If you want to learn more, learn less2 min read

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We live in an age of overabundance of information. This seems like a great boon, because you always have immediate access to relevant articles and videos, and can endlessly feed your interests with new stimulation.

But there are two big problems with this boon.

The first one is that, in the words of Herbert Simon, “Information consumes the attention of its recipients.” In other words, processing information is not free. Getting information is free, quick, and often fun—but processing it consumes two of our most precious resources: time and attention.

The more information you consume, the less time you have to act on that information, or do anything else with your life. The more information you consume, the less attention (i.e. energy) you have to dedicate to anything else, including working on your aspirations.

Consuming information, then, is an expensive task. So it is wise for us to be frugal about what we read, watch, and listen to.

The second problem is that information in itself is not valuable. What makes it valuable is reflecting on information, and doing something about it. That something could be consolidating the learning into knowledge; or it could be taking some sort of action.

One of my coaching clients had a YouTube addiction when came to me. He was watching two to three hours of YouTube everyday, despite being a busy professional. He used to say, “Giovanni, it’s actually good YouTube! It’s all about personal development, motivation, and stoicism”.

I said, “Great! So since we last spoke you have spent twenty hours on YouTube, watching videos packed with life lessons. Can you tell me the top three things you’ve learned?”

Silence.

Long silence.

He couldn’t name them. He couldn’t even say one of them. At that point he realized how much he was wasting his time and brain with something that seemed to be like a good idea, and felt pleasant in the moment, but was not leading anywhere.

If you diminish the amount of information you consume in half, you will get double the value from the other half. If you diminish it to one fifth, you’ll get at least five times more from the fifth that remains. Why? Because now you have created space for reflection.

Exercise

Next time you finish reading a thought-provoking article, watching a meaningful video, or listening to a podcast, pause. Don’t go for the next one, not yet. If you rush into the next, it’s likely that you’ll forget almost everything you’ve learned, and then that time (and attention) will have been wasted. Have some idle time in between, so you can absorb.

Learn more by learning less.

Going Deeper

Learn how to better manage your information diet by going through the Dopamine Audit and Mindful Technology Guidelines exercises in the Workbook. You can download it for free here.

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