Deciding what to do in free moments (input or output?)

#18. Output > Input > Nothing

Part 1 of a 3-part series

Everything that we do (from a productive point of view) can be divided into input or output.
 
Input is receiving the ideas of others. Studying is input. Reading is input. Listening to others is input. 
 
Output is creation. Writing a blog is output. Brainstorming solutions to a problem is output. Working on a project is output.
 
Free periods of time pop up at a number of occaions each day. Waiting for a bus. A lunch break. (Right now I’m on a plane.) These moments can be insufficient to work on a larger projects due to time restrictions, distractions and lack of resources (eg. no computer, no desk) 
 
To benefit from these free periods we should decide what to do in advance. The default response is to plug in to the internet and browse social media or our other ‘go-to’ websites. While this is technically a form of input it has between minimal and negative value.

We are better off consciously deciding to do something which is either a form of input or output. This post presents some guidelines for doing so.

1. Decide what type of input and output is you priority

I love to learn about psychology, practical philosophy and innovation. I find reading and listening to books on these subjects pleasurable and enlightening. These are my main inputs. 
 
I love to write (to gain clarity in what i think) and I love to think of solutions to existing problems. These are my main outputs.

2. Use context to decide output vs input vs neither

The first thing to ask yourself is: Do I have a defined output task? Is it achievable in the current context?

If the answer is yes, DO IT.

If the answer is no, decide an output (see later).
 
Output takes priority as it is the most valuable. Creating something has the potential to benefit others. It also consolidates input through the application of and abstraction from new ideas.

The answer to the first question may be no when you don’t feel you have something to do/say/create. If you feel low on ‘inspiration’, you may benefit from new inputs.

The answer to the second question can be no when you don’t have long enough, you don’t have the required resources or you don’t have the mental energy.

Deciding input

I have a hierarchy for forms of input as follows:

  • reading a book
  • listening to an audiobook
  • watching a long educational video/documentary
  • watching a film or TV episode
  • watching short educational clips
  • listening to music

There is one main factor that justifiably allows you to move down a rung of the hierarchy is input saturation. (the alternate reason is lack of motivation, which I won’t cover here)

This is where you have undertaken so much input recently that your brain is '’full' and has no room for further intake. Your brain continually processes previous information intake on a subconscious level but this machinery can become overloaded. Although, with practice, this processing ability increases and the saturation point raises.

In order to assess whether your brain is input-saturated for a type of learning, ask the following questions:

  • What was my last input?
  • What was the most important thing I learnt from it? How does this fit in with what else I know?

Repeat this for the last 3 or more sources of input. If you can comfortably produce answers then you are input-saturated and can continue to feed your brain new information. 
 
However if you really struggle, it suggests your brain may not be effectively processing new information and it is worth dropping a rung in the hierarchy and repeating the same questions as necessary.

(If you don’t have the energy to even watch short clips or listen to music, you are probably not feeling that well and should perhaps take some medicine and go to bed).

Part 1 of a 3-part series. In Part 2 I will talk about ways to regulate input on a higher level.