What is The Low Information Diet and Where Do I Start?
By CJ McClanahan
In his 2007 breakout book The Four Hour Workweek, Silicon Valley investor and human performance researcher Tim Ferriss described a personal information consumption strategy entitled The Low Information Diet, also known as selective ignorance.
In fact, it’s such a powerful concept that it’s taken the role of an entire category of posts on Ferriss’s personal blog.
While the name may sound like the nutrition habits of 7 year old boys, us professionals understand the low information diet to be a philosophy of limiting one’s exposure to sources of information that have little relevance to you personally causing distraction.
While it can feel good to know what’s going on in the world all the time, unless you work in day trading or politics, very little of what most of us see and hear on a daily basis is useful for achieving our goals.
Contrary to common belief, selective ignorance isn’t the same as becoming out of touch or uninformed. As Ferriss put it, if it was important enough, someone would tell him about it.
By taking steps to filter and limit the noise demanding our finite attention, a low information diet frees up precious mental bandwidth that’s crucial to making meaningful impact toward our goals.
Filter for Relevance
Adopting a low information diet means creating a restrictive filter of the information you consume.
The news isn’t truth, it’s life based on a true story. At the end of the day, the vast majority of media is about getting the most out of advertising dollars.
It’s been estimated that Americans are exposed to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 ads every day. Since this statistics was measured, that frequency has only increased.
A wise man once said “With so much drama in the L-B-C, it's kinda hard being Snoop D-O-double-G.”
Well, you don’t have to be Snoop or live in Long Beach to find drama. Anytime you turn on the TV, radio, or look at your smartphone there is some political scandal, international conflict, special interest group, or advertiser trying to tell you what you should be concerned about or how you should spend your time and money.
The simple truth is that most messages we receive into our brains don’t concern us.
Do you really need to know the score of the game last night or how many militants were thwarted today in Yemen?
Unless you’re a bookie, Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Bobby Axelrod, the answer is “probably not.”
Instead, we should create filters and barriers that inhibit irrelevant information from making its way to us.
Time is our most valuable resource. How we spend our time and where we give our focus is the biggest indicator on the actions we take and the outcomes.
Unless you never leave your cabin deep in the Canadian wilderness, you are going to be exposed to ads, it’s unavoidable. And with cookies tracking every site you visit, ads have become more and more invasive.
Viacom knows this. So does Netflix and Coca-Cola, which begs the question, should we only limit our exposure to news?
The answer is no. On a low information diet, you consider all forms of distracting information. This means news, social media, TV, Netflix, email, radio, etc.
In the office, you may very well already practice keeping your phone on silent and turning off notifications. However, according to recent research that is not the case with email. The average email is responded to in a matter of minutes, though very few require urgent attention.
Instead, give yourself specific time blocks to follow up with emails. Rather than responding to new emails first thing in the morning, set aside a half hour mid-morning and before the end of the day to address whatever you need. In addition, if an email requires a long response, consider giving that person a call instead.
Adopt a Low Information Diet
Despite what it can feel like, you don’t have to be feel helpless. To get started with your low information diet, follow these simple rules: Unsubscribe, Unfollow, Delete.
Take back control of your communication channels. Unsubscribe from any email lists that aren’t serving you.
Managing your inbox is like cleaning your home, if you don’t do it regularly, it quickly becomes one big mess.
If the news and television programming are your guilty pleasure, you may want to cancel your cable, satellite, Netflix subscriptions, etc., altogether.
Once you become connected with someone online, you want to stay connected… but that doesn’t mean you have to be active. If you have extensive network, you probably don’t want to delete your social media accounts altogether. Once you become connected with someone online, you want to stay connected. After all, they say your network is your net worth for a reason. It’s bad etiquette to “unfriend” people, but you probably don’t want to see everything they are doing.
On Facebook, for example, all you need to do is select “unfollow” on a user, page, or group, and you’ll never see their posts again.
Remove apps from your devices (smartphone, tablet, computer) that demand your attention, such as news aggregators and social media. Delete bookmarked websites that you find yourself spending hours upon hours navigating mindlessly.
For online browsing, try out AdBlock Plus. ABP is a Google Chrome extension that prevents ads from displaying on websites you visit. Not only does it keep annoying ads from loading, it helps to prevent malware containing pop-ups from wreaking havoc on your operating system.
In general, if you have no way to apply the information you consume, whether that’s help aid a decision or take an action, you probably don’t need it in your life.
Part of the problem with our high information society is that it tries to connect everybody to everyone around the world. As a result, we feel less connected than at any time in history.
Sure, we may be feel triggered by the thought migrants traveling from Central America, but we pay little mind to the growing problem of homelessness in our own country, let alone the man on the corner with the “anything helps” sign.
A potential result of adopting a low information diet is gaining a greater appreciation for humanity and your local community.
We’re all craving connection on some level, and by playing into the dominant narrative around information consumption, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re making a difference.
That said, there are plenty of ways to help people and causes in our own communities.
We should focus that energy on building connections and making an impact in our own communities. As it is with gunpowder, the closer you are to the source, the greater the impact will be.
By adopting the low information diet approach in our daily lives, we give ourselves the freedom to move closer to our goals and focus on what really matters.