Though we are continuously exposed to an overwhelmingly large cluster of chaotic information. When you’ve read all in front of you. You still want more. So you relentlessly pursue more. More articles. More books. More podcasts. More short snippets of text.
The Internet was supposed to empower us with the world’s knowledge, but instead, it makes us feel unease. Overwhelmed. Tired even because we can’t keep up with what’s being produced.
What we previously labeled as information overload is now becoming something more sickening: Information exhaustion.
An emotional state of inadequacy where we start to blame ourselves for our inability to conquer the ever-expanding pile of unfinished tasks and reading materials.
But should one tie himself to his virtual bookshelf and read until collapse?
Is this the secret ingredient for exceptional success?
The answers will vary depending on who you ask.
Ask a content creator, and he’ll instruct you to devote half of your waking hours reading “best of” articles and tweets.
Ask someone who is not interested in selling you something, and he will tell you that not more information is what it takes to change your life for the better. But how you think.
It’s time to acknowledge that we can’t read everything – nor do we have to.
What we need is a new way of thinking about the information that’s so widely available.
In this piece, to navigate you in the crowded world of big data. I’m offering useful thinking strategies that will help you thrive in the information exhaustion age.
Why You Need Strategies When Consuming Information?
The commercialization of information has produced too many unhappy souls.
Not because there is nothing to do while bored. But because there is too much to do.
We need to shift our attention away from trying to conquer the world’s infinitive supply of information towards taming our uncontrollable urge for wanting more.
Realizing that it’s not access to additional ideas that you need. It’s more time spent with a handful of ideas.
This is not how we usually think, though.
There’s a masochistic pride in consuming information online.
“How many articles and Twitter threads can I finish in one sitting?” is a number we continuously try to increase.
But when you get to the end of a particularly busy day. Can you recall the facts from your online rodeo?
I bet not.
You get a buzzing mind and you reach a new level of exhaustion but all of this excludes actually remembering something particular from the reading materials.
Thinking About What You Consume, Not Only Consuming It
By far the simplest, yet most overlooked strategy to change your life for the better is no other than thinking. Yep, the good old process of generating thoughts.
And yet, relying on your own brain seems too basic these days.
After all, there is this massive library of information just a click away. Not knowing something is no longer a valid argument. You’re supposed to google stuff when you can’t find the answer in your own internal database.
Considering the fact that we are surrounded by books and intelligent algorithms that serve us the exact content given the situations. Shouldn’t we easily overcome mediocrity and ensure that our bank accounts are always full?
Everyone these days should not be stupid, right?
Apparently, that’s not enough.
We are not so much smarter than our ancestors who didn’t have such rich access to information.
As stated, it’s not that important how much information you have access to. But what you do with that information and how does this information eventually molds your thinking patterns.
Sadly, we are less and less using our grey matter. Not that we’ve fully stopped thinking. But we’ve stopped thinking about how and what we consume.
While scanning the world through our phones, we use the following repertoire to engage with what’s in front of us:
- Toss it.
- Keep it.
- Use it.
And these are not equally distributed. It more looks something like this:
Let’s look at them one by one:
- Toss it: You are tossing information all day long without even realizing it. By scrolling online and searching for something exciting to hit your face while your thumb gently transitions from post to post. You are doing social media tossing. Your eyes get fixated on a picture for a millisecond. If you are not immediately delighted, you throw it away.
- Keep it: You are keeping information whenever a post or some sort of article breaks through the venue of mediocrity and brings a fresh perspective about something you are interested in.
- Use it: While everything we consume online is with the purpose to be used. Using information is not that common. All the stars need to align in the right order. We need to be in the mood. Wear the right clothes. To have enough free time. To ensure that no one will interrupt us. To be well fed. To walk the dog. And then, if all of these are checked. Maybe. Just maybe. We can try what was mentioned in the article we’ve read.
Besides the three above. I believe that there is one extra component that is much more important – allowing the information that touched your senses, to change the way you think.
It’s one thing to read a productivity book and use a particular strategy to manage your tasks faster. It’s a whole other game when a book changes the way you think about getting things done.
The former will help you once. The latter serves you for life.
But before we start letting the knowledge we find online to change our thinking. We need to do something else first.
To fight information overload, you first need to change how you think about your process of consuming information.
Our default state is passive.
We just open our device and intake whatever the holy algorithm gives us. Never applying critical thinking. Never questioning whether what’s currently in front of our eyes helpful for our minds.
With the thinking strategies below, I want to help you approach information differently.
Start thinking about what you are consuming instead of simply consuming everything.
Thinking Strategies For The Age of Information Exhaustion:
Learning Strategy: What Do You Want To Learn?
In the information age where you are literally bombarded with content. People – myself included – often don’t think about what they consume.
We just stare.
We turn on the TV and watch the first show that seems like it will make us forget our problems. We read the newsletter that just hit our inbox. We let YouTube decide what we should watch next.
Unsurprisingly, we don’t progress in the field we want to progress. We never master a field. We simply waste time.
