The High Leverage Information Diet
You hear a lot of Lifehackers talking about practicing a low information diet, indeed we live in an age of infinite information yet we have very finite time and attention. A lot of lifehackers decry constant information consumption as a distracting practice. Bruce Lee had something really insightful to say about this:
A lot of people do get distracted by the overwhelming amount of information available at our fingertips at any given moment and it prevents them from living happy, productive lives. To combat this I’ve developed an information consumption regimen that is highly efficient. I present the components and consumption methods of the High Leverage Information Diet.
Yes, books, I’m a big believer in this old fashioned medium of wisdom. With very few exceptions I learn way more from books than I do from blogs, podcast or other ‘new media’ formats.
- On the whole, significantly more work and attention go into books by the writer. The differentiating characteristic of blogs, podcasts, and Youtube is the dirt-cheap or non-existent cost of entry, literally, all you need is an internet connection and you can create and syndicate content. The content creator has not actually invested anything other than a little bit of their leisure time.
- They chronically prioritize quantity over quality.
- Bloggers don’t really ponder deeply or ask others to challenge their ideas, so they can be refined — it’s really tantamount to diarrhea of the mind, there’s no filter for quality.
- They have no incentive to fact check the information they put out. If they completely misquote a source or get something wrong they can just update their blog — but very few will.
On the other hand, an author writing a book is looking at a minimum investment of at least $900 just to get the book edited. If they get something wrong in the book, once it’s published, printed and on people’s bookshelves, they can’t recall it and their reputation will face dire consequences.
The world of literature is the closest thing to a meritocracy or free market of ideas, outside of a few examples of pop culture smut, the best ones rise to the top.
For example: Flow states, probably the hottest topic in the personal development world in the past 2 years, tune into any personal development podcast or Youtube channel and you’ll hear the phrase flow state bandied about liberally. Two older novels, Memoir from Antproof Case and Atlas Shrugged (published in 1995 and 1957 respectively) I’ve read in the past year talk a lot about Flow states allegorically and contained some real gems of knowledge on the topic.
I’m convinced that really good fiction and non-fiction, contains the seeds of what will be the game changers in the personal development world in the next 10–15 years.
About a year ago I resolved to drastically cut down the amount of time I spent reading blogs, since then I’ve read 8 books (Including, as I mentioned, Atlas Shrugged which is like 4 books-in-one!) which have subtly shaped me into a profoundly more happy and productive person. I encourage you to do the same!
Then there’s the cost factor, when you pay for something, even when the cost is very little, it flips a subtle yet profound switch in our psychology that motivates us to work really hard, follow through and accomplish our goals. I think that reading blogs or other free personal development content is almost useless for this reason. Books cost money, but are relatively inexpensive to other paid mediums of learning and instruction, especially with Kindle and digital delivery lowering the cost of books, to below $10 in most cases. If you are a person that always consumes free content, try paying for some content and just see how much more value you get out of it. I think you’ll find it’s a night and day difference.
Reading is particularly difficult to prioritize, I can always find something more important or diverting to do than reading. So I make it a habit in Coach.me, to read 30–60 minutes daily, this provides an extra dimension of motivation. As you can see here, for a very busy guy I actually do a lot of reading.
While a younger version of myself was a voracious page-turner with a full bookshelf, I adopt new technology if it’s superior. In this case, Kindle really does improve upon the reading experience. It’s intuitive highlighting and note-taking features make it easier than ever to record and remember meaningful passages from books. Personally, I prefer the Kindle app, for reasons detailed below:
- It’s free
- It’s one less piece of technology that I need to worry about
- And it’s sleep-friendly with a night mode, a feature that amazingly the Kindle devices don’t have…
Here’s a sleep hack for us who find reading before bed incredibly relaxing and aren’t planning on giving it up anytime soon. We all know that bright screen light is a big problem, so I spend about an hour before bed reading on Kindle App on my smartphone with a black background and white text, I turn the brightness of the screen all the way down in the Kindle app and then I use another app called Screen Dimmer.
This lets me turn down the screen brightness down even further, I read in a darkened room before bed and I turn the brightness down as low as possible without straining my eyes.
I turn off the wifi on my smartphone so I’m not tempted to text message, check Facebook or another time-wasting, narcissism feeding apps. If you enjoy listening to music while reading, if you create a playlist in Soundcloud, and play it a few times, it saves the music to the cache of your device and you can listen to it offline.
Also Kindle, only allows me to read the books I’ve bought so I’m consuming higher quality, more meaningful content before drifting off to the dream world.
Warpspeed Reading for Hacking Retention of Book Knowledge
Here’s a problem that I think anyone can relate to who reads a lot; if we are honest you forget the vast majority of the information you spend so much time-consuming. You spend 10–20 hours consuming 300–400 pages. How much of it are you actually going to commit to memory, recall when you need it and apply?
