on your life?

– What are the things that bother you right now?

– In what areas of life will you be able to act on the things you are learning?

So pick a few priority areas and allocate most of your time to them. And don’t hesitate to change these priorities over time. E.g., some time back, I was most interested in learning writing skills. But these days, I am spending more time on meditation and productivity.

Once you have that clarity, you will not be wasting time on things that you are not inclined to act upon.

But what if something else shows up that is interesting, but not your priority area? You can save it for later (see point no. 4 below).

2. Carefully choose whom to trust with your time and attention.

Today, lots of people are writing about lots of things, but much of it is of questionable quality. I especially see a lot of pseudo-scientific stuff, some of which can even be harmful.

So go for people who are authentic. These will typically be people who have gained their knowledge through research, personal experience, or who have exceptional achievements. E.g., when it comes to learning, I trust Scott Young, who did the MIT challenge – he completed the 4 year MIT curriculum in one year. And Scott writes really well.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be close-minded about other people but let them first earn your trust.

3. Choose books over blogs, podcasts, etc.

Over the last few years, I have researched a huge range of topics such as meditation, focus-building, productivity, anxiety, stress, happiness, and so on. And invariably, my best learning has come from books.

This is because when an author writes a book, they desperately want it to succeed. And therefore, they don’t hold back in sharing their knowledge. Often, reading a book almost feels like getting personal mentorship from the author.

Admittedly, listening to podcasts is easier but when you really need depth, go for good books.

4. Build a ‘save for later’ system

When you get overwhelmed, first take a deep breath and remind yourself that all the information out there is not going anywhere. What is available today will also be available tomorrow. That itself should give you some respite 🙂

Next, to overcome FOMO, learn to smartly save the resources that interest you so that you can go back to them later. Practically, you will rarely revisit them but it will calm your anxious mind when it knows that you won’t lose them.

I use an Evernote-based system, in which I have created notebooks for various topics (e.g., mindfulness, anxiety, focus, etc.). Anything I find interesting, I save to the corresponding notebook using the Evernote Chrome extension on my laptop and the Evernote app on my phone and laptop.

Now I don’t have to worry about losing any article or blog that I find interesting.

By the way, Evernote is not the only way to do it. If you prefer a simpler system, you can even use ‘Pocket.’

5. Find time to act on what you learn

Most learning has meaning only if we apply it. So if you are spending X hrs a week reading blogs and listening to podcasts, are you spending at least half of that time acting on what you have learned? If not, consciously change that.

Carve out time to do stuff, and not just read or listen.

6. Finally, beware of digital addiction

Most of the time, we are surfing the web or YouTube mindlessly with the excuse that we are looking for useful information. But we are often just trying to escape boredom and seek something interesting. This will be especially true if you are doing it in the middle of your work.

So find ways to overcome and break your digital addictions. One day a week, try staying away from your devices – if not a full day, try at least half a day.

Our time is finite, limited, and the most valuable thing we have. Use it carefully. Don’t let it slip by in mindless surfing.

Hope you find this useful and actionable. Please feel free to hit reply and share your feedback.

– Rajan

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