The Slow Information Diet

Clay Johnson’s The Information Diet, although flawed, has some very thought-provoking ideas. It’s certainly worth checking out.

The core idea is that it makes more sense to treat information like food: rather than concentrating on how much we consume, we would get more benefit from concentrating on the type of information and its value.

This is a surprisingly good analogy and Clay plays it out well throughout the book. My experience with food makes me think that a different approach than that outlined in the book would work better for me, though.

I’m a self-confessed Tim Ferris fan-boi, because his ideas have worked really well for me. The thing that has impressed me the most about the Tim’s slow carb diet is that it is effortless to stick to. I think some of the attributes that make it that way will also apply to an information diet.

Even though Clay off-handedly dismisses Ferris a couple of times, I’m using a hybrid of their ideas to create my own slow-information diet.

The Rules

  • no news (Twitter, newspapers/sites, news-y podcasts)
  • consume full thoughts (eg books, music, interviews, non-news blog posts, pre-planned TV)
  • use the pomodoro technique at work
  • create stuff
  • take one day off a week and go nuts


News is my info-sugar: addictive, unsatisfying and tasty. I’ve been thinking about reducing my intake since reading Taleb’s The Black Swan. It’s the main area I want to focus on.

The other aim is to reduce the amount of thought fragements I have in my head. Twitter is awash with half-ideas, which in one way is what I love about it. You can see (and use) ideas as they evolve. But it makes it hard for me to shut my brain off.

I’m using the pomodoro technique rather than Clay’s timing recommendation simply because I’ve used it with success in the past.

Creating stuff is directed ripped from Clay. It’s a good idea and something I hadn’t considered as part of my information diet before.

The major way I depart from Clay is the ‘one day off and go nuts’ rule. As with the slow carb diet, this is a rule – you have to go nuts. I’ve written before about the benefits of containing behaviours that are hard to eliminate. Clay advocates this to an extent with his pomodoro-like work schedule. but to me it sounds like it would be way too easy to slip into old habits. A week between indulgences is long enough that it breaks your dependence, whereas every half an hour would certainly not do it for me.

So far, so good

I took a break from Twitter on Saturday night. On Sunday I bought Clay’s book, and finished it that night. That in itself is quite an achievement: lately I’ve had a dozen or more books on the go. I usually read a couple of pages, check Twitter, get distracted…

On Monday I finished another book that I’ve been reading since April. Tonight (Tuesday) I’ve written a complete blog post. It usually takes me weeks or months to get my ideas in order. I’ve also listened to an interview, read a couple of chapters of yet another book and spent a good amount of time listening to a new album.

The pomodoro technique is working well at work, as it has in the past. I get more done and the day goes more quickly. Despite having a frustrating day my mind is clearer and calmer than usual.

I’m starting (slowly) to stop observing my life and summarising it in 140 character chunks.

Friday is my ‘go nuts’ day. I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading it. I’ll stick with this ‘diet’ for a month and report back on how it goes.

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