Last Updated Jun 2, 2011 3:22 PM EDT
You'll cut back and forth between lanes on the freeway to save a minute or two from your commute. You'll analyze and obsess over choosing the shortest and fastest checkout line at your grocery store. And you probably even reply to emails while on conference calls. You do all of these things and more while telling yourself you need to use your other 8 hours as efficiently as possible. But there's a HUGE difference between using your time productively and investing your time effectively.
Some activities are clear cut. Watching the same Seinfeld episode for the 15th time or playing online poker provides little growth or substance beyond adding entertainment and levity to the day, but what about all of those activities that trick us into thinking we're using our time smartly when we're really just wasting time?
One of the most egregious of these time and life suckers is information pornography. Information pornography is information in the form of books, magazines, newspapers, TV shows, and yes, even (and by some accounts, especially) websites and blogs that entice and promise us a good time, but in the end, just leave us feeling empty and used.
Information pornography has been around for years, but I've had to think a great deal about it since my post on Michael Jackson's death. There were several readers who were offended by what I wrote. My point in that column was to question what's meaningful and important and not to get sucked into what the media thinks is important. Breaking news isn't the same thing as important, useful, or even relevant news.
Likewise, you (me, too) need to erect better barriers against information pornography. Be honest; you're addicted to information. You must have the latest news, read the newest books, and peruse the most recent blog posts.
For a time, I was spending a great deal of time on productivity blogs (how's that for an oxymoron?!). I love reading and learning about how to be more productive, but I found that I was spending a little too much time reading about productivity and not enough time doing anything else.
One of my favorite bloggers is Merlin Mann of 43folders. At one point it was a productivity blog, but after some soul searching, he too recognized the irony. Merlin has since shifted his focus away from productivity for productivity's sake and now encourages 43folders' readers to actually DO something.
So don't make the same mistake I did. Create an information barrier. Don't read this blog or anything else just because it's in front of you. Really question why you're reading, watching, or listening.
Here are three questions to ask yourself:
1. What's the purpose? Unless you're reading fiction for entertainment, there should be some goal for reading. What do you hope to learn? Ask that question up front -- before you dig in -- to set your expectations.
2. Am I satisfied? While reading, listening, or watching, continue to evaluate whether your needs are being met. If not, cut your losses and move on to something else.
3. What do I need to do now? This is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself. What action do you need to take now that you have this information? Remember, unless you're reading/listening/watching for pleasure, there should be some tangible result. Is there an action you need to take? A change of behavior? Even if the information only produces a change in thought, by asking yourself this question you will hone in on the payoff from the information.
Information pornography is lurking everywhere -- it's not conveniently wrapped in a brown paper bag and, unfortunately, you often don't know it when you see it. But once you get better at filtering the important from the immediate, you'll have more time to invest in yourself and create something.
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