I was listening to a podcast lately and the guy was saying that reading dense non-fiction books is pointless because your retention of the information presented is so little compared to the time it takes to read the book.
Which I think is a little pessimistic, we know on a foundational level that reading is important because successful people are always talking about how much they read. However, it’s true that we do forget the majority of what we read. 5 years ago I read probably 6 of Donald Trump’s books about business and if someone asked me to summarize the points of each book off the top of my head, I probably couldn’t do it!
I’ve got a cool technology lifehack for this problem that takes advantage of the ‘memory spacing effect’.
It requires Kindle (either the App or the device), Evernote and an App called Spritz
How it works:
I read in Kindle and highlight passages that I want to remember or find actionable.
When I finish a book, I open up the Kindle desktop reader and copy/paste my highlights into an Evernote note in a Books Notebook. If a book is particularly good it gets its own Evernote Note, if not I just put it in a general note.
I have a shortcut on my Android home screen for this Notebook, so it’s just a tap (or click) away from me at any moment.
Spritz is a free App for your smartphone or Google Chrome that allows you to read at 500–1000 words per minutes via rapid serial presentation of words (it’s pretty rad actually). With just a little practice you’ll be able to drastically increase the speed at which you can speed read. Obviously, your reading comprehension of brand new material takes a hit speed reading at this velocity, but we are just reviewing material that we’ve already read at normal speeds, which Spritz works great for.
From my smartphone I just ‘Share’ the note to the Spritz app (For Android I recommend an A Faster Reader) which then super speed reads me the note.
I’m a pretty liberal highlighter of the books I read and it takes me maybe 60 seconds to speed review my favorite parts an entire book. I do a lot of super speed reading while on the toilet.
A few important points:
- Yes, it takes about 5 tedious minutes of copying and pasting the quotes to my Evernote note, but if I can significantly improve the retention of the knowledge in a book that I spent 10–20 hours consuming it’s 5 minutes well spent!
- Kindle’s desktop software can also show you the most popular highlighted passages of a given book by other Kindle readers, which I frequently check after reading a book, sometimes there will be some real gems of knowledge that I skimmed over, so you could totally crowdsource the selection method of the passages.
There are a couple of blogs that do keep me on the cutting edge of the constantly changing industries in which I dabble.
Is probably the best RSS reader available as a very intuitive web browser tool and a smartphone app. With just a few clicks you can add your favorite blogs, Podcasts or Youtube channels and Feedly will notify you in a very non-intrusive way when they put out new content. You read the articles in Feedly’s minimalistic app so you don’t get distracted by website sidebars or popups.
Sometimes people will send me studies to read or there will be a long article on conversion optimization that I really want to thoroughly understand, I will save it in my Evernote Stuff to Read folder.
I reserve my time in front of the tube for Hour 2 type tasks, rote processes that require very little creative energy or decision making. As a veteran web developer, about 40% of my daily work falls into this category.
Is actually one of my favorite content mediums but I’m not watching cute cat videos or music videos.
I spend most of my time consuming long-form, detailed content. My viewing breaks down like this:
- Funny Stuff 5%
- News & Current Events 5%
- Philosophy 10%
- Health 20%
- History 20%
- Social Dynamics 10%
- Personal Development 10%
- Business & Entrepreneurship 10%
- Web development & SEO 10%
I seldom only watch Youtube, I always multitask Youtube with some other project. As you can see from the photo above, my really simple way of doing this is to just place my phone in the lower right corner of my computer and charge it via USB while watching. Also, a lot of times I will actually wear 2 pairs of headphones at a time so I can do some monotonous task, like video editing while watching video on my phone.
No surprise, I’m a big fan of documentaries. My favorite website for finding interesting documentaries is Topdocumentaryfilms.com, a categorized and constantly updated database of +3000 free films.
This game-changing service can be a serious waste of time, how many people have traded a social life, getting in shape, furthering their education, writing a book or really meaningful personal development for hundreds of hours spent in front of the screen streaming commercial-free movies and television programs. Yet I actually have a Netflix account…
What is the lifehack for preventing ‘Netflix creep’? I only activate my account for a month at a time, once every 6–9 months, then I go back into my account settings, cancel my monthly billing and delete the streaming app from my phone. To make sure I don’t let it auto-renew, I set a reminder in my calendar to cancel billing the day before it’s set to renew. Netflix saves all your settings and your list for a year after you cancel, so I add another reminder for about 11 months out to reactivate my billing.
Unless it’s going to the cinema with friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I rarely watch movies unless I find some philosophical value in them, like the excellent Schindler’s List or Valkyrie, which I watched recently.
