Fighting Information Overload With The Impending Doom Engine
Information overload is an increasing problem in our lives. Those that learn to deal with it will have a major advantage in the next few years. All this information around us competes for our time and attention. As Jason Fried said in his remarkable post “Your attention please”,
"You hear a lot about “quality time” being valuable, but I think quality attention is invaluable. Giving someone your attention is giving more than just giving your time."
Personally, in the last few years I found my time more and more consumed by my (futile) attempt to catch up with all interesting links and articles piling in my inboxes. Sadly, this is a loser's game. No matter how much time I spent on it, our internet overlords generated content faster than I was able to consume it.
This situation demanded a plan. After trying a couple of strategies I finally found a way to deal with that. I call it Impending Doom Engine, and I'm going to share it with you now.
Pick Specific Channels of Aggregation
The first thing you should do is aggregate your news sources in the least number of channels you can. My main aggregation engine is the almighty Google reader. I used to have 300+ feeds on it, but after some selection I was able to cut down to around 40.
Oh, and make sure you pay them with a beer when you can. I owe you one, Peter.
After choosing your aggregation channels, you should review them at specific intervals. Once a day, twice a week; it doesn't matter as long you pick a schedule and stick to it. If you find yourself obsessively checking your channels every five minutes, use blocking tools or anything else that will help you maintain your schedule.
Create a "Read Later" list
So now you have some nice sources where you can find more of what really matters to you in a scheduled, nonOCD way. The next step is to find a place where you can store the list of articles you actually plan to read. You can use bookmarking sites like Delicious and Pinboard, or maybe some “Read Later”-specific applications like Instapaper, ReadItLater or Readability. The important thing is to make sure you have an easy way to add articles to your list whenever a new one pops up.
The three rules
From this step on, you just have to follow three simple rules to make the system work. All of the rules are sacred and should be taken seriously if you want to make the magic happen. The rules are:
Do not touch your “Read Later” list on weekdays
You can keep adding more and more articles each day, but make sure you don't ever read anything from the list on weekdays. If you want something to read, I'm sure there are plenty of books waiting for you somewhere.
Schedule time over the weekend to do some serious reading
From Friday night until the end of Sunday, you are free to read from your list whenever you want.
You can go through it during free time between chores (instapaper is a nice tool for that) or you can send the articles to your kindle and schedule some time to focus on them. Feel free to take notes and process the articles in any way that pleases you.
Last rule: Doomsday Clock
As soon you wake up on Monday, you should remove all articles from your “Read Later” list. Wipe it clean. Zero. No leftovers. This may feel harsh, but it is really important. That's the core of this system. Doing that will create an "impending doom” feeling over the weekend, and even if you have just a couple of minutes free, it will make sure you read what really matters before time runs out. Scary, huh?
So, that's how I do it. I've been using this system for some time and finally was able to find time to read books again. Check my book queue here if you think I'm lying. All the time I used to spend reading articles over the week is now in better use. In summary:
- Make sure you have just a couple aggregation channels (Google Reader and hand-picked newsletters are my aggregators of choice).
- Go through your news sources in specific time intervals (once a day, twice a week, etc.).
- As soon you find something worth reading, add it to your “Read Later” list.
- Do not touch your “Read Later” list on weekdays.
- Read whenever you want (from your list) over the weekend.
- Early Monday, remove all items from your list. Empty it completely.
I hope that this helps you find some time in your busy life.