I have a problem.
I read and watch too many things online. And I'm sure you do too. It's 2020 and we are in the Age of Information Overload. Actually, according to Tiago Forte, we are in the Age of Information Exhaustion.
What does this mean? Basically it means that we have more information to take in now than we ever have before. I'm not just talking about blog posts, news articles, tweets, and tiktoks. This also includes email, contracts, memos, text messages, and hospital electronic medical records (if you're me).
Taking in large volumes of information is the new norm. We're expected to do it and because everyone is doing it, no one questions it. However, it is leading us to feel overwhelmed by all that we have to take in, and, moreover, it is preventing us from creating output and thinking critically about what we are consuming.
In this post, I want to unpack the balance between Inputs and Outputs and why we need to be more deliberate about creating more than we consume. I also want to leave you with some practical systems for how you can do this. Let's get into it.
There is no shortage of content to consume today. News sites are updating us with breaking news every few minutes and social medial companies like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok are trying to capture every moment of our attention by curating addicting and endless feeds.
We know all of this and have heard it time and time again. The important question to ask here is:
Is this bad?
Well, not entirely. There are numerous benefits that come from consuming content online. It's how we stay connected with world events happening each day, discover advocacy movements that drive change forward, and gain knowledge that helps our minds grow. We need consumption.
However, the key (just like most things is life) is moderation. Let me tell you a little secret. Humans are terrible at moderation. Really terrible. We may think we are not and have the willpower to set boundaries for ourselves but we really can't.
It's not our fault. The science shows that our brains enjoy the dopamine hit we get from consuming information. It feels good so we do it - over and over.
The irony of all of this is that we tell ourselves that we are actually learning by consuming. This is so far from the truth. Endless consumption leads to new information at the top of our knowledge funnel, but what we forget is that the bottleneck is us processing this information. We essentially overload the funnel so much that we stop focusing on what is supposed to come out of the other side: understanding and growth.
Growth requires us to process information and spend time thinking about what we have learned. My friend Ammar Mian said it well in his latest newsletter: "you write in order to think"
For me, this thinking and processing is best achieved by creating - taking what I have learned and using it to put something out there that is an original thought based on my inputs. I create by writing but creating can be anything that pushes you to process what you have consumed.
So creating helps you process things. That's cool I guess. But what are other benefits of creating? We know that creating takes way more time than consuming so there better be value that comes out of it, right? Don't worry - there are lots of good reasons that we should create more.
Before I share my own system of managing inputs and outputs, I want to share one that I came across in the Superorganizers newsletter. It is from the co-creator of the newsletter Flow State and it's very simple: document your inputs and outputs as they happen. Seeing things written down is beneficial for two reasons:
I use a similar system but index more on tracking inputs since this is what I'm currently trying to reduce. My tool of choice is Roam Research (of course) where I keep a page called "Consumed" present on every Daily Note. Everything I take in on a given day gets logged and linked to the "Consumed" page. This has helped me decrease the amount of content I'm reading and watching each day because I physically don't want this list to get too long.
I also use a double filtering system for new content. If I find something online that looks interesting as I'm going about my day, I initially save it to Instapaper. However, I also have a second Inbox in Roam where I tag things I really want to read from my Instapaper saves. I use RoamMonkey to generate a daily template each morning in my Daily Note which includes a query showing me what's in my Roam Inbox.
If I have some down time, this is my priority list for information consumption. Since I'm already in Roam to find this list, I'm also primed to take notes on what I'm reading. Win win.
Once I clear my Roam Inbox, I can go back to Instapaper and add more items to it. I find that the added friction of this system forces me to be more thoughtful about what I'm spending my time consuming.
My system for creation right now is primarily this newsletter and Twitter. I've built habits around publishing each week. I recently created a 2020 goal for myself to not miss a week of publishing my newsletter. My best friend is also trying to build a writing habit right now se each week we set deadlines for outlines and drafts. Having this accountability forces me to deliver output. Lastly, since I like pretty dashboards, I made one in Notion to organize my newsletter pipeline. Moving an article through the stages of creation is definitely a dopamine hit.
How do you manage your inputs and outputs? I'd love to learn about your system. Feel free to message me on Twitter if you have thoughts!