Podcasts, for me, are a very low attention bandwidth requiring medium, while there are some real quality podcasts out there, they are largely an amateur’s medium, I just don’t think podcasts deserve much attention. Which is why I listen to them while I’m working on projects that take up most of my attention, like web development or reading papers on Nootropics. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I practice a little more of a regimen here as well:
- In the earlier part of the workday, I will listen to the more content-dense podcasts, that are about more technical subjects like health and web development.
- In the later part of the workday, I switch to lighter podcasts that have a little more entertainment value, so personal development, philosophy, and current events talk shows.
If you like podcasts, we do all our best content in podcast form as well, subscribe to the Limitless Mindset Podcast, for +200 episodes on lifehacking and biohacking, here.
Audiobooks are a little more deserving content, which is why I reserve them for when I’m commuting, in the gym or traveling, time that I can devote +50% of my attention to the audio content.
Consider Kindle Whispersync, this an audio app that syncs the audiobook version of a book to your progress in the Kindle version. I find audiobooks on Kindle to be a little expensive so I don’t use it much but it’s kind of a cool option if you have a long book to consume and are going to be spending a lot of time in the gym or commuting.
Soundcloud and Music
The High Leverage Information Diet
I’m Jonathan and I’m an informationaholic. You hear a lot of Lifehacker’s talking about practicing a low information…
You might think with my obsession with educational content that I never find time to listen to music… Not so! I actually spend probably about 30–60 minutes daily listening to music while writing, I prefer listening to music podcasts while writing so I’m not faced with the decision of choosing what music to listen to. On Soundcloud or Mixcloud you can subscribe to podcasts for almost any musical genre which gets updated weekly.
When I really need to focus and get creative I listen to Brain.FM and I suggest you do the same! Listen here for free (no signup required)It’s a very well designed, very intuitive app for web browser and iPhone (Android coming soon!) that generates lyric-free music that profoundly hacks your mindset for focus, relaxation or drowsiness. This tool has become an important part of my mindset ecosystem which I use throughout my day to take breaks from information consumption.
As a focus promoter, it’s not quite as potent as Modafinil or Oxiracetam but it’s quite effective; after 10–15 minutes you’ll find yourself devoting 100% of your attention to whatever is the task at hand.
Facebook, criticized almost universally by productivity gurus, can actually be a useful tool if you configure it correctly. Facebook, directly or indirectly makes me a couple of thousand dollars every year so I can’t quite justify getting rid of it as many do.
Stay away from the newsfeed. Life is finite while digital distractions are infinite. To combat this reality of your hybrid digital-meatspace lifestyle, I recommend News Feed Eradicator for Facebook. It turns off the newsfeed that is so ingeniously engineered to distract you. Trust me, you won’t miss it.
News Feed Eradicator for Facebook
Find yourself spending too much time on Facebook? Eradicate distractions by replacing your entire news feed with an…
Uninstall the Facebook app. Seriously. It’s a major time-waster, runs slower than the mobile version of the Facebook website and it makes some creepy privacy invasions of your phone.
Social Fixer, this is another app that further limits Facebook’s annoying, time-wasting features.
Social Fixer for Facebook fixes annoyances, adds features, and enhances existing functionality to…
Social Fixer for Facebook is a FREE browser extension that fixes annoyances, adds features, and enhances existing…
Remove social media widgets from your phone
Your phone will prompt you to install some cool little widgets on your home screen(s), displaying recent tweets, status updates from friends or whatever. These are very tempting to install and glance at throughout the day as you are using your phone but this is a slippery slope, down the smooth, tilted touchscreen screen of your smartphone to distraction. Uninstall these widgets, you won’t miss them and they slow down your phone.
Twitter, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Ect
I rarely browse these sites for content, these sites are not true meritocracies of content but displayers of advertising and the most clickbaity, usually shallow content.
A final word on… Narcissism?
About 10% of my content consumption is watching, listening or reading my own stuff, which sounds a little weird and narcissistic right? I have some good reasons for doing this…
- It reminds me to choose to be my best self, to be the person I’m displaying to the world online.
- It keeps my knowledge base fresh on the topics on which I’m ostensibly an expert, I don’t remember 100% of all of the studies I talk about in my videos or the subtle nuances of how different smart drugs work.
- It keeps me consistent. Every year we see politicians or public figures making asses of themselves by making totally contradictory statements to different groups of people. I avoid a reputation apocalypse due to a slip of the tongue, by reviewing the things I’ve said before.
If your aspirations include being recognized as a guru of some kind, I encourage you to spend time daily consuming your own content.
Responding to either of these questions:
a) Which Information diet lifehack are you going to put into effect right away and what are you going to do with your new free time?
b) Do you practice any information diet lifehacks other than those listed above?