dieting in the information age

Last week, for the first time in my life, I went on a diet.  And, to my surprise, I loved it. It was only a week long, but as soon as it was over I started to miss it. In fact, I think I may go back.

No, I didn’t drink green juice for a week straight (although I’ve heard that can be exhilarating). There was no carb or calorie counting involved.

Instead, I went on an Information Diet.

Last month here on SG, I talked about having the unplugging bug, about wanting to dial down my information input and output. Many of you pumped your fists in the air and said, “Me, too!” This post is for you. We’re taking it from the philosophical to the practical, baby.

Here’s how I did it. For one week, I…

…checked email only twice a day, at predetermined times (at lunch and just before dinner).

…only looked at websites if I was going to immediately act on the information I was looking for. This means yes to checking movie times on date night, and no to aimless blog reading.

…read books, but only an hour or so of fiction before bed. This means yes to trashy novels (yay!), and no to that stack of business books or newspapers. Seriously!

…watched a little TV, but only an hour or less per day of pure entertainment. This means no news, unless it’s the Daily Show!

…unplugged from social media. No status updates. No Instagram (pictures are information, too)! No blog reading on my lunch break. No 140 character bytes of info coming or going.

…unplugged my ears, too. No podcasts or TED talks while I worked. But as much music as I wanted, of course.

Note: I modeled my Information Diet after the one found in The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, which I highly recommend.

I’ll admit, there were a few minor deviations. I chose to read the Sunday paper, mainly light stuff, because that is a leisurely weekly ritual I hold dear. And I read fiction in the mornings, too. At first, holding to this diet was hard – waiting to read Danielle Laporte’s Fire Starter Sessions, letting my blog reader fill with unread posts, and not posting a single cute thing my son did to Instagram – ouch!

It amazed me to discover just how much information I took in on a daily basis that I did not need, yet had grown to depend on in order to feel smart or productive.

It amazed me to discover how compulsively I filled small moments with that information. Quiet times with my son, my lunch break, early mornings and just before bed.

But as the week went on, I felt the cleanse. A colonic for the brain. I felt vast spaces in my mind begin to open, fertile ground for fresh ideas, a deeper sense of calm and satisfaction. I began to feel more present with those around me as I stopped poking icons on my phone or sticking my nose in a business mag. I am there for the things and people right in front of me.

Here’s my creative challenge to you: Make more space in your mind for the important things by embarking on an Information Diet.

I’ve laid out some simple guidelines above to get you started. In essence, the diet is just this: immediately actionable information only, a little pleasure reading, and little pleasure TV. Try it. Stay with it. Start tomorrow, and then go for six days after that. I’d love to hear about your experience here!

A week really is enough to experience some cleansing. And hey, all that information will still be waiting…you just might not be interested anymore.

xxoo Maeg

6 thoughts on “dieting in the information age

  1. This is the blog I needed to read! I think your diet was so brave!! And when you say no instagram and no twitter a week seems like such a long time.

    I am actually on my very first ever food diet – and its not really a diet so much as a way of thinking about food and now I find myself thinking about food all day – and when I do sneak in something naughty I consider if it is worth what it is doing to my health and my energy levels. Often I decide that it is not and put it back in cupboard!

    I think this would be true for this sort of diet and I could start to have a more purposeful approach to my information gathering! Yes I have just talked myself into it. I’ll start this Monday!!

    Thank you for your post!

  2. As a musician and feng shui consultant I would like to remind anyone embarking on an information diet that music is aural information (and thus potential brain clutter) too, so on a brain clutter cleanse, you should only listen to music when listening to music is the only thing you’re doing–not leave it on all the time as background wallpaper you’re not really paying attention to while doing other stuff. Neurological studies have shown that it isn’t actually possible for the human brain to focus on two or more different things at the same time; when we think we’re multi-tasking, we’re either concentrating on one thing while tuning the other(s) out or doing them on auto-pilot, or we’re shifting our attention rapidly back and forth between two or more different tasks, which is less–not more–efficient than deliberately focusing on one thing at a time. In feng shui terms of your aural environment, it makes no more sense to play music you’re not really listening to than it does to keep art on your walls you never really look at or stuff in your home that you never use. You might be surprised to discover your real taste in music too, if you really listen to it for a change.

    As someone trying to minimize the time I waste aimlessly online, I would also like to call to the attention of Scoutie Girl’s webmaster to the extreme slowness with which the pages of this otherwise fabulous website load, causing my browser to freeze in the process every single time. This is a serious obstacle to my exploring the site any further than this page a friend just sent me the link to; much as the rest of the site intrigues me, I simply don’t have the time or the patience to wait around for website pages that take longer to load than they do to read. Can this be fixed?

  3. Oh I so need this. I have felt my compulsion to tap into information relentless lately. I think boundaries for the digital age are a good thing and I’m going to see how I can make a few changes to feel a little less connected. BTW I have that book on my to read list! Boy does a 4 hour work week sounds like a dream!

  4. You echo much of what I realized instinctively, just this past week.
    I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this post.
    For those of us who are just beginning to root our businessness, create websites, content, and are also working moms doing online programs, (that’s me :) , there is a saturation factor of info, input, and as you state, the feeling that you need to constantly be engaged in order to be smart and productive. It’s nonsense. It’s actually unhealthy.

    I actually caught myself the other day, not really paying attention to my son, because I was engrossed in admiration of someone elses site and thankfully, I was forgiven that one time, and given another chance :)

    The other thing I am learning is that if you are not careful, it’s very easy to lose site of who YOU are and lose site of believing in yourself. Which for me, are the two principals that drive me to be a creative entreprenuer to begin with. Being who I am, and believing in myself are what I carry forward when the going gets tough and I have moments of feeling overwhelmed.
    So, I stay very clear about the temptation to envy, mimic, admire and praise ((too much)) those ‘flame starting’ hotshots, that we all get inspiration and learning from.

    I welcome the challenge to edit my intake and output for 6 days.
    Thank you for this.
    I’ll check in next week.

  5. Great post, thank you!

    I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something similar lately based on Julia Cameron’s “reading deprivation” exercise in The Artist’s Way, but I wasn’t sure. The last time I did it was 13 years ago – not so much online dependency then.

    I like Timothy Ferriss’ framework, it may give me something a little more realistic to work with. : )

    Thanks for bringing this idea back to the forefront for me.


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