On Information Minimalism

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, has written a must-read mini-series on digital minimalism on his blog, see 1 2 3 4.

I also advocate a more comprehensive information minimalist approach, which in essence consists in continuously assessing and selecting sources of information very carefully.

I do not read newspapers, nor magazines, believing that high-frequency news writing is bound to bring a lot of noise with the signal (see also Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb, where he makes a similar point, especially with financial time-series, but not only).

The important news always reach me, one way or another, so it’s not so crucial to actively look for them, since by doing so, I might be exposed to too much noise, therefore wasting time, and precious attention (which, by the way, has been proved to be a very limited resource. See Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. And think hard about how much effort is put in trying to grab Your attention.)

Regarding the digital world, I follow few blogs, which I read via Feedly.
From time to time, if I see that I spend more time discarding posts than actually reading them, I prune a source or two. If a blog I really like often links to another blog or source, I might add it to my feeds.
I use Whatsapp and Facebook’s Messenger to keep in touch with friends, and I am very happy I can access the latter from a browser without having to go through the main website. The few times I do, I feel like drowning.
No Twitter either. I had tried few years back, but tweets are too superficial and noisy. I gave up and don’t miss it. Same story with Instagram.

In order to avoid unwanted, and very disruptive, interruptions, I turned off all notifications from my smartphone. If you want to contact me immediately, you truly have to call me (or walk to my desk, if you happen to be a colleague).
Indeed, the cost of even a very brief cognitive switch can be up to 20 minutes of lost concentration [1,2]
Furthermore, I use a 5-year old smartphone, that by the golden rule of planned obsolescence, is getting slower day after day. Its slowness helps me be even more selective of when using it and what I do with it.

That leaves me with ample time to read proper books, mostly non-fiction.
Given this selective approach, I manage to read 15 to 20 books per year, with high satisfaction and retention. Check out my 2016 list.

What is your strategy to keep your attention under control?

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