Effectively Consuming Valuable Content
Brett Hardin - January 31, 2013
Consuming information in a repeatable and sustainable way is hard. I've used different systems for consuming information and each system failed. I was too concerned I would miss something important.
But then, I realized this: If something is important, it's impossible to miss it. There are too many news sources for you to miss important news. Friends and family will discuss important local and world events while colleagues will keep you informed to industry specific news. The only way to not stay informed is by living in a cave without an internet connection. If this is true for you, how are you reading this?
Workflow For Consumption
You have a voice in your head that loves consuming information. We get a release of dopamine anytime we learn in a new way. Quitting that dopamine addiction and concentration on a repeatable method for consuming valuable content isn't easy. Focusing on the signal and ignoring noise is a massive effort. But, it's rewarding.
To be effective at consuming you need a sustainable and repeatable workflow. You need to build a habit around consuming valuable information while disregarding poor quality content.
For the past 3 months I've developed this method for consuming information in an effective way and thought you could benefit from it. If you find a way to improve the method, please let me know in the comments.
It's important to outline the goals before explaining the method.
Standard Look and Feel
All content consumed should be visually similar. Looking at content formatted different ways is distracting. The content, not the design, should be the focus. The content should still look pretty and be easily read, but, it needs to normalized.
If the content isn't visually the same, you waste brain cycles on looking at the design of the site. You only have a certain amount of willpower each day and say saving it for valuable work is important. It's similar to why some people wear the same clothes every day. Don't waste brain cycles.
Focus on the Valuable and Ignore the Rest
Focus on reading quality content while ignoring poor content. To be an effective consumer you need to take curating seriously.
Read the headline. If it sounds interesting save it for later reading. If it doesn't sound interesting move on. This curation shouldn't take longer than 2 seconds for each article. If you have 150 unread items, curation shouldn't take longer than 5 minutes.
Choose how often you want to curate. I curate daily, but you could also curate weekly or monthly.
Note: Quickly curating content takes willpower.
Consuming the content should only happen once a day. Time allocated consumption allows you to completely focus on absorption without being distracted. The time you choose for consuming content can be any time you choose. I prefer the morning before anyone else gets up.
Note: Delaying consumption takes willpower.
Research Isn't Consumption
Researching a solution to a current problem isn't considered consuming content. As long as you remain focused on solving the problem, and not getting bogged down, you can research solutions to problems outside this method.
If you find yourself falling into a rabbit hole while researching, stop. You have stated to consume content not do research. It takes a few months before you become conscious of doing this. Keep this in mind when researching.
Only Consume Content Offline
You can blame Tim Berners Lee for creating distractions on the Internet. Although Reddit and 4Chan contributed, Tim thought links should go to other interesting content.
The same dopamine release from learning happens when you click a button linking to more potentially good content. Clicking the button releases a food pellet.
If you're like me, you have a browser with 100 tabs open. These 100 items are never consumed, but, you don't want to close them because of the fear of loss.
By consuming content offline there is no way to get the reward. You are forced to concentrate only on the content.
The Method and Tools
Google Reader, Feedly, and Pocket are tools to achieve these goals.
All news sources you think are important should be in Google Reader. When you come across a site with valuable content, add the content feed (RSS or Atom) to Google Reader. Don't bother categorizing the feed. You aren't going to use Google Reader to consume the content.
Google Reader is going to be our repository of valuable content. You are creating a central firehose for consumption. If you don't have a site in Google Reader; you don't think it's important.
Adding a feed to Google Reader doesn't mean it will always be important. Prune Google Reader. If you found someone's site helpful once, but now it isn't being valuable, remove it.
You already chose how often you curate, whether that's daily, weekly, or monthly. I use Feedly for all my curation. I don't use Feedly to consume information.
I prefer Feedly over the starring items in Google Reader because Feedly integrates with Pocket - the tool I use for consumption. Additionally, Feedly syncs with Google Reader. So, wether I use Google Reader or Feedly to curate the article is marked as read.
Remember, with curation all you are doing is identifying valuable content. You aren't reading it. You aren't allowed to read content until you finish the curation step.
The whole purpose of Feedly is to dump interesting content into Pocket for later consumption. Feedly integrates easily with Pocket.
I've used other apps for reading later, including Instapaper and Evernote, however, Pocket solves three of my main goals. Pocket satisfies the "look and feel", "delayed consumption", and "reading offline" goals.
Pocket also has a [chrome extension] so if I find myself going down a rabbit hole while researching I can mark the article and move on. This helps me get past the 100 tabs problem.
With Pocket, I additionally get the benefit of being able to read articles on the Web, Phone, Tablet, or in a Native App.
This is the most efficient way I've found to consume content. Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement.
Thanks to David Kuchar for introducing me to Pocket.
Image credit: Lotus Carroll