So 2012 is nearly upon us, and a lot of people -- people like Gina Trapani, Tim O'Reilly, and Ev Williams -- are planning a New Year's resolution of an Information Diet. Here are some tips for how you can get started:
1. Keep a Journal
Start monitoring what it is you're taking in, and timing yourself. Just like keeping a food journal is helpful in starting a diet, keeping a media journal is helpful with a food diet. Get yourself a notebook and start measuring what it is you're taking in offline. When you're in front of a computer, use a tool like RescueTime.com to monitor your intake. Just knowing what and how much you're consuming will give you some idea of what to do next. The important thing with an information diet isn't consuming too much or too little. It's knowing what you're consuming and making smart decisions based on that data.
2. Cut the Cord
Trying to go on an information diet while you've got that super advanced cable package is like trying to go on a food diet while having a milkshake tap installed in your kitchen. You'll likely need to keep your data package, but do you really need all those television channels with great options like Hulu, Netflix and iTunes out there? It's also economical. Even if you buy every episode of a show you want to watch off of iTunes: If your cable bill is $150/mo, and a season pass to your favorite show on iTunes is $50, it's likely you won't buy three season passes a month. Plus, with cable companies constantly being rated some of the worst companies in America, it's nice to not pay them so much money.
But the real reason to cut the cord? Cable TV is too passive of an experience. Make television shows something you have to go get, not something that comes to you. Transform your viewing experience from a passive one to an active one.
3. Set up your system
Set your system up right with these tools and settings to get going:
Mentioned in the book, RescueTime helps track what you're working on, keeping a diligent count of what's happening on your computer. While it cannot track and account for your every moment, for those that are spending most of their time in front of a computer, RescueTime is the best tool. There's a free version available, and if you want to "go pro" it costs between $6-$9/mo. Be warned -- what you'll be doing is sending every "Window Title" (the words in the titles of the windows for every application you use) to the RescueTime servers -- while the data is secure, for those that are very concerned about their privacy, you may want to seek other options (see the Time Tracking Tools below for other options). RescueTime is cross platform -- available for both Windows and OS X.
AdBlock Plus is available for both the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox web browsers, as well as Safari. It's a simple browser extention that blocks advertisements on major websites. If you so desire, you can always turn the back on -- but at least you're opting in to view advertisements, rather than having them thrown at you all the time. If you're an Internet Explorer user by choice, I strongly suggest you switch to Chrome or Firefox. If you're not an Internet Explorer user by choice, and are instead compelled to use Internet Explorer, then it's highly unlikely you'll be able to install IE Plugins -- but here's an ad blocker for IE.
The Red Notification on all Google pages, if you're a Google+ user, is a recipe for disaster. Every websearch becomes an opportunity to get sucked in to Google's social network. While Google gives you the ability to control what notifications get sent to you via email, the ability to control what's in that red box is not BlockPlus is a Google Chrome extension to simply remove that Red Box.
Sanebox is like Google's Priority Inbox on steroids. Sanebox filters your emails and learns from your reading habits to make sure that only the emails you need to see right now make it to your inbox. It takes the emails that don't need your immediate attention and puts them into a folder called "SaneLater" -- and close to the end of every day, it'll email you a digest of those email messages so that you can give them your attention. It's compatible with GMail, Yahoo, AOL, Outlook and IMAP email providers.
Let's take Facebook out of our email inboxes. While SaneBox should filter much of that stuff out, Facebook still makes your inbox a distraction trap. Visit Facebook's Notification Settings and uncheck the box next to "Send me important updates and summary emails instead of individual notification email." Then, visit each section of notifications on Facebook, and uncheck every box.
Same with Twitter. Uncheck every box on this page. Make Twitter something you have to check, not something that's pushed at you.
Desktop Notification Settions
Turn off all desktop notifications on your computer. If you're an Outlook user, turn its desktop alerts off. If you're an OS X User, and have somehow ended up with Growl installed on your computer, turn off all notifications.
Whichever browser you use, set your homepage URL to "about:blank." This will make it so that whenever your browser starts, it starts with a blank page, not a lure to your most visited sites. I also add about:blank to my bookmarks bar in my browser so that I can quickly "turn off" the web from my screen while keeping the a browser open.
If you're a gmail user, go ahead and hide your unread counts. It might take you a while to get used to not seeing these numbers beckon for you, but they're hurting your productivity more than helping it. Enable the Hide Unread Counts setting in Gmail's Settings. It's in the Labs section about halfway down the page.
4. Schedule time to produce
Making stuff is just as important to a healthy information diet as consuming stuff. It's only through the production of new ideas that you can get clarity on them. So right now, open up your calendar application, and make yourself an appointment to produce something. Set a goal to write maybe 1,000 words a week over the course of three hours a week, about something you care about. If you want to share it, share it. If you don't, then don't. But what's important is that you produce something once a week.
Don't like writing? There are plenty of other forms of self expression. The important part is that you make stuff, and that you make time to make it. Treat your make time like a doctor's appointment. It's something you have to show up for, and you can't miss without significant penalty.
5. Grab the book
Finally, take a look at my book, The Information Diet in Hardcover(Out Jan. 18) or Kindle(Available now). A healthy information diet isn't just about tools to use on your computer, it's about habits and healthy choices. The book goes into detail about how and why we seek out the information we consume, and what we can do to change our habits to make them healthier. And it's a book you can judge by its cover.
This is a helpful start -- but not the end. An information diet is about quality, not just quantity