Mindful Consumption

I think of information consumption as consuming “content” in any form for pleasure and/or learning, be it text, audio, or video. For example, things like TV, movies, books, podcasts, articles, videos, etc.

We are bombarded with content 24×7. There’s tons of content added every day, and there’s no way to consume all of it in our lifetimes (even if we wanted to). But just because we’re inundated with information doesn’t mean that we have to consume it. It’s our choice whether we watch TV, read the tabloids, or read articles on the web. How we use our attention is our choice. No one can take that from us. The problem isn’t “out there”, so to speak — it’s within.

More specifically, the problem is that we have no system for consuming information mindfully and sustainably. We consume passively or mindlessly most of the time. We turn on our television without knowing what we’re going to watch. We open YouTube to simply browse through the feed and watch videos randomly without intent. The same goes with reading articles that we stumble upon on the web. We consume passively when we should be doing it actively.

The problem isn’t with watching TV, reading articles, or doing any of the aforementioned things. The problem lies in having a lack of intentionality behind doing those things. It’s about remembering that all of our time is important. There must be reason or purpose behind consuming content, just like anything else.

Mindful information consumption is akin to having a healthy diet. We know what happens when we eat unhealthy food or overeat instead of eating in moderation. Ditto with information consumption. Unless we consume information mindfully, our minds explode. Our attention is at grave risk, and we risk suffering from ADD. The negative impact of this in the long term is tremendous.

Avoid consuming information mindlessly. Think about the purpose before consuming anything. Are you consuming with the intent to be entertained or to learn? There is no problem with consuming information as long as you know why you’re doing it. Most of us don’t.

Consume fewer (but better) things. Use a process to figure out sources for mindful consumption. Make time for them in your calendar toward the end of your day/week. Then, do it guilt-free. It’s about working and playing effectively.

Work comes before Play. When you consume information after a long day’s work, it makes the consumption all the more meaningful. When we work at work, the quality of our Play becomes that much better. When we “consume” during Play, we feel much better about ourselves. Not only have we delayed gratification, but we also have the discipline to work at work and to play outside of it.

Do you have writers on the web whose writing you read frequently? Or podcasts you listen to regularly? Great. We all do. The best way to do it is to plan for it and then do it in the time you’ve planned. The point is if it’s important enough to you, you’ll make time for it in your calendar and you’ll do it guilt-free, which is vital.

Of course, you don’t have to plan for everything. You can simply do some things while doing passive things. For instance, you could listen to podcasts while doing your dishes, or listen to music while driving. While one may require cognition, the other does not. I wrote about this in my piece on multitasking.

Here are some best practices to consume information mindfully:

  • Start your day with producing something instead of swimming in the sea of news.

  • Schedule work time before play. The better you Work, the more you can enjoy your Play.

  • Have a time and a place for consuming information. Avoid consuming information during Work unless it is work-related.

  • Don’t just consume information because you might use it some day. Just-in-time information always trumps just-in-case.

  • Use a process to selectively choose your information sources. The fewer, the better. Read fewer (but better) articles, books, newspapers, magazines, etc. Listen to fewer (but better) music, podcasts, etc. Do fewer things but better.

  • When it comes to consuming information, think contexts. For instance, I use my computer for work research, email, and other similar things. I use a tablet for reading and browsing the web. I use my phone to quickly browse through my Twitter feed throughout the day. This is not to say that I don’t do things on one device that I do on the other. It’s just that I’ve designated those devices for doing those things, which helps me set boundaries between the different things I do. I also covered this in my piece on workstation.

  • Make a list of categories you consume every day. Think podcasts, books, RSS feeds, articles on the web, newsletters you are subscribed to, etc. Then, once a month, simply go through that list and evaluate what you want to keep or remove. The point here is that you’re aware of your consumption. Be proactive about it.

  • Learn to capture things in your Trusted System that you might want to consume later. This way, you can get back to whatever it is you were doing without having to worry about losing something potentially meaningful.

  • Keep a Next list for things you want to consume during your discretionary time. Then, you can simply do the next thing on that list.

A healthy information diet results in a healthy mind. The right consumption is essential for personal growth. You can either consume a lot of information mindlessly without getting anywhere, or you can mindfully consume less information sustainably. The choice is yours.

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