The Low Information Diet

I’ve been pondering on this for over a week now as it ties in with much of what I’ve been writing and thinking about for many years.

The low information diet is a neat phrase — and concept — used in Timothy Ferriss’s new book, The 4-Hour Workweek, which I reviewed here a couple of weeks ago. It also sings from the same hymn sheet as another book, Mediated — How the Media Shape Your World, which I also reviewed here some months since.

Information is the bane of our lives. It pursues us everywhere, via billboards and Blackberrys, cell phones and laptops. Information never stops, it seeps into our brains, jams out all useful activity and crashes any tendency to creativity. Most of it is useless, irrelevant, biassed, deceitful, deceptive and damaging to our health.

But it still does not deny the simple truth. Information is everything today. You want to find out what something is? You are looking for the information. And of course, this is where the Internet comes into play. An abundant pool of all sorts of information that is available 24/7. People are paying incredible amounts of money to get their hands on the valuable information that could bring them tons of profit. So, it is true that information literally makes the world go around and the Internet makes it all possible. That’s why we are slaves to information.

Do I like information? I love it. We all do. But, like alcohol and drugs, it’s monumentally counter-productive unless consumed in tiny doses at precisely the right time.

The problem is, information makes us feel important, connected, in league with “where it’s at”. If we don’t get any, we’re sure to look inadequate at the XYZ Conference. We never stop to think that the XYZ Conference is just another vehicle for more useless information, as is that so-vital podcast, video hookup or blog post (present post excepted because of its essential nature).

Ferriss’s chapter with the same title as this post is the best eight-page sequence in his book. Alone it will change your life. If you’re a Techmeme groupie or a news junkie — as I used to be — read it and learn about “selective ignorance” and the trial one-week media fast.

Refuse to be mediated, concentrate on that personal task in hand. Only your work and activity is worthy of your attention. Everything else may be relevant to others, but will kill your effectiveness and utility if you indulge in it.

InformationsThere are many traps to watch out for too. I watched Ferriss being interviewed on the Scoble Show the other day hoping to discover whether the author’s wildly romantic CV had any truth in it and whether he did indeed work only four hours a week. Most of it was driven by Scoble’s interventions pushing some aspect of his own work methods. Unfortunately, it diverted the author onto narrow detail-driven paths that made his ideas seem trite. Like hiring someone in India to triage his email. Now I do know about hiring people to do simple tasks, like writing content, and believe me the time-overhead involved is usually much greater than doing the job yourself — especially if it’s triaging your email.

Outsourcing is rarely the answer because of the admin and the need to train the outsourcee. They will also require supervision to keep them up to standard, billing and paying, accounting and complimenting. It really is not as simple as Ferriss says.

So let’s stick with the low information diet. This is the nub of the matter. Get it right — depending on the source of your income stream — and all else follows.

Draw up a few relevancy charts. Redraw them onto one page and into one box. Eliminate anything even slightly superfluous. Concentrate ferociously on what’s left, but only to the extent that it serves your purpose, and you are beginning to see the light.

It is vain to do with more what can be done with less. William of Occam.

Take Occam’s Razor to everything you do and you won’t go far wrong. Not to do so is to cut your own throat.

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. Albert Einstein.