Some times, the simplest things are those we most often forget – such as the power of voluntarily bludgeoning our minds and bodies with information and practice until something becomes second nature. Yes, practice does indeed make perfect.
The magic number
The world is full of experts, and they all have something in common. They’ve been repeating. Remove every other variable from the equation of becoming an expert, and with the exception of some highly uncommon – well, exceptions, every single human being who is an expert at something has been repeating it. Relentlessly so, in fact, until it has been hammered into their minds and bodies for a sufficient periode of time to make it second nature.
Malcom Gladwell argues in his book ‘Outliers’ that across various fields of expertise, there is one signifying trait: the best practitioners in the world have spent 10,000 hours to reach a threshold where they join the global elite. Who knows for certain- it might be more, or it might be less depending on the talent of the practitioner and the nature of what is being practiced.
Regardless, it’s an interesting excercise to put that number into perspective. If we divide 10,000 hours by, say, 280 workdays and again by 9 hours, we get a time span of approximately four years. Assuming someone is capable – and not to forget, sufficiently passionate – of practicing his or her chosen subject of interest as part of their professional career, that means you could potentially compete on a global level after just four years of working.
Taking the number for what it is – a simplified statistical derivative stemming from a very complex field of study – one can hardly blame anyone for leaping at the notion of simply working in the same position for on average four years will mean you’re an expert. On a global level, at that. Still, most of us will realize that there’s more to it than that, yet the fact remains that there are some things we have been practicing at for inordinate amounts of time.
What exactly have you been repeating?
Chances are that if you’ve been repeating something for a very long time, you have either had to do so or have very strongly wanted to do so, as humans generally tend to quietly dispose of all recurring yet non-vital tasks for the benefit of having plain, simple fun instead. Just ask yourself when you last found yourself whistling while doing chores – which, incidentally, is a rather ripe opportunity for a learning experience about perspective – and you’ll understand what I’m referring to.
Me? I’ve played the accordion for more hours than I like to admit (particularly when around members of the opposite sex). Same goes for the cornet. And watching TV, writing professionally, sleeping (at which I am, judging by spousal remarks, a global champion), reviewing consumer electronics, doing chores and surfing the Internet.
Of these things, more than one represent a personal interest for which I’ve been sufficiently passionate to make me repeat doing it for untold hours. And, although I don’t plan on becoming the world’s best accordion player any time soon, I can still recognize the value of the investment I have made in something which may or may not be convertible on a financial scale – yet gives me great personal satisfaction.
What do you want to be repeating?
Perhaps the most important question of all, however, is to ask yourself what you think you would be passionate about to repeat for 10,000 hours – or more. Now there’s a challenge.Read More
As much as I try to minimize my daily information intake, I realized that too rarely do I sum up the total consumption as a means to persuade myself to keep on cutting. That means it’s time for the third degree, and everyone is invited. Ready?
How many web sites do you return to daily?
Two – they’re news web sites which don’t fit easily into my RSS regime. I’d eliminate them if I could, but trying to fit them into RSS would – and besides, I cannot find much wrong with
How often do you check these web sites?
Two to three times a day, depending on how much I have to do and if there’s a particular development that I would like to keep closer track of – such as the riots in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak, which are taking place as of this writing.
How much e-mail do you get in a day? Personal and professional?
On average, approximately 35. There’s a heavy overweight of work e-mail, and I process it religiously a few times a day having disabled all notifications and applied rules which ensures all mail is marked read as soon as it arrives. I don’t want the distraction of something “new” waiting for me.
How many e-mail newsletters are you subscribed to?
Three, one of which is from NutshellMail, a service which aggregates my social feeds so that I don’t have to remember manually checking them (and prevent me from the temptations of idle browsing).
How many information sources do you subscribe to via RSS, and how often do you check your queue?
Eighteen sources, and two to three times a day. I need to find a service which delivers summaries twice a day at configurable times, similar to what NutshellMail does. Suggestions are welcome.
