Reclaiming Your Mind: Creating an Information Diet

There's been a lot of areas of my life that I've been 'auditing' and attempting to tweak the habits that have intentionally or accidentally fallen into place. One of these is my information diet: how I find, consume, and process information.

I've been tracking my time spent on reading/time on the internet and I'm not liking the trend. I've felt more addicted to information this year and I want to eliminate that feeling. Revamping my information intake is one way I'm going to do that.

It's worth thinking about why it's worth spending time consuming information, how I consume information, and how I want to change my information consumption.

Categories

  1. Stories. I've been almost exclusively consuming non-fiction for the last decade and rarely read any non-fiction. At the suggestion of my ever-wise wife and the promptings of a great podcast on story I've reprioritized non-fiction as something worth spending time on. Great stories can change our perspective on our life and increase our creative thinking.
  2. Curiosity & Exploration. Investing in discovering new and interesting ideas has always paid off for me. For me, this generally looks like browsing community sites like hacker news, reading a random newsletter, of following interesting people on Twitter. Learning about random, interesting topics has always been really enjoyable for me—it sparks creativity (and joy) and is useful later
  3. Work. Learning specific to a work-related problem.
  4. Entertainment & Social. Twitter, Facebook, news, etc. When you look back at your time spent here you always feel like it was a waste. I've been convinced that keeping up with news is largely a waste of time (you'll hear anything worth knowing about through friends), and time spend communicating with friends over social is better spent with friends in person. This doesn't mean that there isn't a place for this category, but for me it means I need to bias towards eliminating any time spent on this category.
  5. Infrequent Personal-ish Updates. There's a group of organizations or people I follow that I want to keep tabs on, but don't send emails often. A friend running a non-profit, bands announcing a new album, etc.
  6. Deals/Promotions.
  7. Transaction/Service Emails.

Mediums

  • Podcasts.
  • Books
  • Blogs.
  • Community News. Hacker News, Lobsters, Reddit, Product Hunt.
  • News Sites. Google News, Bloomberg, TechCrunch, etc.
  • Social. Twitter, FaceBook.
  • Movies. NetFlix, Amazon Prime, YouTube.
  • Email.
  • Personal communication. Texts, voicemails, etc.

Thoughts on Consumption.

  • Continually improve the system. Set aside time every month to quickly audit what I'm consuming and what tools I'm using.
  • Make consumption a choice rather than a reaction. Right now, I randomly visit Hacker News or see an article come through my email. Instead I want to centralize information in one category into a single place that I can go.
  • Optimize for pull vs push consumption. A great example here is email newsletters. They are push, not pull, and are often messy to read and pile up in my inbox. I want to separate "conversations with people" over "updates from companies/interesting news".
  • Categorizing information is critical. Email newsletters can't be categorized easily. I want to put feeds into separate buckets that I can prioritize and triage separately.
  • I should use RSS again. Way back when I read everything via NetNewsWire. Email newsletters took over seemingly overnight and I forgot that RSS existed. Most sites I care about still support RSS (even if it's not advertised explicitly).
  • Use a RSS Reader. Specifically, one supported by paid subscriptions. Free is great, but most free things (without a huge market) die or have negative externalities over time. I don't want to have to mess with this part of my toolkit much and deal with a killed product. Paid subscriptions mean it's a real business that will continue to improve over time.
  • Limit consumption. I want to enforce a limit on the numbers of things I'm consuming. I wonder if there is a way to automatically reset the read count of various feeds so it doesn't look like there are too many articles to read when I use a reader.
  • Prefer books over articles. For most business/technology problems, blogs and Q&A sites are the main source of data, but work aside, books are generally higher-quality information compared to blogs. The time it took someone to create the content is a good indicator of the quality. Books > Blogs > Twitter. (this gets a bit tricky with low-cost kindle books: skip these).
  • Optimize for highest impact & quality information at the beginning of the day. This means reading books and long-form articles at the beginning of the day while my mind is clear, instead of consuming blogs, tweets, texts, etc.
  • Treat books like a blog archive. I really like this concept, can't remember where I first heard it. Reading books from cover to cover doesn't make a ton of sense, although it's definitely how I'm trained to read books. Skimming through a chapter (or skipping it entirely) if you find it boring or too verbose shouldn't feel 'wrong'. If the writer can't keep your attention, that's their fault. Additionally, books are generally longer than they need to be in order to hit page quotas.
  • Don't switch contexts. If you are reading a book, don't stop and read a blog article. Cultivating sustained laser-focus attention on a single thing is critically important. I've found this to be more challenging as the years go by, and it's something I need to be even more intentional about.
  • Focus on managing written internet media. I don't over-consume podcasts or books. I struggle most with interesting, distracting news sources like Hacker News or

