When I first started reading Bit Literacy, I’ll admit to having low expectations. I don’t know why, but I’m skeptical that anyone can really give advice about information management without really experiencing it exactly the way I do.
Lately (and by lately, I mean over the last five years — the last two overwhelmingly so), I have been so inundated with streams of data that it’s affected my overall productivity. I think it’s even contributed to what my doctor says is Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. When he suggested prescribing a daily pill, I decided it was time for me to get a handle on this. But how? I’ve lost control of the multiple inboxes, social media streams, RSS feeds, oh, and the actual non-digital conversations that are infiltrating my consciousness.
But I suspended my skepticism about the book mostly because it was a free download in iBooks, and what better book to test the new iPad app, right? I hope you see the irony in this.
Some of what author Mark Hurst says makes sense. His description of “busy man” syndrome speaks to a core problem I’ve long struggled with, that busy-ness equates to importance. In effect, we do this to ourselves by not setting boundaries between work and life. Suddenly our identity, our value is what we do, no longer who we are. As we become busier and busier, we adopt a lifestyle that is no longer sustainable.
Hurst, to his credit, doesn’t try to talk you into eliminating the sources of “bits.” Instead, he favors a policy of managing the data, which is to say, act on and erase.
So I adopted one of the strategies he suggests: inbox zero. This means emptying all email inboxes daily, and instead of storing email as your to-do list, use another system to prioritize tasks. Cluttering your inbox just doesn’t work. It’s a psychological thing. I can honestly say I agree with him, and Google has gone a long way in making this work through their task list integration. It’s not perfect, but it allows me to move email to a task list, prioritize, and add to my calendar rather than seeing it pile up in the black hole that was my inbox.
Hurst compares email to Chinese take-out. You can keep in the fridge for a few while, but soon enough, it’s going to get pretty funky. I’ve also started using Voo2Do to manage multiple to-do lists.
Hurst also recommends a “media diet.” You must constantly re-evaluate the information you’re consuming, recognizing that your time is a limited resource. It requires questioning what’s useful to you and getting rid of what’s not. I’ve had to do this. I’m a big fan of tennis, so I subscribed to tons of tennis news feeds. But I never had time to read them, and they would just stack up in my RSS reader, reminding me that I was a loser for getting so behind. Hurst gives you permission to eliminate the stuff you don’t have time for. “The bit-literate user is forever on a media diet and has to be in the habit of saying ‘no’… Every possible source is a ‘no’ unless it’s proven otherwise in a disciplined tryout.”
I’ve been trying some of the tools I’ve learned in Bit Literacy and combining them with similar book that I’ll talk about in a future post, The Now Habit at Work.