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A Low-Information Diet – The Solution for Overwhelm and Overload?

25 Feb

fries wrapped in newspaperWhen I was in college I struggled with the perceived pressure to always be “in the know” with local and national media. As soon as I woke up I would turn my TV to the morning news as I checked emails and got ready for the day. On the way to class I would grab our Daily Collegian and a USA Today and scour the top headlines. During breaks I would sit with my phone and scroll through the feeds from various news apps. For all intents and purposes – I was completely wired. I self-prescribed this high-information diet so that I would never appear oblivious or ignorant to the outside world I was just learning to navigate. I was utterly convinced that absorbing as much media as I could was the only way to ensure I could hold a mature an intelligent conversation in the real world.

The building of this pressure was amplified by my communications professors’ preaching to always stay informed, to subscribe to at least 5 news sources a day and to read, read, read. It made sense. If I was going to excel in the field of communications, I needed to understand how people communicate and join in the conversation! I quickly allotted what little free time and free mental space I had remaining to becoming a media watch dog. Once out of college and in the midst of a hectic political campaign where information overload was the first line of the job description, I still tried to absorb the news from several different sources daily on top of everything else expected of me.  Every day was filled with overwhelm.

Then there came the critical moment in my life, the moment that if mapped out on a timeline would look something like a black hole, that I finally found the volume knob on my information feed and turned it completely off.

As you might imagine this was the time I spent re-evaluating what I really wanted to do with my life, what would make me most happy and what I had to do to get there. This was when I became an entrepreneur. It was during these critical weeks that I simply had no time or concern left for a high-information diet. All I knew was that what I was currently doing was making me miserable and I needed to stop it all in order to pinpoint the cause. So what happened when I stopped checking my phone and email, turned off the TV and closed the newspaper? Absolutely nothing. Nothing blew up, nothing burned down, I wasn’t accused of being ignorant and my career wasn’t the least bit affected. In fact, for the first time in a long time I found myself with some free time and free mental space to dedicate to things I actually cared about. The news feeds in my email no longer existed to serve as another to-do and I wasn’t under the same stress to absorb every piece of information around me and store it for later use.

I didn’t become blissfully ignorant, I became selectively ignorant.

So you might expect that with the start of my own business, I began to work this information back into my daily routine. You might even expect for me to brag about how many news sources I consume in a single day or how my finger is always on the pulse of the universe. This simply isn’t so. I still continue to enjoy a low-information diet to this day and I truly believe the benefits I receive from this are far more important and impactful than what I would receive returning to my old routine. My day begins by immediately getting to client work – not slogging through news headlines that may or may never be of any value. My inbox isn’t overloaded with unimportant emails that are basically self-inflicted spam. Most importantly, my mental focus has drastically improved from where it was years ago. I feel clear, calm and collected. This allows me to complete projects more efficiently which in return gives me even more free time. I turn this time into far more meaningful results than simply absorbing the chaos of the news world. Most enjoyable, I’ve found a fountain of focus to write and really dig deep into my thoughts. It’s this low-information diet that helps fuel the Bennis Inc Blog.

Ultimately, by exposing myself to far less information, I only expose myself to the right information. When I do choose to read or learn something, it is far more likely to be absorbed fully and used immediately. I‘m no longer in the business of seeking and storing information that can’t be of immediate value.  When I need information, I get it on demand. This has proven to be far more effective than reading, storing and trying to recall that same information through years and years of mental clutter. But most noteworthy is how moving away from a high-information diet has completely changed my mood, my sense of overwhelm and my amount of free time. I still fear becoming ignorant or oblivious to the outside world, but I now know this has no correlation to the amount of news I force feed myself in a day. As long as we remain hungry for knowledge and seek it out as we need it, we will stay as informed as we want to be –without the overwhelm or overload.

What type of information diet do you exist on? What do you think would change if you made the switch to a low-information diet? Share your personal experience with information overload or cutting it off completely!

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14 responses to “A Low-Information Diet – The Solution for Overwhelm and Overload?

  1. organizednowplease

    February 25, 2013 at 8:42 am

    I noticed that watching too much news affected my mood and ability to fall asleep. I was doing it more as something that I felt I should do rather than searching out information.

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      February 26, 2013 at 7:47 am

      Me as well! When you feel like you always have to be “wired” it can be hard to truly shut down and give your body the rest it needs.

       
  2. Jojo

    February 25, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I think I need to do this. I feel like I read WAY too many news sources in a day.

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      February 26, 2013 at 7:45 am

      One other factor I forgot to mention is that information overload can also make you feel negative in addition to overwhelmed. Maybe your news sources are similar, but I felt like so many of mine only broadcast negative and depressing news that affected my mood and perception of the world.

       
  3. czona2288

    February 25, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks so much for your article. I don’t really watch news programs, but I do read a lot of articles about my products and business. All the information actually keeps me from contacting clients and progressing. I believe we need knowledge, but there is so much more to learn through experience.

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      February 26, 2013 at 7:44 am

      Absolutely! We need information to stay knowledgeable and relevant, but it shouldn’t become one more thing on our to-do list that keeps us from really accomplishing the things we need to.

       
  4. Stephanie Stevens

    February 27, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Such great thoughts! I grew up in a rather luddite family with no media except radio. While there were drawbacks to having so little information, I find that the contrast to my life today, with all the information I want at my fingertips, is huge. Too much information makes life exhausting. I truly believe that we aren’t designed for that kind of mental and emotional assault all the time. It’s addictive though. I’ve had to be careful what I let into my life. Love your thoughts here.

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      February 27, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      I have certainly experienced the addiction to information as well and it’s not easy coming off of it. But once we overcome the misconception that something terrible will happen if we’re not constantly checking our news feeds, it gets easier and is a very enlightening experience. I still seek out news, but more for enjoyment and when I have the time for it unlike previously when it felt more like an obligation.

       
  5. Judi Mason

    February 27, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Great article. I had laryngitis for 2 weeks and during that time I rediscovered silence- its so under rated. I turned off everything and focused on getting well. I realized then we have too much information coming our way at any given time. I decided to detox and consume only the necessary information. I will say its very liberating.

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      February 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      That’s a very unexpected (and unfortunate) way to re-introduce yourself to the value of silence, but it’s great you were able to find it. I’m sure it was an odd feeling at first to be “disconnected” but once we detox it gets easier 🙂

       
  6. Mick Miller

    February 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Stephanie,

    I came across your blog through another blog. First off, I thoroughly enjoyed your article. Secondly, I am a 4th year marketing student who has teachers telling me to read, read, read, listen, listen, listen, engage, engage, engage. My opinion, there is TOO much information and not enough time. However, there is LOTS of REMARKABLE information, but still, not enough time to enjoy it.

    Like you did, I currently feel information overload. I am try to filter the good and the bad, but it is hard. I read because like you did, I feel I have too to stay smart, alert, and a head of others. Also, I don’t want to miss out on good stories, like yours.

    Cheers,

    Mick

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      March 3, 2013 at 11:18 am

      Thanks for reaching out, Mick! Marketing and PR so closely overlap in some areas, I have no doubt you know what I’m talking about. It’s a fine balance between finding what information to weed out and what information to stay in tune with. I’m glad I was some of the information you chose to stumble upon!

       

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