What I'm going to change

  • Limit number of news feeds to 30. I suspect this number will change as I continue to slowly improve how I'm processing information, but this is a good start.
  • Convert email newsletters to RSS. Most newsletters (like Ruby Weekly) have an RSS feed. For those that don't, FeedBin has a service to convert email newsletters into a feed, and I imagine there are standalone services that will do this for you automatically.
  • Mass-unsubscribe from email newsletters. I've been using unroll.me for years (I don't love the privacy component, but it's a useful tool). It looks like their unsubscribe option will actually click through the unsubscribe links for me. I should go through my daily Unroll.me summary and remove newsletters I'm not interested in, and convert the others into a feed.
  • Setup two aliases email+updates@gmail.com and email+promotions@gmail.com. Forward all updates to FeedBin and auto-archive. Auto-archive & tag all promotions.
  • Subscribe to weekly summaries on community news site.
  • Mass unfollow everyone on Twitter, and limit the people I follow to 50.
  • Update my website blocking strategy, including blocking of all news & social sites. More on this in a separate post.
  • Stop using Apple Podcasts. I find it hard to keep things organized and Apple seems to randomly reverse the listing of certain podcasts. I should trim which Podcasts I subscribe to and find another Podcast application.
  • Categories: engineering, tech
  • Review all gmail filters
  • Review and trim all YouTube subscriptions.
  • Review all Twitter app connections
  • Review any compromised passwords via 1Password

After a bunch of investigation, I settled on using FeedBin.

  • https://reederapp.com/mac/#faq doesn't look like it is updated often
  • https://github.com/mausba/rssheap went open source and hasn't been touched in over a year
  • https://github.com/getstream/winds podcast and RSS reader, open-source, commercially supported and recently updated.
  • https://www.inoreader.com. Standalone paid product, has an API, doesn't look too complex. 64 feeds for free. Free and paid tiers
  • Feedly.com is the most popular, but looks to be overdone.
  • http://newsblur.com. Standalone paid product. Not updated frequently. Doesn't look like a great design. Free and paid tiers. I found this reader most commonly referenced by HN and Lobsters.
  • https://readkitapp.com ties into various services to create a great reading experience.
  • https://www.goldenhillsoftware.com/unread/ another macos reader.
  • https://yoleoreader.com web-based reader with a low-cost paid subscription.
  • https://feedbin.com well-designed feed reader. Supports podcasts and receiving email newsletters via a special email address. Also has a Twitter reader as well. Bootstrapped business. Also open source, very cool. https://github.com/feedbin/feedbin
  • https://github.com/ViennaRSS/vienna-rss Pete Cooper is involved in this one. Open source. Looks like a zombie product.
  • https://www.nooshub.com new reader from HN with some fancy "AI" grouping.
  • https://ranchero.com/netnewswire/
  • https://apps.apple.com/app/leaf/id576338668 Leaf. Looks dead. Hasn't been updated in two years.

Other interesting finds:

  • https://superfeedr.com RSS feed API
  • https://throttlehq.com
  • https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20167143 and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19909102