Design Your Own Information Lifestyle

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Design Your Own Information Lifestyle

A colleague recently used the phrase “information waterboarding” to characterize the avalanche of media we’ve grown accustomed to consuming each day. I ended up editing the phrase out of a script, but not because it was inaccurate. From the 24-hour news cycle to blogging, social media, mobile phone alerts and this vague expectation that everyone knows everything “significant” going on around the world at any given moment, we’ve pushed and shoved ourselves into an uncomfortable if not completely unhealthy place when it comes to our information lifestyles and overall well being. There’s no reason we have to continue down that path, though. I like to think of it as embarking on a minor form of digital minimalism.

Information Waterboarding

Before I go on, I should be clear that I’m no saint on this front. I spent a decade of my life in a network newsroom consuming breaking news from around the globe like I was Joey Chestnut at Nathan’s Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. The difference was I never got to take a break from eating. I was back at it every day. I learned how to get spun up quickly on all the most pertinent national and international news so that when I stepped into my studio I wouldn’t be caught off guard by any story.

For every eight hours I spent in the newsroom, I spent four-plus hours more consuming news and information, both actively and passively, from other sources. I still feel most at peace with radio news playing in the background no matter what I’m doing, but I’ve also learned that the constant and frequently compulsive consumption (addiction?) of information that has come to characterize so many of us over the last 10-15 years whether you work in news or not, is not a healthy way to live.

Today I work in communications and media relations and still need to stay consistently up on headlines from around the world, but there is one big difference. I’ve learned to manage my consumption and focus better on what I need to know, pretty much excluding “entertainment news” and other distractions from my newsfeed and my life. Sure I miss the occasional pop-culture reference, but I’m not in my 20s anymore either. To be honest, I don’t have much choice. Having three little boys waiting to play, scream and read books the moment I get home simplifies a lot of things for me.

Assess the Value of the Media In Your Life

Consider the following an information intervention of sorts with key points to consider whether you’re interested in exploring the idea of digital minimalism in your own life or at the very least taking control of your own information lifestyle.

Is it important or just interesting?

We like to know what’s happening. It’s in our nature, but not every story that earns a headline may be truly significant to your life. Interesting? Maybe. Important? No. When your time is valuable, you need to prioritize where you spend it. Sure, there’s value in exploring an interesting story that feeds new ideas or gives your mind a break, but understand what you’re doing and set parameters around it.

How much is too much information?

The Atlantic dug into story counts for major newspapers a few years back and found that The Washington Post publishes 500 unique stories a day, not including wire stories, videos or other content. The New York Times publishes about 150 stories and 65 blog posts each day (not including multimedia and interactive pieces). The Wall Street Journal, 240 articles. And this doesn’t include your local paper, broadcast news, podcasts or millions of blog posts published daily. Let’s not even get into social media here. No single editor can read everything these outlets produce, let alone their readers who have other responsibilities. It’s time to pick and choose.

When do you need to know?

We live in a world of instantaneous information and news can travel around the world within minutes. But do you need to know everything as it happens? Many of us remember a time not too long ago when we caught up on news in the morning paper and evening news. Here’s the question, though. Were we less informed then versus now? I certainly don’t believe so and I dare say we retained more. The renewed popularity of daily newsletter summaries harkens back to those days.

Are you listening or is it just background noise?

Sometimes people get in the habit of having the television or news playing as background noise. It’s not exactly an ocean breeze audio track, though. Part of our brain power is being spent monitoring what is said and that means it’s not being spent on what we’re trying to do at that time. In a world where we love to champion multi-tasking, the truth is that there is real value in limiting distractions and focusing.

Taking Control of Your Information Lifestyle

Now that you’ve started to assign a value to the information you consume, it’s time to set limits and build it into your lifestyle. Consider getting a handle on which apps can send you mobile alerts that steal your attention. Set aside specific times of your day for catching up on major news and other times to indulge in distractions like blog posts you enjoy or entertainment news. Arrange (or pay attention to) weekly screen time summaries to understand how much of your time is spent looking at your phone. And rethink email. There are some emails you need to get back to immediately, but others can wait an hour so you can get other work done.

As media professionals, we rarely have the luxury of turning our smartphone off or closing our email browser for any length of time, but at least start paying attention to how you manage that time. After a few weeks, assess how much more relaxed and productive you feel in life while still remaining very much informed.

Have other tips for designing your own information lifestyle? Share them below. The information age is real and we’re all in this together.