Reducing Information Noise

For me to say that we are overrun with too much information today would be an over-simplification, and one of the largest understatements of the century. While I love the ease of access to new information, and the ability to instantly find an answer to just about any question, the information superhighway can be an endless road.

My life right now is extraorindarily busy. I mean really busy! I feel guilty sleeping between the hours of 2:00 – 5:00 am. I literally have more stuff I want to do right now than I have time to do it in.

Despite this busy schedule, I check my RSS news reader twice daily, Twitter every couple of hours, Facebook once a day, and Hacker News once a day. I followed about 165 people on Twitter, and subscribed to 98 different websites via RSS. This, of course, doesn’t count all the email subscriptions I subscribe to, which is harder to quantify.

With all these information sources, I was gathering a list of about 10 – 15 articles a day on Instapaper to read. I had to do something, and I really had no time left to read anything for enjoyment (comic books, novels, etc.). I finally came up with a wonderful solution:

Stop it! Just stop it!

Nothing more to it then that. Cut the RSS feeds down to 25. Get the Twitter followers under 100, and focus on the news that only really matters to you and what you need to do to push yourself and/or your business forward.

What Stays/What Goes

When deciding that I had to make some drastic changes across the board, I came up with some simple base criteria for how to refine my information sources to be a source of truly important information.

RSS Subscriptions

1. Does this subscription include more then 10 posts per day?

If the answer to this is yes, it goes, period! Sites that post that much a day are mostly mainstream outfits looking for pageviews, and most articles on them are junk. If and when they do put out a “must read” article, you will hear about it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or any of the other half dozen niche social networks you might belong to.

2. Did you read the last article they posted?

If yes, go to step four. If no, see step 3.

3. If you didn’t read the last article, did you read any of the last five?

If no, unsubscribe!

4. Does this website really add value to your day?

This can be a subjective and tricky question. Each RSS feed you subscribe to will take time out of your day to process it. The website may do a great job of enticing you to read the article with amazing headlines, only to have mediocre content that leaves you unfulfilled. Be brutally honest with yourself when deciding if it really adds value to your life, personal or professional.

5. Do you have 25 subscriptions or less?

If yes, you’re done. If no, repeat steps 1 through 4.

Twitter Followers

1. Does this person post more then 10 things a day?

That may not seem like much, but it adds up quick! Let me show you some simple math:

  • The average tweet is 60 characters long.
  • The average word has 5 characters in it.
  • Doing the math, the average tweet has (60 / 5) = 12 words in it.

So if you follow someone who tweets 10 times a day, that equals 120 words a day. Multiply that by your 100 people you follow, and your reading 12000 words a day!

2. Is this person connected with my life?

If the person is connected with you closely, you should keep them. This could be a co-worker you work closely with, a relative, or your wife/husband.
Disclaimer: If you unfollow your wife, you’re a dick! 

3. Are you following this person only because they followed you?

This isn’t Facebook. You don’t have to both be friends in order for them to get your updates. Get rid of them if that’s the only reason you’re following them.

4. Do they add value?

Just like the RSS subscriptions, you have to get value. Value on Twitter doesn’t have to mean linking to “must read” articles or posting breaking news. People on Twitter are valuable if they make you laugh, teach you something, answer your questions, etc. Find the value in your followers.

5. Do you follow less then 100 people?

No, go through steps 1 – 4 again.

Other Distractions (like Facebook)

Because I can’t cover every social network and distracting information area, I’m going to leave you with a few suggestions.

  • Don’t feel like you have to remains friends with someone on a social network. Just because you went to high school with me, doesn’t give you the right to clutter up my news feed. I don’t really care that you got a new tattoo on your leg, or that you just checked in to a Starbucks. I might have cared in High School, not now.
  • If you invite me to play Farmville, I will unfriend you. Period.
  • Looking at other people’s articles on how to do things, or about the latest technologies, will only put their personal biases in you. So be careful whose word and advice you decide to take verbatim (including mine).
  • Always remember, if you unfriend/unfollow your wife, you’re a dick!

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