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Incitation: Within the framework of FOMO, many people are unable to reconcile their desire for information with the bombarding weight that the process of consumption can oftentimes have on them. How can we get the best-of-both-worlds? Can we manage content rather than allowing content to manage us?
Quiddity: Content can consume too much of our most precious resource: time. For those who find value in some of the things they consume, but are looking to reign in and frame their content portfolio, there is a simple process to go from information overload to information that doesn’t take up your time but works for you. The following eight-step process is the basis of this article: 1) Consider your best medium, 2) Make a “content matrix”, 3) Define your goals, 4) Understand the spiral of content consumption, 5) Rely on your network for suggestions, 6) Be okay with paying for quality information, 7) Don’t let the content consume you, and 8) Re-evaluate the value often.
If you can read past this introductory paragraph, then congratulations, you’re among the very few who still have an attention-span
… and for all of you who are both still with me and were keen enough to notice that I omitted a “.” at the end of the statement above, please put your back-patting hand to better use; I had every intent of using a “.” at the end. However, that would have been my 141st character. Unacceptable!
Obviously I’m joking about the “Twitter-ceiling”, but in truth, I have found my own attention-span has greatly diminished in the past few years. And to be honest, how can I really fault anyone for not reading past the opening sentence? I can’t. That’s the entire reason why I created the concept of quiddity and incitation in all of the entries to Walden Ideas.
I’m not the only one, though. From the influx of the information age, comes serious concerns about personal content management that many are referring to as FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”). From this research-of-sorts comes many suggestions on how to “handle” it, or how to get away from it.
While I certainly can agree with the principle that too much of anything can get in the way of purpose and happiness, there are those of us who enjoy (or at least think they enjoy) consuming valuable content, learning, and growing as human beings.
So, for those of us who want to reign in our content consumption or rather want to find quality and valuable content in a non-FOMO-esque way, I’ve gathered these helpful tips that help frame and assist in the curation of your best bang-for-the-buck content consumption. The goal here is to create a richer experience in less time but with more absorption and gleaned happiness. The greatest gift you can give yourself is your own time.
Step 1: Consider your best medium
This is neither an endorsement nor a harsh critique of certain mediums, but rather an example of what worked for me (for illustration purposes).
The very first thing to do when considering your personal content curation is to understand yourself. That is: how do like to get your content? … and really think about this one. You might currently get your content many different ways and not really hate any of them. Conversely, though, consider which of these you actually, really enjoy.
For example, I’ve tried just about every method of getting my travel content; I’ve used Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, television, magazines, and books. I’ve realized that for me and my travel content, Twitter has proven to feed me with things that really don’t interest me at all, Facebook tends to be a distraction, books tend to be too dated, podcasts don’t fulfill me visually, and television isn’t on-demand enough for me to zero-in on the premier content I’m looking for. For these reasons, I get my quality travel content from a magazine that I really enjoy.
This isn’t to say that I don’t find any value in the other mediums; they’re just not suited for my content consumption on travel specifically.
For other content curation, I’ve tried eBooks but I’ve gone back to a physical book, I use Facebook to connect with close friends only, I use Twitter for research, television for live events, and podcasts for news (something that I can absorb in the background while doing something else). This is different for everybody.
In short, make sure you really understand how you enjoy getting your content and keep that in the back of your mind throughout this exercise.
Step 2: Consider your content slots (making a “content matrix”)
You’ll first want to determine what your “content slots” should be. These are the passions and priorities in your life that you don’t want to neglect. For example, your passions might be: parents, friends, spouse, children, fitness, job, cooking, travel, music, science, learning, and writing. Start by making a “matrix” (table) out of them on your computer or a piece of paper or whatever is easiest. List these passions along the top.
Then, along the rows, list the different mediums through which you can (or like to) experience these passions. For example: in-person, television, radio, books, magazines, podcasts, web, Facebook, Twitter, Facespace (?), et cetera.
Next, highlight the best place where the column(s) and row(s) meet. For example, for parents, you might highlight the matrix boxes for the following combinations: parents_in-person and parents_Facebook, since you love seeing them in person and also like keeping up with them in between on Facebook. For travel you might highlight the boxes for the following combinations: travel_in-person, travel_magazines, and travel_web because you prefer to experience travel in-person, dream about it through a magazine, and research and plan for it on the web.
At this point, you might be saying, “well, I don’t know where the best content is, so how can I select the source before I find it?”. Trust me, if you don’t get the content via your preferred mediums (see Step 1 above), it’s not even worth trying to force yourself into an undesired channel.
Once you’ve filled out the top (columns) and the rows as well as noted the best intersections, it’s time to pause and figure out what you’re looking to get out of these things.
Step 3. Define your goals
Simply put, what are you looking to get out of the content relationship? Is it necessary for your job? Your life goals? Or is it simply for entertainment?
