Read like you’re on a diet

Hey you, stop reading so much.

Whoa. Wait. Don’t get so salty. I apologize, Mr. Burton. Let me elaborate.

Stop reading so many of these posts. These posts, written by folks just like me, saying things just like this, about this-or-that design system or startup secret trick or sharing entrepreneurial experiences from every person ever to kinda start a business.

(And then try and promote that business by writing about things online.)

See, that’s the real secret trick. Everyone here is platform-building to sell their product or service. And there are tens of thousands of us. And as much as a post might help you, it’s often written by and for the creator because it helps them more.

Follower counts go up when we produce something. Backlinks keep the Google-juice flowing. Invites to speaking opportunities come in. Not to mention them fresh, hot leads.

…as much as a post might help you, it’s often written by and for the creator because it helps them more.

At some point, you and me and all of us become susceptible to the sheer volume of available content within any of our given specialties.

Productivity begins to decline, and it’s really hard to battle. Why? Because online content, just like the baseball cards and Pokemon (gotta catch ’em all) of our childhood (and adulthood, let’s be real), is playing off some of our basic habits and tendencies.

We’re built to want to catch them all. The ecosystem and platforms are orchestrated to keep you dialed in, and hooked. There are entire fucking conferences for it. An example:

It’s hard for me to want to talk about this feeling… because, yeah, I get it. I’m guilty too. I write, propagate more content and contribute to this problem. But, at the same time — I’m a victim, too.

What’s the solution?

I set up a script last year to port all of the articles I save to Pocket to a Google spreadsheet, to get a sense of how much content I stumble upon that I feel like I should be saving to read later.

I’ve seen something, decided it was good and that I should read that later… 682 times since Jan. 1, 2017.

682 articles. I’m NEVER going to read all of that.

Just like I’m never going to clear my video game backlog of things I’ve purchased, but will never get to play — thanks so much Steam Summer Sales.

Just like I’m never going to do anything with all the domains I’ve picked up for all my bangin’ business ideas. Many of us are susceptible to a collector’s mentality and the ecosystem treats you with a glutton’s punishment.

You’ll never finish it all… but you’ll sure try to, and feel like hot trash that you haven’t. And subsequently, you’ll be less performant, less skilled and less active in actually doing your true work.

Charles Chu wrote an excellent post he called The Collector’s Fallacy, and I’d like to share a piece of it here:

One of my favorite Japanese words is tsundoku (積ん読). Aside from being a fantastic pun, I think it’s captures our shared problem pretty well:
“Tsundoku” is the condition of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.
Buying books does not equal reading books. We all know that. Yet, so many end up victims of tsundoku anyway.
One problem, I think, is that collecting feels like learning. Each time we discover a new productivity toy, internet article or bestselling book, our brain sends us a jolt of dopamine (our brain’s “reward” hormone) for doing nothing at all.

Chu’s post is great, and he details some of the solutions he enacted to try to limit and take control back from the habits that were creating of him a victim.

Personally, I’m a little more worried than Chu.

I see darker and scarier phantoms in the corners. The problem with the habit of consuming content as a collection is how much leverage and power it gives the creators.

I agree with Chu’s solutions though, and would recommend desperately, as well, to go on a reading and content consumption diet.

While some nutritionists might tell you that calorie counting and portion control aren’t necessary for a healthy lifestyle, I want to appropriate them for discussing content consumption.

I think in this context, they’re absolutely necessary. The Internet is like a bunch of fast food restaurants, all within a click’s reach, yelling at your face:


So… go on a diet. Please, please. Create some structure. Some rules. Only read one post a day. Or two. Or one a week. Or turn off your FB News Feed.

Just as importantly, don’t save everything thinking that you need to read it later. God bless the bookmarking apps and extensions for their convenience, but they’ve made junkies of us all.

You’ll carry the burden of being unfinished (and unfulfilled) every time you click that little save button. Personally, the tactic I’ve attempted to mediate my addiction is a see-saw balance:

For every article or content piece that I consume, I take one act of creation (a post, social post, email or small writing — even a text, short conversation or act of organization). I use a simple text file to keep track of whether I’m set for CONSUMPTION or CREATION, and do everything I can to keep the balance fair.

See, I like writing — it’s a great hobby. But, I’m hoping that as creators, we can do a little more to remind you that you don’t NEED to read all this shit. You’ll still be good at your job.

Not every article on every startup methodology is absolutely NECESSARY. And some of them are downright created specifically to benefit the creator and leech off your attention.

For all that, diets might have failed in keeping us healthy in struggles with weight. I’m hoping they’re an easy answer when it comes to struggles with content and creation — even the struggles that we maybe haven’t yet admitted we’re having.