You're browsing the internet and find something that sparks your interest. Say, an article.
Do you read the article right away? Let me try to convince you that you shouldn't, and what you should do instead.
The system consists of four phases.
- 🌐 Discover — interesting resources
- 📥 Input — to your inbox
- ⚔ Filter — the noise
- 📖 Read — the signal
- 🧠 Bonus step
The Discover and Input phases are the ingestion of information, while Filter and Read is the digestion of information.
The four phases
The discovery phase is where you find all the inputs that you want to digest.
Just like you should limit junk food in your diet, you should also limit it in your information diet.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself.
- Am I getting my information from the right sources?
- Am I ingesting that which is good and healthy for me, or is it informational junk?
- Will this serve me?
- Can I use this information now, or at least in the foreseeable future?
You have found an interesting article; it is time to move to the Input phase.
Everything you find interesting will be sent to your inbox. Whether it be articles, videos, podcast episodes, tweets — you name it.
The idea is to save content for later, such that you can move on with what you were doing now. You become more proactive in prioritizing what you do. You are not just reacting to what is sent your way anymore.
This is an important mindset shift. What may seem interesting and important now may be completely irrelevant and uninteresting in a few days.
There are many services you can use to save content to your inbox, but Instapaper and Pocket are very popular. You could also just use a note on your computer. All you really need is a way to save the link.
Filter the signal from the noise.
From Vilfredo Pareto comes The Law of the Vital Few. 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes (the 'vital few'). This is to say that there are disproportionate outputs to some inputs.
Aim to read the 20%.
Once the novelty of stumbling upon a new article has faded, you can see whether it will serve you or not. Is it still relevant to you? If not, go ahead and remove it from your inbox.
It is now time to actually read, watch, or listen to what you have saved.
While reading, I like to take notes. This allows me to revisit the important points later on, so I'll always maintain a knowledge base of the best ideas I've stumbled upon.
To write notes and take highlights, I use Hypothes.is. It is a free service that allows you to write notes as you read articles, directly on the article page. I would highly recommend that you create your own private group, to which you take your highlights — otherwise anyone can see them.
When I annotate, I always write my thoughts on the annotation, or at least give an explanation as to why I've chosen to highlight it.
And remember… Don't be afraid to discard whatever you are reading if it does not serve you.
🧠 BONUS: Understand
A fantastic way to ensure that you take something away from each piece of content you read is to write. This makes your processing a give-and-take relationship. You consume something, and in return, you produce something new.
By writing about your experiences (what you've learned), you practice both retrieval, elaboration, and you connect ideas to your existing mental models. Those techniques are powerful for learning, and will help you remember what you read.
As powerful as they are, they are no substitute for putting what you learn to practice. If you read something, try to use what you have learned in your life. Read about a new technique in your field? Try it out, if you have the opportunity.