If it’s for the latter, consider what you might be giving up in order to consume this entertainment (one of your other passions maybe). It may very well still be worth it, but at the same time, priorities can begin to slip from view or get distorted in perspective when content consumption becomes a job rather than a passion or a necessity.
Make sure you have a good why attached to your content slots. And if the why is weak, consider what you’ve exchanged for it, or if the why is non-existent in the first place, eliminate it altogether.
The main idea, though, is to understand how the content will help you accomplish your dreams or create real value in facilitating a truly happy life.
Step 4. Understand the golden-ratio of content curation
At this point, you should understand your favorite medium(s) to digest content. You should also have a clear picture of your priorities and passions and where you want to interact with them (your content matrix). Finally, you should have clearly defined goals for each passion along the top of your matrix (and possibly even crossed some out entirely if they’re taking time away from a passion that gives you more meaning). Now it’s time to pause and take a look at the system from a 10,000-foot-level.
For those math and science oriented people, the golden ratio (the basis of much of the universe’s design) is an important framework for understanding how things live in relation to each other. A good visual example of the golden ratio is looking at a conch shell from the larger end. There, you will see a small point in the middle with a pattern of spirals that gets larger and wider as they wind around the center. It may seem like an odd comparison to personal content management, but the two are very alike.
Think of it this way, if the only piece of content you ever consumed was a regional travel magazine (your input), you might read the content and be prompted to (output) visit a local website or buy a book on local travel, like a local business’s Facebook page, et cetera. Maybe when visiting the website, you see an ad for another, similar magazine or page to like or newsletter to sign up for. If you sign up or purchase, then you’ve grown your content spiral even larger… and when you eventually consume the new piece of content, the pattern might very well repeat itself and grow the spiral even larger yet.
This is the reason why choosing your content and sticking to it is very important. There may always be a bigger, better deal out there, but the search for it and constant consumption of it will absolutely detract from your original goals.
Step 5. Rely on your “old” sources
If you’re looking for a bigger, better deal when it comes to your source for travel content, for example, you could search endlessly for new magazines, books, websites, podcasts, and the like. And now that search has become very personalized, the web understands you now more than ever.
However, your network (friends, family, and acquaintances) probably understands you better than Google and shares many of your interests. Try relying on these more “analog” sources for content referral… meaning, simply ask them what the best travel magazine they’ve ever read is and why. Or if you prefer Twitter, ask them who they follow that they really enjoy. It’s as simple as that.
This way, you stay connected to them and likely get a more personal suggestion than search algorithms and cookies can give you.
Step 6. Time is money; be okay with that exchange
Some quality content is worth paying for. This is very short and sweet. Even though there is an abundance of free content on the web and quite a number of really great bloggers who create quality pieces with journalistic standards, you will likely find that in order to maximize the focus of your content and really get to what you’re looking for, paying for it may be the way to go.
I spent a few years working through free content and free services, changing my sources as newer, better ones came along. In the end, though, very few of these still remain in my matrix. I’ve learned that paying $20 per year for a magazine has been more than well-worth my time. It’s relatively cheap, has high-quality information, and only “bothers” me once per month.
I’m not suggesting that you go out and sign up for a dozen magazine subscriptions or pay $10 per month to read a quality blog, necessarily. But you should consider that your time is money. If you’re willing to pay for the right content, delivered when you want it, you’ll find that the small fee is well worth it.
Step 7. Don’t worship the information
In the late David Foster Wallace’s transcribed speech/book, This is Water, he describes the relationship between human and deity, or rather worship in general:
“You get to decide what to worship… [and] pretty much anything you worship will eat you alive… If you worship money and things- if they are where you tap real meaning in life- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth… Worship your intellect, being seen as smart- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”
The passage may seem harsh, but it is the truth. If you worship the content (even on a small level), it will begin to “eat you alive” as Wallace suggests.
Understand this and rather make the decision to “worship” your happiness, and that of those you care about.
Step 8. Re-evaluate the value
Finally, re-evaluate the value of the content on a regular basis. Are you really getting out of it what you wanted to? Maybe the quality of the content or the niche has changed from the time you subscribed/liked and now it no longer serves you. If it no longer fulfills your life’s dreams, is no longer entertaining or valuable to you, then get rid of it. Then try to replace it with something physical- a manifestation of that passion.
You might even be able to re-evaluate parts of the content within the content. For example, I’ve “unfollowed” (not unfriended) many people on Facebook simply because, while I enjoy their company in person, I don’t really get any value from their posts.
Think of ways to cut-the-fat when it comes to your personal content management.
Remember that information consumption needs to serve you and your dreams, goals, and passions. Understand that no matter how much you consume or search for the bigger, better, deal, you will always be missing out, and maybe (likely) even be missing out on something better. But then again, what is better than your happiness and time? Think of yourself as a sailboat crossing an ocean (really); only consume what pushes you forward and leave everything else back on land- because that’s where you’ve been, not where you’re going.
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