Content Overload: How’s Your Digital Diet?
In his 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma
, author Michael Pollan asks “what should we have for dinner?” Ironically for most Americans, this seemingly straightforward question is anything but. Advances in the preservation and distribution of food afford us the ability to choose from an enormous variety of foods at any time and practically anywhere – typically within a ten minute drive from our home or work. “Dinner” is available in pretty much every conceivable combination of flavor, cost, and nutritional value. And just because you can
have something, doesn’t mean you should. So what exactly should
we eat? This “option overload” is the omnivore’s dilemma, and for many modern Americans, having too much to choose from results in choosing too much – leaving them over served, over stuffed, and out of balance.
Another area of my life where I experience option overload is the amount and variety of digital content available to me 24/7/365. The ever-expanding media-verse provides almost unlimited options – any topic, any format, any time. If not careful, I can end up overwhelmed by this onslaught of content. As with food, over-consumption can throw one’s life out of balance, causing family, friends, God, work, fitness, and hobbies to be neglected.
So what’s a conscientious content consumer to do? How do we solve “the mediavore’s dilemma?” How much time should we spend on content, and how do we ensure that time is maximized?
Since there are so many obvious parallels between food consumption and content consumption, I’ve designed a personal strategy to address the dilemma and avoid becoming a “content glutton”. Hopefully you will find it useful as well.
Watch Your Portions
My approach is to spend roughly the same amount of time per day filtering, consuming, and sharing content as I do eating. Two to three longer sessions (meals) per day, augmented by “vitamins”, several brief “content snacks”, and occasionally some “dessert”.
- Meals – My “meals” take the form of podcasts or audible.com audiobooks during my daily commute (30 minutes each weekday morning and evening). Using your commute this way is a great productivity hack, and the minutes add up – last year I “read” over 30 audiobooks and dozens of podcasts during my daily commute. Other “mealtimes” also involve multitasking – listening to audio content while mowing the lawn, cleaning house, washing the car, doing dishes, exercising, etc.
- Snacks – Taking at least two fifteen minute breaks during the workday is proven to boost productivity. I use these breaks (one mid-morning, one mid-afternoon) to scan the menu (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, Flipboard (which merged with Zite in 2015) , Google+, e-mail newsletters, etc) for interesting content on subjects I love. If I find something that looks savory, I save it to Pocket (which is awesome) to read during my half-hour “bedtime snack” session.
- Vitamins – For ten minutes twice a day I consume “hard news”. Like vitamins and supplements, often the news doesn’t taste particularly good, but it’s beneficial for me to know what’s going on in the world. I use two services (Yahoo! Digest and News Republic) that “push” the top headlines to me through mobile apps and/or e-mail at 8am and 6pm each day. There are certainly many more options than these for hard news, but I like Yahoo! Digest because of its concise articles spanning a wide variety of topics, and I like News Republic because it provides a nice portion of world news. On the weekends, I “supplement” this with a dose of USA Today, which has a fabulous (and free) iPad app.
- Dessert – When my schedule allows, I like to settle in with some more complex content:
- The Texture app (formerly Next Issue) has revolutionized magazine content (think spotify for periodicals). It’s instantaneous, portable, sharable. With unlimited access to over 140 magazines for only $10 per month, it’s also a great value for those that love magazine content.
- I really love Blinkist, which provides cliff notes for bestselling non-fiction books (currently over 400 titles). These “blinks” capture the key points of each book really well, boiling hundreds of pages of content down to approximately one page per chapter. The premium subscription allows for exporting of these summaries to the Kindle app as well as syncing highlights directly to Evernote.
- Learnist is a crowd-sourced and organized collection of curated web, text and video content and Learnboards™ with sequenced lessons and resources on tens-of-thousands of topics. Think “the wiki-school”.
- Books and e-books – while I prefer the Kindle App platform for the depth of titles available and the ubiquity of platform options, there are many great e-book readers out there. And there’s always “real” books (remember those?). One of my “go-to” books is the Bible. The ESV Study Bible app is fantastic, and offers great highlighting, bookmarking and annotation features.
Vary your plate
Eating a variety of foods ensures exposure to the full range of nutrients and antioxidants, and also reduces the risk of developing food boredom. Mixing up your food types increases the likelihood you’ll make healthy choices. Likewise, varying the subject matter (flavors) and media types (textures) of your content keeps you more emotionally healthy and intellectually well-rounded. For me, this means:
- Alternating between fiction, non-fiction, and business books
- Blogs, articles, and podcasts on topics I love: science, technology, DIY, wellness, management, and personal effectiveness
- News items related to current events, sports, entertainment, and human interest stories
Nutrition is the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth. In the context of content, this means consuming items curated by trusted sources – no empty calories! If you start reading (or listening to) something and you can tell it isn’t at least 4-star, just hit delete. Time is one of the most valuable assets in your portfolio. Personal growth requires continuous learning. Life’s too short and there’s far too much great content out there (like this blog post!) to waste even one sentence.
Pay it Forward
Studies show that having one or more “diet buddies
” boosts the likelihood of maintaining a healthy eating routine. Whether sharing recipes, commiserating, or providing encouragement, a network of calorie-counting cohorts makes for better and more sustainable results. Similarly, your professional and social networks can be huge sources of quality content. Having trusted content curators working to seek out and share quality content affords a significant advantage in your content flow process.
Also, just as sharing a meal results in better nutrition
, manners, and health habits, being part of a content-sharing network enhances learning, develops curation skills, and builds your personal brand. When I come across “5 Star” content, I share it with my network. Using Buffer
(which is awesome), I can schedule content to post daily in my Twitter
, and Google+
channels. By “buffering” two or three items most weeknights, I maintain a queue of at least three weeks worth of content. That way, if I get especially busy and am unable to curate new articles for a week or two, I still maintain a consistent presence as a trusted source for quality digital content. A custom IFTTT Recipe forwards each day’s post to my e-mail, so that I can share directly with people I know will have an interest, as well as post select items to Facebook
, my office network.
I often save items that may have future reference value to Evernote
, my “auxillary brain”. At last count, my Evernote housed over 600 articles, all tagged and searchable.
Goldilocks Meets Burger King: Finding Your Balance
What’s the right balance for achieving a “Goldilocks” (not too much, not too little) level of content with “Burger King” (have it your way) flavor and delivery? Well that’s the mediavore’s dilemma, isn’t it? Just like each body and palate is unique, your content diet will look different than mine. The key is to be mindful and have a strategy, so as to avoid being “over served”.
And remember…don’t eat too much salad, or you won’t have room for dessert!