How many RSS posts do you receive in a given day?
Approximately 120. It’s too much, even though I only read perhaps one tenth; many things get set aside on a ‘Read later’ list. I’ll be satisfied when I’m down to 60 or less per day, although I suspect it will take a little while to wane me off staying up to date on matters of leisurely or peripheral interest.
Have you been reading a book today?
Not as of this writing, no. I’m attempting to read what I have come to regard as my nemesis; a fantasy book in German, which I purchased in order to improve my proficiency in written German. My progress, if we can call it that, is a little bit more slow-going than usual – although I favour the frequent pauses as opportunities for contemplation.
How often do you read magazines?
I don’t, in fact – with so much high quality content being published online lately, magazines no longer win on quality and I’ve never been fond of their price and portability aspects. I always have my little Android friend with me, which has access to enough reading materials to keep me occupied for days if need be.
How much TV – old school or online – do you watch per day?
This is an area where I excel; I rarely watch TV, and if I do it’ll be a maximum of 40 minutes (or 80 if I splurge) as that’s the time it takes to watch a couple of episodes of whichever show has new episodes available.
How much mail (yes, the analog kind) do you get per day?
That’ll be about 6-7 items comprised advertisements and the few bills that aren’t as yet transferable to my online banking solution. I zip through them to see if there’s anything interesting, then throw them away to keep me from going back and zipping through them again to if I’m taking a moment’s pause.
From what I can estimate, I most likely spend three to four hours per day consuming and processing information of various kinds – as opposed to producing value or spending time recharging mental batteries. This is negligible compared to my past career as an Editor-in-Chief, yet still more than I would like considering the total sum of my current commitments.
I cannot help but ponder what it would be like to live in the 1800s for a month with access only to perhaps a thousandth of this.
So, that’s me. What about you?Read More
Information. Omnipotent and omnipresent, the human species’ unquenchable thirst for it has propelled us beyond all limits of imagination – yet, it harbours an oft-overlooked potential for procrastination.
The perfect excuse
From the very moment we are bourne, the predominant task of the incomparable parallell computer which rests atop our spines is fixed: to execute a continuous acquisition of as much information as possible in order to increase the accuracy of our computed solutions for current and future situations where survival may depend upon the amount of knowledge available.
In essence, we are walking sponges – which works well in an environment where information is limited by nature, but less so when faced with the informational equivalent of a firehose.
Nowadays, our addiction to information may very well be causing us as much harm as benefit, in the sense that we spend time consuming and processing it, which impairs our ability to progress beyond our current state and towards our long-term goals.
Have you noticed how easy it is to slip into a little bit of light news reading, or perhaps extend the TV session a little longer than you intended, or even suddenly realize that it’s one o’clock in the morning and you really didn’t intend to be on Facebook that long – yet for some reason, you did?
If there ever was a true form of addiction, information would be it, and little evidence is required beyond the above mentioned. It is hammered into our DNA in such a way that it is crucial to our survival and as such serves as the perfect excuse for our behaviour – yet it is with information as it is with food: gluttony always comes with precarious side effects, which may not be immediately noticeable.
It’s all about the channels
How many hours would you say you spend every day consuming information of some sort? And, more importantly, how much of it holds true value to you? The problem we face today is the ease with which information can be obtained, which leads us to become distracted – and in many cases, enamored, with it. Regardless of type, information then consumes our time, attention and energy in such a manner as to leave these resources depleted for when we have meaningful things to do.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” -Herbert Simon
Let’s take a quick look at how many ways we can have our information delivered, shall we? First up: audio. You can talk to people, but that’s rarely a source for information unless you work as a journalist. A radio, on the other hand, can be left on all day in one’s car and office – and contrary to popular belief, it is by no means just “background noise”. For some people, even music could be counted in.