Thinking about what we want to consume is intentionally removed by the frictionless platforms we use daily.
Or in other words, you are not in charge of what you consume. You are a mere observer of what is played to you.
Don’t believe me?
OK, think about the last time you’ve used the search functionality on Instagram, for example.
Yes, there is a search option.
I doubt that many people use it. They just want to be distracted by the short snippets created by online superstars.
A simple twist to regain part of your control when you set foot in the online world is deciding what you want to do, watch, in advance.
You’ve just opened on YouTube? Stop for a moment and decide what you want to learn. Don’t click on the latest video. Think, first about what type of content can help you move the needle forward.
Applying Strategy: How You Can Apply The New Information?
If binging videos all day was the only thing people needed to improve their financial status, we’ll all be rich and famous.
Unconstrained supply of clever Twitter threads won’t magically make you a millionaire. Applying what you’ve just read is what truly matters.
But who has the time, right?
Besides, it’s way easier to read more sound advice online than practicing what the online avatars you’re so passionately following are suggesting.
Reading about how you can lift weights properly convinces you that you are gaining muscle but that’s just camouflage.
It’s way better to read one page and apply the information in an area of your life than submerging into the sea of best practices and using none of them.
Sounds too simple, I know.
But that’s all it takes.
Pausing the video. Rewinding the podcast. Taking notes of what you’ve just read somewhere online.
Then, take the time to consider what you can do with this. How you can apply it to your life.
Purpose Strategy: Always Think About Your Purpose
What’s the purpose of a football team?
To win the game.
What’s the purpose of social media?
Lock you inside an unescapable maze of user-generated content that makes you think that it’s good for you while it’s actually robbing your time and attention.
What’s your purpose?
Considering what’s your grand goal every time you think about surfing online will move you away from isolated bits of bite-sized content that only wastes your time, into contextual, high signal, trustworthy knowledge that is tailored to your ultimate purpose.
But it’s not that simple.
Fear of boredom and fear of social isolation play a role, too.
The reason we diverge our attention to trendy posts that only deteriorate our minds is quite simple:
We are afraid!
We worry that if we suddenly stop discussing the latest news with our online friends we’ll be forgotten. We fear our own thoughts when we are alone and that’s why we quickly find something that will distract us.
But instead of trying to find ways to escape our naked thoughts. When alone and confused about what to do next, we can remind ourselves what’s our purpose.
Do you want to spend all of your free time discussing the latest news about a famous musician or do you want to become a musician yourself?
Toolbox Strategy: What Extra Tool Do You Want In Your Toolbox?
Consider yourself a toolbox. What’s missing inside that will help you have a complete package of skills?
When you reach this mystical place where you’ve completed all of your tasks. When the tedious feeling of having nothing to do slowly creeps and makes your life unbearable. When everything seems pointless. Consider what extra skill will help you in your journey.
Hunger for exciting new stuff is a powerful motivator. But it can also focus you on the wrong things.
It feels better to read the latest book published by an internet-famous author. But is this new book aligned with your goals?
A lot of times it makes sense to start exploring a subject that is not related to your current skillset.
Oftentimes, though, it’s better to explore adjacent skills so you can become a well-versed scholar in one specific area.
Long-Term Strategy: Think Really Long Term
The rate digital media works is quite fast. There is no way to run out of things to check. There is always something new to watch.
Of course, our desire to be in the loop of what’s happening in the world is understandable.
We impatiently refresh our browsers to see what’s the latest update about the latest disaster in the world.
All of this, convinces us that we can somehow influence the situation in the world.
We strongly believe that we need to see what’s going on. Otherwise, we might miss out on some important updates.
But is this really the case?
Consuming news and trends feels nice. There is a degree of novelty. And new stuff always feels nice – the so-called shiny object syndrome.
But how is knowing the latest facts helping you in your life?
Sure, the global dramas affect our lives – most recently Covid.
But how does scavenging endlessly for more updates about such events will make your life better?
It’s actually the opposite. The more you find. The worst you will feel.
In the century of information exhaustion, it’s much more important to focus on things that don’t age. Content, ideas, and frameworks that can serve you for a decade.
Instead of consuming information about how the current economy is fastly evaporating your money or how there are more cases of the deadly virus – insights that usually expire in less than 24 hours. Expose yourself to information that will make you resilient to changes – building good healthy habits and staying consistent in your actions.
Some Closing Thoughts
Our biological brains are fundamentally limited.
We can’t process everything that’s trying to disturb our attention.
The strange thing is that we try to.
Our appetite for novelty is making us relentlessly roam the online avenues.
We try to be everywhere. To read everything. To connect with everybody.
But we end up nowhere.
Overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted.
Taming your hunger for more and applying various types of thinking and asking critical thinking questions, all before tapping on your screen. Will help you navigate better in the internet rabbit holes.
And not only.
Thinking about what you’re consuming is probably the simplest, but often overlooked way to improve the quality of your life.
Investing a little time thinking while others just stare at screens will hugely impact your world.
Now when you know all of this, how do you plan to read next?
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.