Just-in-time vs just-in-case: how to create a healthy information diet
My dog is looking at me funny. I’m overwhelmed. I have 47 emails. 8 Facebook notifications. 3 Medium recommendations. 5 tweets. And 1 dog that looks like he desperately needs to go poop.
Obviously the last one is the most important. So I open the door for him and he wags his sparkling tail in the sun as he does his business.
But, there’s something bigger here. Dealing with all this crap is a constant source of aggravation and stress in my life. It seems like the world is constantly asking me for stuff and I’m just running around trying to satisfy everyone. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
But recently I think I’ve found a solution. I’ve noticed that a lot of what’s been taking up my mental bandwidth has been unnecessary information. Information which, if it never reached my eyeballs, wouldn’t make or break my life. The problem is that this information does reach my eyeballs and causes the mental tail-chasing which my dog makes fun of me for.
This is called: Just-In-Case information
An example: I open my facebook page and see an article that says there’s been a massive plane crash in Norway. Yes, this is sad and tragic. But I don’t know anyone in Norway nor am I connected with public policy makers in Norway. Let’s face it, I don’t know anything about Norway.
So why am I reading this article? What possible benefit do I derive from reading it? Will it make me a better person in any way? Most likely it will not. What would make me a better person is finishing that video assignment and sending it to the creative team so that they can review it and stop being stressed out themselves.
Here’s the Difference
Just-in-case information is anything that you ingest but have little or no control over.
Just-in-time information is anything that you ingest which you will use in the immediate or near future.
While it may be useful to read up on the Zika virus if you’re planning to travel to an infected area, it doesn’t do anything for you if you’re just going to sit in your living room and watch netflix.
The problem is really that there is so much information floating in the WWW these days that it’s easy to be overwhelmed. I’d say that about 95% of the information out there falls into the JIC (just in case) category and only 5% is JIT stuff (just in time).
This distinction may seem simple, but it has made a profound difference in my life lately. For the last 14 months I’ve been running an experiment where I only try to ingest JIT information. That means no reading newspapers, no watching news, no viral videos, etc. What I’ve found is that my life hasn’t been negatively impacted in any obvious way. On the contrary, I’ve been able to double or even triple the projects I can take on and the ideas I can come up with because I don’t have a ton of other crap zipping through my head.
But A Rebuttal
Now of course some may say, Bogdan how can you not be up to date on the news? Do you want to be ignorant and uninformed?
Of course not. But the way I receive my information isn’t from the propaganda-churning machines of news outlets whose only interest is selling copies and fear mongering. I get my news from my friends and people I trust. I’ve also noticed that I’m having much more fascinating conversations with these people too. I listen to people better because I don’t have as biased an opinion. My conversation focuses less on who’s right and more on what I can learn. I can’t argue against their facts because I don’t have my own facts. And once I hear enough opinions on an event, I feel I have a much better understanding of it rather than if I had just watched the Daily Show and called it a day.
Overall I’d say that this strategy has allowed me to take on less information overall but pay closer attention to the information that does get through. I feel more focused and alert. I can speak with someone and instantly come up with ideas on a given topic because my mind feels fresh and ready for creativity. Once I started trying to curate my media consumption, I really began to realize how much crap I used to just casually browse through. If you try it, I think it’ll surprise you.
Here are some questions
Here are the three questions that help me sort information and focus down on the important stuff:
- Can I do anything about this?
- Will I do anything about this? Be honest.
- Will this inspire or depress me? Inspiring content is always valuable.
The last question is important because it directs how I spend my free time. Obviously I watch stuff for fun, but if I’m going to watch netflix then it better be something good like American Genius or Sherlock rather than the “Real” Housewives of Miami (no offense).
So What to Do
I think the main takeaway from all this is that it’s important to become conscious of what content you consume. Just like with food, nowadays we can’t trust companies to have our best interests at heart. If you eat everything that’s best sold to you, you won’t be healthy very long. And it’s the same for the digital space. If you read and watch everything that’s popular, you won’t have much bandwidth leftover for the important stuff.
And just like with diet, everything is a daily practice. You can’t 180 your consumption habits overnight, but you can start to think about what you put in your brain and start to trim the healthy from the unhealthy.
If you want a good place to start here are a few of my favorite “healthy” pieces of content:
Podcast — Chase Jarvis Live
Book — Losing My Virginity
Netflix Show — American Genius
As always, I hope this was helpful and I’d love to know if you agree or disagree in the comments below. If you’d like a little more goodness in your inbox I’m trying an email list. I send ONE email per month with only a few of my favorite things. You can sign up for it here:
You can also find me on the twitters @BogdanYZ