Organizing Information Consumption

Inspired by my recent success at organization, I have decided to take things to the next level: organized information consumption.

The first thing that started happening after I had an efficient workspace was that I began to inefficiently work in that workspace. “Good going, Meitar,” I told myself. “You’ve just wasted six hours doing nothing but checking email and reading newsfeeds—again. Sure, you learned about two new IE security vulnerabilities, found out how long it would take to read a terabyte of information, and even mused over the latest USB-powered office warfare, but those projects you’re working on haven’t gotten very far, and what’s really more important to you?”

This little internal chat I had with myself occurred last night, just after I diagnosed myself with a moderate-to-serious case of NADD (Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder) and learned how to identify Repetitive Information Injury (or “RII”). According to the official web site:

NADD sufferers walk a delicate tight rope between effectively consuming large amounts of information and losing themselves in a endless loop of useless, frustrating information acquisition motions.

Such information acquisition motions can take many forms. Chief among them is obsessive email checking, and spending long hours reading news feeds, watching television, or web browsing. Most of the time the information you’re gathering just isn’t helpful, but every once in a while you come across incredibly useful and exciting things. You then remember these “highs” and the next chance you get to check your email or surf the web or read your news feeds, you don’t want to stop until you’ve found that golden tidbit of information that’ll excite you like last time. You become addicted to information.

Hi, my name is Meitar Moscovitz and I’m addicted to information. I suffer from repetitive information injury. I admit I have a problem.

My Information Diet Plan

There, I’ve taken the first step. Now what am I going to do about it? Unfortunately, there’re no existing support groups in my area for NADD sufferers, so the next steps for me are going to involve a series of self-imposed limitations. Here are some ground rules I’m setting for myself:

  • Limit reading email and news feeds to, at most, one hour each morning and one hour before going to bed. This prevents me from waking up, opening NetNewsWire and waiting ’til the sun goes down to start doing something productive. (Yes, it’s happened before, even when I woke up early that day.)
  • Limit email and news reader refreshes to once each hour.
  • No chatting online on IM networks or IRC while working unless the conversation is work-related such as a quick design question or help with a malfunctioning, necessary system component.
  • No non-work related web browsing during working hours. This is harder because my definition of “working hours” is not standard (I’ve been thinking of changing that, too), and thus nine in the evening might well be within working hours for one particular night, while eleven in the morning might not be. So for now I’m calling working hours coding and/or research hours, and I’ll try to keep my web browser pointed to documentation as opposed to web blogs while I’m coding.

So those are my four starting ground rules. While I’m on the subject, no coding for over six hours in one sitting. Despite the seeming productivity boost by coding for seventeen hours at once, in reality I just end up making too many stupid mistakes that could easily have been avoided by taking a half-hour coffee break. In fact, those coffee breaks would be the perfect time for web browsing or reading non-work related news feeds or email, as long as I return to work instead of getting caught in an RII-loop.

Leaner Information Recipes

To help myself cope with this information diet, I’m using a few techniques I’ve picked up from other people and, of all places, good software. For instance:

  • In order to help me prevent RII from email and reading news feeds I’ve already set Mail and NetNewsWire to poll for new items only once an hour (as opposed to their five minute defaults). In the past, this only caused me to hit the refresh button more often so I’ve now removed that button from my toolbar entirely. (I hope I don’t memorize the keyboard shortcut.) I learned this from the fine folks at 43Folders.

    When I’m not focused a new email message is really engaging, but when I’m busy working I can more easily put off looking at that email until I’ve gotten some actual work done.

  • I will heretofor disconnect or “Appear Offline” from my IM and chat networks while working. No more setting my status to merely “away” or “busy”—people still IM me and I’m always too tempted to respond. Yes, I really can wait to hear about your latest date (even though I may not want to). No worries, however, since I’ll be sure to sign on for a half hour when I take my coffee breaks.

  • As I’m sure most of you are aware, Apple’s iPod has an “On-The-Go Playlist” feature which lets you create a playlist while you’re on the go (clever name, huh?) such as on the subway or at your favorite café. That’s pretty spiffy, so I’m going to apply this same principle to help combat RII.

    I bought a very cheap (three dollar) plastic one inch ring binder and labeled it my “On-The-Go Reading” binder. Now, whenever I come across an article or blog entry I feel I just have to read (how can I not try to absorb everything in the world?) I’ll hit the print button on my browser and stick it in my On-The-Go reading binder. Then, when I have nothing better to do on the subway or while eating breakfast or while I’m waiting for someone to show up to a meeting or any time when I’m not doing something and could be doing something, that’s when I’ll open my On-The-Go reading binder and read all my saved, probably-useless-but-still-interesting articles.

    By shunting the consumption of information away from my immediate working head-space, I hope to remain more focused on the actual task at hand while I work. An added benefit is that I’ll make better use of my time when I’m not working. It’ll also hopefully save my eyes from unnecessary hours staring at the computer screen, which can’t be all too healthy anyway. Thanks are due to my mother for teaching me that low-tech still rocks.

This is all part of my continuing effort to get and stay organized and, more importantly, productive. There’s nothing else that makes me quite so happy as being productive, and there’s nothing else that makes me quite so upset as feeling like I’ve wasted my time. The main lesson I’m learning from all of this effort is that before I can do anything productive, whether it be in cyberspace or not, I have to organize meatspace first.

6 replies on “Organizing Information Consumption”

  1. Funny, Inspirational and… Brilliant. Yet I know of some die hard NADD sufferers and hard core procrastinators, who, by some crazy turn of events, or by sheer ingenuity, turned their plight into a goldmine just by writing about it. Luckily, for them, there are millions, give or take twelve, who are eager to read this kind of material…
    Always fascinated,
    Love you, Aba

  2. I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’m aware that programs like that exist, but right now I’m getting along just fine with iCal, Address Book, and any scriptlets I write for myself, but I’m always interested to learn about these other programs and hear how people use them. Hopefully once I get meatspace organized and I’m making some money, I’ll start looking into ways of organizing the bits and bytes on my computer. :)

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