The NEW Information Diet, part 2

In part 1, I talked about the problem with information addiction and overwhelm.

In this post I’m going to talk about the exact process I got through to be highly effective and end information addiction.

What is the PURPOSE for gaining the knowledge?

I used to just pulling in massive knowledge just to have the knowledge.  I would kid myself to think that the info was for later, for when I needed it, but it wasn’t true.  I was just addicted to pulling in more info and not having to take action on it.  I don’t do that now.

I must know the why, why do I need to read this?

Why should I watch this?

Why should I listen to this?

Personally, I might choose to watch a TV show like Dexter, purely for entertainment value, but I’m very clear on what I am doing.  I not longer get my entertainment out of reading 30 blog posts a day.  I want my business to fulfill the use I have for it and my entertainment to be separate.  As an info junkie there was no distinction.

The purpose of gaining knowledge, for me now, is to be able to make that knowledge actionable and is sure it is needed NOW.

The NOW focus

The first step in my process is to answer the question, “Is this knowledge something I need right now?”.

I try to stay very clear on where I am in my business.  I figure out, at all times, exactly where I am and what I need to know next.

An example as a beginner would be, if I didn’t have a website up, I wouldn’t be learning all I could about link building.  Link building cannot happen UNTIL you have a site up.   So, it would be an waste of time to learn about something like link building, since I couldn’t take action right away.  The next bit of info I would need, in this example, is exactly what hosting I should use and what blog system I should use.  So, I would dump the link building info into a file for LATER and I would focus on hosting and blog systems.

I skipped ahead in learning all the time.  Before I had a site up I was an expert at traffic, because I read about it all the time.  By the time I did have a site up much of the traffic info I had read was obsolete and therefor a total waste of time in learning.

If I start reading something and I realize I don’t need this yet, I quickly stop reading, which is hard as an info addict, and I file it for later.  I follow the GTD system for filing.

If it is something I can use now, I go on the the second process.

Taking Action

Once I have figured out that a bit of information IS what I need next, I then have to ask if it is ACTIONABLE.

Now I want the knowledge if there can be an action attached to it.  If at any time during the search I see that the info cannot be acted upon, I generally ditch the search and move on to the next question in the queue.  Sometimes I realize that my question is 2 steps past the action I might need to take and then I switch my search to a more basic question.

I am no longer interested in having a bunch of info in my head that would just be used for sounding like a ‘know-it-all’, but not have any practical use for me.  Like I said before, I would just search for knowledge for knowledge’s sake, like a junkie.  I just had to have the next info hit.

I’m speaking mostly business here, but I have also taken this process to my personal info gathering as well.  As much fun as it is to know some inane bit of info like, how many movies has Angelina Jolie been in, I’m less likely to gather that type of info personally, let alone in business, (like how many launches has Frank Kern made over 1 million dollars?  Why would I need to know that…).

I want to have the ability to take action the moment I am done reading a new bit of info.  That is the main goal for me now with processing information.  In order to stay highly productive with my time I have to be able to have very specific steps of action to take after reading or watching a video or listening to an audio about info that is the next step in my business growth.

This process has lead to much less overwhelm and very quick gratification, because I can actually put to work the info I just gathered.

So, the process I use to stop being an info junkie is to be clear on my next step of action, find and process info on that next step, and quickly take action on the knowledge I just learned.

QUESTION: What process do you use to be more efficient and cut down on overwhelm in your info gathering?

Like I said before, I would just search for knowledge for knowledge’s sake, like a junkie.I just had to have the next info hit. 


  1. Something that I have been doing is using something called “Instapaper”. This is a browser plug in that has a “read later” feature. So if I get tempted by an interesting article or just something interesting from Twitter I can click on this read later feature and the article gets stored on Instapaper’s web site.

    What is really nice is that when I have scheduled time to spend on learning (or I’m just standing in line) I can open up my phone and read the article which will be striped of any advertising and be formatted for the small screen. Plus, all the things I have bookmarked that week will be arranged in a convenient “Read Later” list.

    Basically, this takes away the temptation of having to read everything immmediately. Even better is that giving myself a few days between seeing the article and then actually going to read it gives me some perspective so I can decide at the future time whether I *really* need to pay attention to the info or not. Usually, I only end up reading 50% of my list.

