Eva Lantsoght is a PhD Candidate in Structural Engineering at Delft University of Technology and blogs about academia and concrete research on PhD Talk. You can follow her on twitter at @evalantsoght.
The internet contains a wealth of information - we are all aware of that. But this enormous amount of information can make us feel overloaded and overstimulated. Our brains turn jittery, wanting to check the news again, or wondering what's new in our Twitter streams. We become afraid of missing out on information, or addicted to stuffing bits and pieces of random articles into our brains.
Ideally, our information streams deliver us a lot of great contents, and little random side-information that sets us up for some unnecessary surfing or distracts us. We want a lot of signal, and little noise.
If you feel like your digital arteries are getting clogged, then it is more than time for a pre-summer cleanse of your digital information streams: your newsletter subscriptions, blog roll, social media channels, favorite websites and everything else you stuff into your brain.
Below are six steps that you can use to clean-sweep your digital information habits, and help you to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of your information streams:
Step 1: Go cold-turkey
If you have a bad case of infobesitas, drastically cut back on your information channels. Commit to a weekend or week without reading stuff on your regular information streams. Instead, refuel your brain by reading analog books, spend time with friends and family, practice sports and immerse yourself in creative work.
Ideally, you take this cold-turkey approach when you go on a holiday, or when you want to create a thesis-writing retreat for yourself.
Step 2: Reintroduce the essentials
After this period, evaluate what you really missed, and what you *really* feel curious about, and simply discard all the rest. Unsubscribe, delete, unfriend - clean out all those time-sucks and make space for your treasured set of inspiring blogs, tweeps and more. If you're in doubt, throw it out - you can always reconnect at a later point in time should you feel like you want to receive updates again.
Be mindful about every single subscription you keep. Ask yourself what its contribution to your life is, what you are getting out of it, and if it's worth the expensive investment of your time and interest.
Step 3: Introduce an evaluation period
Whenever you subscribe to a newsletter, blog or other information channel, make sure you take some time after 30 days to evaluate this subscription, and decide if it's worth your time and the investment of your interest. You can simply put a reminder in your calendar to evaluate this subscription after a while. On that given day, simply ask yourself how much you are learning from this subscription and if you want to stay informed or not.
Step 4: Limit your time
The best way to get more efficient at soaking up useful information is by knowing that you have a limited amount of time to weed through whatever has piled up in your information channels. You can play the email game to sift through an exploding inbox.
We all know that we should limit our use of internet and e-mail to given time-slots in each day - commit to truly making this change. If you want to focus, put that bleeping, flashing smartphone in a drawer and work on your important tasks. Have a fixed moment during the day to batch-process your information channels. Don't feel obliged to do anything - and delete or unsubscribe to whatever is not of your interest.
Step 5: Consider the internet as a tool
Imagine the internet as a giant drawer full of keyword cards. If you're old enough to remember how libraries worked before their digitization, then use that image as a reference. If you want to know something, if a thought crosses your mind during the day, don't immediately go and look it up online. Jot it down, and leave it for "when you go to the library". Your trip to the library is a daily short slot of time in which you allow yourself to speed-search online for the answers to your questions.
Don't have your information streams open all the time, don't be connected to the internet all the time - you don't have to. You are perfectly able to make the choice of considering the internet as a tool, which you only pull out of your mental drawer whenever your need it.
Step 6: Re-evaluate, and re-evaluate again
Whenever you get an email from a list you are subscribed to, whenever you sift through your blog roll, take a moment to evaluate the value of the information you are getting. Is it worth to remain connected, or time to move on? Schedule a monthly moment for evaluating your digital streams, preferably when you carry out your monthly progress analysis.
How do you deal with the constant stream of information? Share your thoughts in the comments below.