Hello, I’m Nela and I’m an information addict.
I’ve been one ever since I remember – always with my nose in a book, thirsty for knowledge. I’d read all the textbooks before the school year even started. I’d read novels in a single afternoon, and quickly ran out of books to read in our tiny small town school library.
All my childhood photos are either me holding a book, or playing with a cat. This one in particular features both a book and a cat.
Nela and her trusty sidekick circa 1989
When I first got access to the internet, it was like a rainstorm in Sahara – access to more content than I could ever read. Blogs, tutorials, ebooks, podcasts, videos, e-courses... And I wanted to consume them all.
I now have hundreds of gigabytes of various material on my computer and phone, and some of that I never read or watched. But many of the things I did read (which is still an impressive amount) I never used in my life, art or business. I read a book and file it away as “useful information”, and never do a thing with it.
Information addiction is my second biggest block to growing my business
(What’s the first one, you ask? Self-doubt.)
The reason why I classify this as a serious business block is because information addiction has these unpleasant consequences:
- Consuming information is a huge time suck.
- You don’t take action, because you feel like you always need to learn more.
- Reading conflicting advice from different sources can cause choice paralysis.
The result of all of this is: you don’t do anything.
You’re stuck in the same place for months and years, even though you may feel like you’re making progress, because you’ve been accumulating so much information through books, courses, workshops, blogs etc.
But information is not knowledge.
Information is just information. Knowledge comes from testing something and experiencing the results. You can’t know something for sure if you haven’t tried it. Before implementing it, all the supposed “knowledge” we have is just an assumption that may be wrong.
Progress doesn’t come from information, but implementation.
Progress comes from the unsexy part of taking a shovel in your hands (or a pen, or a keyboard, or a paintbrush) and doing the work. And oh, how hard is that!
So much psychological junk (also called Resistance) comes out when you’re seriously considering taking action.
“I don’t know how to do that well enough.”
“This is going to suck, and people will hate it.”
“What if it doesn’t work? I’ll have wasted time and money.”
“People will think I’m insane. And maybe they’re right.”
Hoarding information is safe – it doesn’t require you to change anything.
You just collect and consume, collect and consume, and never have to worry about looking like a total fool. While the positive side of this is that you, indeed, never make a spectacle of yourself, the negative side of this is that you never make any kind of spectacle.
If you see this as a problem in your own life, you may be wondering how you can deal with that. Here are some things that helped me, and I hope they’ll give you some ideas to try out.
Techniques for dealing with information addiction
Information addiction is a habit, and it’s not something you can just stop doing tomorrow. It’s hard to stop it when you’ve been doing it for a long time, so set a reasonable goal for yourself. Just one tiny step at a time is still better than what you’re doing now. Celebrate the tiny steps, and don’t get discouraged if it takes you a while to get where you want.
1. Create a system for preserving the information you know
This is the first, and the most crucial step.
Your brain will suddenly go into panic mode if you just say one day, “No more information”. You’ll start to worry that you don’t know enough, and won’t have any resources to help you out with your decisions, and that’s just not true.
I wrote more about this and gave some suggestions how you can create those systems in my previous post You already know enough – Tips to stop forgetting the important stuff.
Once you start witnessing how much useful information you already possess, this will calm you down and also provide a starting point for your implementation step.
2. List the things you wish to learn that are directly related to your goal
What is your main goal? It can be a life goal, or a business goal, or an artistic goal, but you have to know what it is.
Only if you know your goal, will you be able to discern whether some piece of information is useful and relevant for your situation.
Once you’re clear on your goal, try to imagine a path to your goal, and list all the unknowns on this path. If you don’t know how a certain step toward your goal could be broken down further, write that – you need to talk to someone who has done it, or read a resource about this particular step so you can chart your path more precisely.
If you need to learn how to use a piece of equipment or software, list that – but with the express intention to only learn the features that are relevant to your goal. Specify the features you need to learn that will enable you to complete the steps you need.
3. Rank the things you wish to learn by importance
Some of the things you listed are crucial, while some would be “nice to know”. There’s no point in wasting time on “nice to know” things that will become important 3 months down the line, if there’s something essential you need to learn to get started on your goal now.
Add grades from 1 to 10 next to your list items, with 10 being the most pressing priority. And no, not all of them can be a 10. Pick one that is most important for you to move forward to the next step.
4. Set aside a few hours every week to seek out targeted information
The number of hours depends on how much time you have. If you work full time in your business, you can dedicate 3-4 hours a week, but if you’re pursuing a business or a passion project on the side of your day job, an hour is enough.
Put those time slots in your calendar, and whenever you find yourself tempted to go read another resource, file it away for your designated learning time.
Since I’m terrible at self-control, I use apps and add-ons for blocking certain websites during certain days and hours (Firefox add-on LeechBlock, and an Android app FocusON).
5. Schedule implementation
Make a new rule: no learning new things if I still haven’t implemented what I’ve learned last week.
It’s really simple, there are only two possible answers:
This is where having strong willpower will come handy, but willpower is not my favorite thing to rely on, so I use a different bag of tricks.
One thing that can make this decision easier is to think of what tangible results the implementation will bring, as opposed to no tangible results of just reading more stuff. Working is more difficult than reading, so your brain will try to fight you on this one (which is the reason why I block certain websites and apps).
Once you’ve implemented the new information, go back to number 4 and repeat the last two steps, until you’ve crossed all the things off your “to learn” list. Once you’re done, evaluate where you are on your path to the goal and make a new list.
Sometimes, learning something new opens up new questions – this is to be expected, and whenever it happens, just add it to your list. Don’t make exceptions and dive immediately into learning this new thing you’ve discovered, because that will ruin the integrity of your list, and you’ll take it less seriously in the future. Just add it to the list – it’s not that hard.
To recap, here are the 5 steps to cure information addiction:
- Create a system for preserving and reviewing the information you know.
- List the things you wish to learn that are directly related to your goal.
- Rank the things you wish to learn by importance.
- Set aside time every week to seek out targeted information.
- Schedule implementation: no learning new things until you’ve acted on information you’ve already gathered.
Option two: hard reset
If you’re in so deep that changing habits in a small way proves too difficult, you may want to try a “detox” period of 7, 10, or even 30 days of no new information whatsoever. This challenege forces you to deal with all the unpleasant feelings that arise for the first few days, and then re-building your daily routine based on how you really want to live and work, without distractions. You can fill your schedule with useful activities, and later when you reintroduce media into your life, there will be fewer pockets of time to do it in.
I’ve written about the benefits and results of my regular digital detoxes in several articles:
- Mind Detox Retreat – A Cure For Burnout And Overload
- Creative Clarity Retreat – 31 days without social media
- Creativity in digital isolation
Some folks may find this too extreme, but I’m a big fan of unplugging, and have been doing it regularly for years. Try and see if it helps!
Are you an information hoarder?
I hope this was a useful read, and if you have any other tips, I’d love it if you shared them in the comments.
How have you dealt with this issue? Let me know!