    • That is a fantastic resource Matt, thanks!

    • Having a place to shuffle stuff for later is a great idea. I’ve had varying systems, but Instapaper sounds really handy.

      You’re dead on about having a period to gain perspective before reading stuff. The vast majority of my stuff I don’t end up reading later either.

      And as far as I can tell, my business has never suffered for it.

    • I use a similar tool called Read It Later, it works about the same way. I also use Google Reader and quickly choose if I want to read it or not based on the source and title (blog titles are important). Those I want to read later, I star, the rest disappear when I mark all as read. I do need to cut back on my subscriptions though.

  2. Our use of time and particular the focus of our attention during that time is becoming ever more important.

    So the system I’ve been using has five simple steps;

    1. Collection – I use Google Reader to keep track of the list of RSS feeds that I’ve developed over time.

    2. Filter One – Every day I skim through the new content and ask the question “Do I need to learn this information within the next month to improve my ability to grow my business?”

    3. Filter Two – If it contains important information that I need to learn, the second filter question is “Will it allow me to take action within the next month?”

    4. Storage – If the two filter questions are satisfied, I store the pages in my browser bookmarks

    5. Learning – Finally, I devote half a day every week to learning the skills I need to develop my business. This involves consuming new information products and studying the pages I’ve collected over the previous week.

  3. Thank you for the “Instapaper” recommendation. That is EXACTLY what I needed!


  4. Hi,

    I too use the GTD system and can highly recommend it. When I first started using the GTD system it took me a while to accept that everything was in my system and that nothing was going to get forgotten about. Now I’m used to it my mind really is as clear as the Dave Allen says it would be. I’m now more focused, productive and generally happier about everything I need to do as well as the stuff I’m not doing.

    The information diet Jeremy describes fits in really well with the GTD system. Simply look at your next actions list for your various projects and that’s all you need to learn about at that point in time.

    Anyway, another excellent post, good stuff.


    • Thanks so much, GTD is certainly a part of my every day life!

    • GTD had a big impact on me as well.

      I think a lot of people get overwhelmed by it since it requires changing quite a few habits.

      I find it important to remind people of a couple things.

      A. You don’t have to adopt everything in GTD. You can just take on the stuff that fits for you.

      B. It’s not all going to happen overnight. I imagine the averages person can take as much as two years to turn the GTD system into fully implemented daily habits.

      • I agree, I’ve implemented enough of GTD to see some real benefits.

        Most of my information is electronic rather than paper I use Excel to keep track projects, plans, next actions, waiting, etc and it works well for me.

        Back to the information diet topic, I do need to implement some systems to restrict the info I consume because I often find myself overwhelmed with information.

        I’ve just finished reading a few books including Influencer and I’m starting one of Nathaniel Brandens Self Esteem books tonight.

        I want to implement and build on everything I’ve learned but there’s not enough hours in the day.

        Jeremys posts have helped a lot though, I guess I need to take action to be more selective about what info I consume and when.

        My information diet is like my food diet, I lack discipline sometimes :)


        • It has been helpful to me to realize that I don’t have to finish every book and I don’t have to read every read every chapter of every book.

          I used to feel like I was missing out if I didn’t go through every book thoroughly.

          But now I have no qualms about skimming or giving up on a book all together.

          Let us know how you like the 6 Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

  5. Practicing this information diet will certainly lead to greater short term efficiency, but you’ve ignored the cost in long term fulfillment.

    Free exploration is necessary to discover new passions, new interests, new categories of knowledge and life endeavor. Blogs by sympathetic minds are an excellent prefiltered resource for this.

    That said, some system of information management, deferral and retrieval is of course necessary.

    I use an emacs main file for my universal capture. Then I copy information as it builds up and sort it into a master outline that represents a map of my mind. I use Brainstorm SW and Freemind for this. I plan to use a database to systematically rate and defer books. For shorter articles, I merely skim and copy or paste a link into my main tape. If even after sorting I still have trouble remembering something, I may turn to Supermemo.

    As for GTD, I find a single org-mode tactical agenda page that contains only headlines, no body text, works best. Context is stored in the outline, which also tracks more qualitative high-level stuff like life objective and major projects. MS Project forms an intermediate step between the outline and the agenda task page.


