The latest Netflix show.
The pile of unread books by your bed.
The mass of emails in your inbox.
The unopened and unused apps on your phone.
Feeling overwhelmed yet?
Online articles, social media posts, podcasts. The list goes on.
Information coming at us from every angle. And the pile keeps growing.
No wonder we’re stressed.
It’s time to become deliberate and discerning in our consumption.
The challenge of too many inputs
More information is supposed to be a good thing right. More empowering. More access. Greater transparency.
The trouble starts when we’re too passive. We consume whatever is in front of us. Whatever turns up in our Facebook feed. We jump on the latest bandwagon, never pausing to ask if we actually want to watch that TV show. We end up spending time reading, watching, listening to content we don’t like, don’t enjoy or are completely ambivalent about. No one has time for that.
Beyond being a major time suck it can also mess with your head. There is a lot of negativity out there, especially in the news. I’m not suggesting don’t be informed, because you absolutely should be, but is reading about murders and manslaughters and who knows what else really doing you any favours?
What about the endless opportunities for comparison that social media provides? Always finding yourself lacking doesn’t sound like fun. Seeing yet another must have that you can’t have. Mindlessly consuming whatever catches your wandering attention is a quick way to forget how fabulous your life really is.
Passivity leads to little to no discernment leads to a huge sense of overwhelm. If you’re not consciously deciding what inputs to put your energy into, the list of options grows and grows and grows. Particularly because you will have books and podcasts that you want to spend your time on, but all of the time gets consumed by mindlessly scrolling the internet. I’m not saying that checking out your favourite fashion site can’t be a great way to take a mental five-minute break but if you’re repeatedly there you’re probably looking without seeing anyway. Managing inputs is as much about how you consume as it is about what you’re consuming.
You’re sick of being overwhelmed, you’re ready to bring some discernment to what inputs make it onto your radar. Instantly, you have no idea where to start. Do I want to listen to a podcast or read a book? Which podcast? How did these fifteen unread books materialise next to my bed? Maybe a magazine is a better option?
How on earth are you supposed to decide where to start when the pile of options is this big? And every single time you need to pick what’s next, you run through all of the choices, asking yourself all of the questions in order to decide. A complete recipe for decision fatigue. Which will no doubt lead to regressing to passive consumption because it’s easier.
But no more. There are a bunch of possibilities when it comes to managing inputs minus feelings of overwhelm, frustration and negativity.
Options to manage your inputs
There are a whole bunch of tips here. Some help reduce the size of the pile. Some provide ways of making decisions on what to engage with. Some help with the motivation to stay conscious rather than passive. Some will work for you and some won’t.
What matters is you pick something and give it a go.
Set Limits and Boundaries
I have a weird rule that I only buy magazines in airports. At home, I gravitate to a book over a magazine so they’d never get read. Then I’d feel guilty for not reading it and wasting money. So I buy magazines and read them on the plane. It’s not a complete deprivation and aligns the obtaining of the input with the consumption.
Ages ago I read something about reading the news is a waste of time. If something really noteworthy happens, you can trust that it will end up on your radar. Then you can ask someone to tell you more or go looking for more information. This approach cuts out a lot of the junk the media put out there. It’s a natural filter and an easy way to reduce your inputs.
If, like me, you don’t want to completely give up on news, then here’s another way of limiting it. Pick a single source. I care about business news and what’s happening in New Zealand. So I read the highlights from LinkedIn and keep one NZ media app on my phone. This keeps me on top of what’s happening and if I want to get a broader or more detailed perspective on something, then I can consciously choose to find more information.
Maintain a List
Keep everything in one place. All of your to-reads in an app or a physical pile. My best friend has a to-read pile on a bookshelf in her spare room. By putting in the spare room, it’s not in her face all the time but she still has a single point to choose her next book from.
I only use the Podcasts app on my phone. I know there are other places that podcasts live but I’ve never used any of them. If I ever find a podcast that I can’t get on the Podcasts app then I probably won’t listen to it. Having everything in one place makes it much easier to manage (more on that in a second).
Or Don’t Maintain a List
My friend Xandra wrote this fantastic post on giving up her reading list. Her advice is to trust that the books will come into her life when it’s the right time.
Let It Go
Don’t force yourself to finish something you’re not enjoying. I usually find the Hardcore History podcast fascinating but the most recent episode (which is over five hours long), didn’t do it for me so I haven’t finished it.
If you hate a format or find you never use it, get rid of it. I no longer have Audible after realising that I prefer reading books to listening to them. Plus when I chose audio content I always selected a podcast or music. Audiobooks aren’t for me so I moved on. Removing a whole media type is a great way to cut down your input pile.
Have a Routine
I usually listen to podcasts while I get ready for work and on my commute. In the evenings I read before bed. Having regular times that I do these things means I steadily make progress. You don’t need to be beholden to a rigorous schedule but it makes sense to know when you’re going to get through your inputs. Especially as it will give you an idea of how much you can actually consume.
Track What You’re Consuming
I write the book I’m reading each week in the corner of my Passion Planner. When I’ve been reading the same book for three weeks in a row it serves as a reminder to read more. Since starting this I read nearly a book a week. It doesn’t need to be complicated but it can be very motivating.
Clear It Out
Every now and then, usually when I’m sitting on the tube, I go on a mass deletion mission. I delete hundreds of podcasts. I unsubscribe from emails. I clear what accounts I’m following on Instagram. And I’m brutal. There is more content out there than I could possibly ever consume so I don’t even try.
We live in the information age. And as will most technologies, there is a double-edged sword. With these tips, you can move from passive, mindless consumption that hinders more than helps to making your relationship with media a positive affair.
Tell me, What Tips Would You Add to this List?