Information Overload

I started today with a simple, albeit lofty goal: cure information overload.  The problem is this: I read too many articles, and the more I read, it seems, the less information I retain. Here is my solution (perhaps "experiment" is more appropriate).

First, let me explain my "readflow"- that is, the way that I consume online articles. The process is as streamlined as possible. Most all of the information I consume is fed to Google Reader, so I don't have to constantly scour the web for items of interest. When I come across an article I'd like to read, I tag it "instapaper", and via this recipe from ifttt, that article is automatically fed to my Instapaper account, which is set up to deliver a compilation of all of my unread articles to my Kindle every Friday morning. It sounds like a lot of work, but once it's set up, the result is remarkably friction-free, and therein lies the bulk of the problem.

It's a remarkable time we live in, having access to so much invaluable information. Want to read the latest article from a professor of philosophy at Berkley? How about catching up on neuroscientists' latest claim of eradicating the concept of free will? Perhaps you want to catch up on NFL news, or find out whether the latest HBO series is worth watching? It's all at your fingertips. Be careful, though- if you're not selective enough, you'll soon be reading so many articles your brain may feel flooded. This is my problem.

Here, I hope, is the solution: I will begin to rate each article I read on a simple scale of one to five, based on how important it is to me that I retain the information contained in each article. If given a one, it's not important enough to spend any more time on. If given a five, I thoroughly enjoyed the text, and would like to retain as much as possible. Here's what I'll do based on my ratings:

  • For a rating of (1), no further action is needed. The text does not intrigue me.
  • For a rating of (2), I'll simply say, out loud, a very brief summary of the article, focusing on the bullet points.
  • For a rating of (3), I will give a slightly in-depth summary (again, this is out loud, to myself). 
  • For a rating of (4), I will "bookmark" this article in my mind, and make it a point to bring it up in conversation (actual, face-to-face conversation) the next time I'm with someone to whom the topic may be interesting. 
  • For a rating of (5), I will star the article in Instapaper, which, via Instapaper's settings, sends the article to my Evernote account). From Evernote, I can write a summary of the article, at the end of the article itself. This way, all of the most important articles (and only the most important articles) are all in Evernote, with a personal summary at the end of each.
Each tactic is designed to increase memory retention based on the importance of the article. Obviously, I'm much more likely to retain information from a text in which I wrote a summary than one in which I simply verbalized the bullet points and moved on.

I'll use this tactic for a month or so, and give an update on how well it works.

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