    • Long term fulfillment is not lost if you do a business like we suggest, which is to design a business around your passions and interests.

      Thanks for the insights as to how you handle your info!

      • My point was you are missing NEW opportunities for long term fulfillment, by excising free exploration in the name of efficiency.

        If all of your information consumption is tied to an immediate ROI, as you advocate, then you will only continue to explore within your narrow current field of interest and business activity.

        Broad and free exploration is the best way to discover new passions and interests:

        • If you know your Definite Major Purpose and your Fulfillment Factors I doubt that would happen.

          No reason to always be searching for new passions and interest when you already know the things that bring you fantastic fulfillment and happiness. I guess if your top things STOP bringing you joy, you could search for new passions, but that hasn’t happened to me yet.

          Finding those things in the first place is something we have discusses several times and we go into in the Academy.

  6. “No reason to always be searching for new passions and interest”

    I guess that’s our fundamental disagreement. I never want to stop searching and being open to quality random inputs.

    • If you don’t focus, at least from time to time, then how can you grow in any of the passions you have found?! That is what I want to do, gain proficiency in the passions I have chosen, not be a jack of all trades, master of none. I tried that route and never found fulfillment.

  7. I didn’t say that you pursue all those inputs, only that you remain open. The proper strategy is to keep a large budget of free time so that you’re able to pursue in depth that which inspires you. You can achieve this by Pareto paring of your current workload.

    At the same time, keep a diverse, broad, comfort-zone stretching, and yes random stream of external inputs coming in, to provoke new passions and interests. Otherwise you risk becoming stuck at a local maximum.

    • That doesn’t really make sense, but thanks for sharing.

      • To make it very simple:
        Newspapers and general magazines = bad. Unfiltered, low quality, untargeted info.
        Favorite bloggers = good. Filtered, likely to match, may expose you to new subjects of interest.
        “Vagabonding” style travel = good. Personalized exposure to the new.
        Accepting unusual book recommendations from friends and admired figures = good…

        etc etc

        Whereas if you judge all information consumption by its ROI for your current projects, you don’t value exposure to the new.

        • Joseph,

          I get what you are saying and I agree. I think the target for Sterling’s post is the beginner. In that phase, everything is new and potentially inspiring to the point that many get overwhelmed or distracted.

          At some point, you do need to set time aside to allow for new input. But I would counsel most beginners not to worry about that until they have reached a certain “steady state” in their business.

          I definitely set aside time to let my mind wander free on the Internet or explore new ideas. But I am very deliberate about the purpose of that time.

  8. Thanks Jay.

    It’s particularly ironic that this post cites Tim Ferriss as the inspiration for the low information diet and promotes specialization, since Tim’s written a post titled “The Top 5 Reasons To Be a Jack of All Trades.”

    • I mentioned the book, which doesn’t say waste your time reading everything under the sun and become a jack of all trades. The book talks about using very focused time to work then take mini-retirements multiple times a year. It got me to think differently about work and retirement.

      I didn’t say Tim himself and in all of his writing was the inspiration to my info diet.

    • I don’t think the purpose of this post was to promote specialization, but rather deliberate focus.

  9. Jay,

    I agree, the promotion of specialization came later in the comments:

    “not be a jack of all trades, master of none. I tried that route and never found fulfillment.”

    Ferriss directly attacks the “jack of all trades, master of none” idea in the previously linked post.

    While true the post was not included in the book, it does suggest that Sterling misunderstood or is misapplying to some degree what Ferriss meant by a low information diet.

    I think Ferriss meant a low total quantity of information consumed, and completely eliminating low-quality information, and practising just in time rather than just in case information consumption. But to continue to explore new information horizons.

    This is different than requiring all info consumption to pass a current projects ROI hurdle.

  10. Hey guys – Long time listener to the podcast. This topic was so timely for me.

    How do you suggest you filter down the information lines I’m already tapped into? I feel like such an addict sometimes! I like get all nervous to just hit unsubscribe in my google reader. Anyway, any thoughts on how to break the ice with the initial culling of feeds would be appreciated.

    P.S. Since I know you guys are big Paleo guys you should check out our site… I’ve been Paleo for almost 4 years. Lost 33 pounds and a bunch of other good stuff. Seems like the LBP guys are on the Primal wagon too. Anyway… thanks for all you do. Cheers!