Just in Time Information

just in time information
I am staring at two chrome windows open with more than 50 tabs each and it’s taking the toll on my computer.
 
This is part of my daily routine of keeping up with the internet marketing world.
 
Not long ago I undertook the glorious task of cleaning Pocket. I have been using the app for about 4 years and I had more than 4.000 articles saved on it. That means I saved an average of 3 articles per day.
 
Let that sink in for a moment.
 
Although I read more than 100 articles a day – both for pleasure and work – there are a handful that are truly remarkable content.
 
Those are the articles I want to keep finding and saving for later, not just any article.
 
And then it dawned on me:
I have been consuming information the wrong way.
How did I realize this?
 
On the first batch of bookmark cleaning, I deleted all book, app and podcast recommendations. I didn’t even open the article.
 
The only exceptions?
 
Recommendations from people I personally admire and want to know what they are listening, watching, and reading. In other words: people like Noah Kagan, Bill Gates, Nat Eliason, etc. made the cut.
 
I ended up with 9 article (from almost 700).
 
In other words: 98.7% of what I saved wasn’t needed.
 
Why?
 
Because when I want to find a new book to read I do one of two things:
  1. Ask other people what book they recommend. Here’s a ‘life hack’ question you can use: what book have you gifted someone?
  2. I Google for a few minutes and make a decision
Notice that I don’t ask other people what they are reading when I have ten books in my pipeline.
 
Why? Well, because I haven’t finished the ones I have to read and if I don’t write it down I will probably forget.
The Internet has made it easier than possible to store top ten list and such. This is due to the fact that the digital storage is almost infinite.
 
But your brain isn’t.
 
And all this ‘fog’ is cluttering your mind and impeding you to find what you really want.
 
Let me rephrase that: you don’t need it.
 
If I want a new book to read and don’t have someone to ask for a recommendation, I will actively search the Internet.
 
I only look for that specific information when I need it: the concept of “Just in Time Information”.
 
The more I cleaned my links from the past the more I realized the amount of digital trash I had accumulated.
 
Never-mind the stuff that was outdated because Google updated their algorithm.
 
I am talking about stuff that I would never need to read again or use in any way.
 
At some point, I took a step back and asked the obvious question: how did I end up here?
 
Or in more general terms: why do I have 4.000 links saved?
 
To answer that question I needed to take a step back. I needed to revise the way I got to those articles and how I consume information.

Where’s the Root?

just in time information

Pocket is not the root of the problem: it’s a tool that helps a process, not the system itself.
 
To answer that question I need to have a look at the system.
 
As I said I read about 100 articles per day. These come from a variety of sources, such as:
  • Email Newsletters: the biggest one, as I get around 200-300 emails per week from various subscriptions. Roughly 80% are internet marketing newsletters. 15% are in productivity and time management. 5% is miscellaneous.
  • RSS Feeds: I use Feedly to combine all the RSS feeds I want to follow. Then, I spend some time per day reviewing it; only click and read if the subject interests me
  • Forums & Aggregators: I read a lot on Internet Marketing Forums (hint: I work at one) and other aggregators, such as Inbound.org, Growth Hackers, and Hacker News
  • Coworkers/Friends Shares: by email or Slack/Messenger/WhatsApp/Hangouts (seriously, why do we need 4 of these?); these amount to 50 a week, tops
  • Links Within Content: a big one, since when I am done reading an article I have already 5-10 new ones open from links
  • Social Media: very rarely I browse Facebook or Twitter; might open a few links from there; not more than 10 per week
I don’t read any kind of news whatsoever. They are bad for your health.
 
This reading amounts to nothing: only 2% of it matters, as I saw from the Pocket experience.
 
Once I also tried to read a book a week and did it for several weeks.
 
Then I stopped doing it. It wasn’t doing me any good and I was not getting anything from those books.
 
I wasn’t learning anything because I didn’t need to learn or I wasn’t ready to learn.
 
I was reading books to follow someone else’s checklist or top ten.
 
Nowadays I only read books about subjects that I am actively learning. This means that my internet search of books are more narrow on topics and what I want to learn.
 
I won’t read about top ten lists or the best books of all time about sales. Instead, I search for the best persuasion psychology book.
The same concept should be applied online: if you are not actively searching for it, don’t read it.
 
There are few exceptions to this rule:
 
  • Bloggers that don’t create a lot of content but when they do it’s awesome (think Brian Dean from Backlinko)
  • Inspiration email from someone you admire
  • Newsletters that you can learn from by studying them, rather than the content itself. For example: copywriting or design
  • Curated newsletters with the best resources on the web
If someone doesn’t make the curated newsletter then there’s a good chance the content was not the best.
 
I know what you are thinking: you might miss a great article…
 
The good news is this: you can’t miss what you can’t see!
 
Unsubscribing newsletters gives your brain space to read. Plus, you’ll spend less time clicking and setting up filters.
 
Besides: if you get 5 emails a week from the same newsletter, you don’t need it.
Not a lot of people can create that amount of information or deliver massive value on a day to day basis. If they have that much to say, their content probably won’t be top notch.
 
That’s why I try to create a new piece every 1-2 weeks and make it the last article you need to read on the subject. I strive for the ultimate guide, the definitive article, the final version.
 
Here’s how I did my newsletter”cleanse”:
 
All my newsletters used to go into a folder on Gmail so that I can decide when to read it.
 
To decide which ones to keep first I deleted all my filters and watched them inundate my inbox.
 
A newsletter that I enjoy reading daily is the one from Seth Godin. Not all of the emails are great, but I have been reading it for years and love it.
 
For those, I set up the filter again as I wanted to keep them.
 
Then I let a few days go by and see which ones were more frequent, how many people were emailing me 2-3 times a week. I unsubscribed almost all of them.
 
This simple process meant that I cut my email newsletters by more than 80%. Now I can focus my attention on the good ones.
 
From time to time I subscribe to new newsletters and won’t set up a filter for a few weeks until I decide if I want to keep them. If I do, I will apply a filter – or ditch them all together and unsubscribe.
 
I repeated the same process with Feedly, deleting anything that was not top notch. Having less feeds meant that there aren’t so many updates so I now check it once or twice per week instead of daily.
 
For forums and aggregators, I switched to weekly digest newsletters. A curated email with all the top posts from these sources does the trick better.
 
The rest was noise.
 
As for social media, I deleted all the apps, forcing me to open chrome to check them. Adding a simple layer of friction drastically reduces the habit of checking them.
 
Another simple hack was logging out of social media every time I was done with it. This means that I need to log in every single time and sometimes I can’t be bothered to do it, especially on my phone. A simple hack of adding another friction point.
 
By optimizing the system I was able to cut my reading by about 90%.
 
Focus your attention on the best content on the internet and study what you are reading by taking notes.
 
Will I miss great content by using this new system?
 
Definitely.
 
But here’s the good news:
 
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Hi, I'm Dan.

I share ideas on productivity every Monday in my newsletter.

 

Strategies, tips, and hacks to work smarter in a short email.

19k productivity geeks read it. I’d love you to join.

Love your stuff

The only newsletter I subscribe to that I actually look forward to

I read your newsletter every week