Then we have the written word, which comes in the shape of e-mails, text messages, instant messages and various other delivery mechanisms such as project management systems. Plus, there’s books, newspapers, magazines and even old-fashioned letters. In the multimedia department, we find television, movies and, of course, the Internet. News sites. YouTube. Facebook. Flickr. Twitter. MySpace. LinkedIn. And the list just keeps going on.
From time to time when news are slow, I see the media tossing the term Internet addiction around. This is rubbish. Nonsense. Poppycock. Hooey. People are not addicted to the Internet, they are addicted to information. The Internet is simply a delivery system – a series of tubes, if you will.
Activities with benefits
Chances are you already spend quite some time lingering aimlessly in the various channels of information delivery. Are you certain that the time spent consuming information is valuable enough to sacrifice spending quality time with children or a spouse, making room for some quietude, handling a few chores, cooking a high-class meal, having fun with a hobby or perhaps getting some excercise?
Here’s a little challenge for you: stand in front of a mirror, and tell yourself out loud that checking Facebook for the third time today is better for you than some light excercise. Oh, and good luck with that.
What is gained, then, from a reducing the amount of information which you consume? Key to the answer is the fact that information itself consumes time, energy and attention. Consider, if you will, the following example: if you are on your feet all day long, how ready will you be for a bit of soccer or a quick jog when the evening comes? Think about it.
You gain time, energy and attention, which can suddenly be applied with greater force and improved focus upon the activities which matter to you.
Beware, however, of indiscriminate reduction; information is vital to us, and a sufficient consumption will allow us to discover a myriad possibilities which could otherwise have been unknowns. It’s all about the balance.Read More
Do you find yourself constantly thinking about work at home – or vice versa? If you experience this sort of situational overlap, it most likely stems from an attempt to utilize your brain as a storage facility – which it most certainly is not.
Your brain, the world’s most amazing factory
As capable as our brains may be, they simply weren’t built to handle the amounts of information presented to us by a culture in which it has become a source of abundance and omnipresence. Certainly, we are capable of storing a staggering amount of information (and some people seem to have a special knack for it) if one considers our heritage as tree-dwelling primates, but the true purpose of the brain is to serve as a factory.
And not just any factory.
Arguably the most complicated machinery on the planet, our brain excels at gathering and combining information in an attempt to wrest meaning; to solve problems; and to reason; comprehend abstract problems; communicate; and so much more. This is what we are good at. Memorizing a phone book; not so much.
Still, without a simple, readily accessible and trustworthy system for storing and recalling information when required, our brains will attempt to retain information it considers valuable. As a person who possesses absolutely no credentials in the field of biology, I nonetheless venture that this seemingly innate reflex arose at a time where survival depended on the ability to recall crucial information – from a very scarce selection of it.
The simple solution
Processing information consumes attention; storing it consumes energy and focus. Borrowing from David Allen’s analogy of open loops, anything which hasn’t been resolved will occupy part of what is often perceived as unlimited storage space – although the truth is far from it. The amount of information you attempt to store internally correlates not only directly to your stress levels, but also the frequency with which you will experience situational overlaps.
If you’re having trouble sleeping at night due to not being able to stop thinking about certain pressing matters, this is a highly likely culprit.
But if something is amiss in such a highly delicate machinery as the brain, how can you possibly fix it? The answer is easy: write things down. This is one of the main reasons as to why David Allen‘s well-known concept of Getting Things Done has such a broad appeal; it places a great emphasis on allowing the placement of information of all sorts in a trusted, categorized system which preferably also should be easy accessible to its owner.
Lastly; a dirty little secret
Guess what? You don’t need to purchase an advanced productivity system to improve upon your status quo. A simple notebook and a pen will suffice, as switching information from internal to external storage will automatically engage the brain’s wondrous capability of creating order out of chaos. This, subsequently, will cause a system to emerge in the proper time and fashion – at which point you will be ready to make the switch from reactive to proactive information management.Read More