You’ve probably heard the statistic: The average person today sees more information in a Sunday edition of the New York Times than the average person in the 18th Century was likely to see in a year — or a lifetime, if they were rural and poor.
They don’t call it “the information age” for nothing. It’s a challenge to sort through it all and figure out what’s important & actionable.
About four or five years ago, I did something I’d like to recommend. I went on what I called an “information fast.” I stopped reading books, magazines, news, Twitter, and blogs for 3 months… then largely extended it (with some exceptions) for another 3 months. 6 months with very little information intake. While I didn’t stay on the fast forever, it did change my perspective on some things forever.
I know, I know… “leaders are readers” and all that. I still believe that, and I still read. But hear me out.
Here are 3 reasons I think you should consider doing an information fast:
1. If you’re not going to DO anything about most of what you read.
Don’t miss this: I found it was easier to READ about doing something, than to actually DO it.
I accumulated this list of great ideas, that I was doing nothing about. 27 ways to grow your church, 18 ways to connect with your spouse, 41 ideas about child-raising. The latest techniques that the best practicioners were using. I had more information than I had time!
So I picked up a saying during this season of my life: “Information is not as powerful as motivation.” Here’s what I mean:
Recently, I was at a bookstore (remember those?!) and saw all the diet, health and fitness books. Rows upon rows — it was astounding. If I read a book per week, it would take years to finish. Now, let me ask: which one of those books was the right plan?
See what I mean? It’s better to choose a way, and DO it, than to spend another 30 hours of internet research looking for the RIGHT way. Get the basics, make a decision, throw all your focus and action at it, and if you fail — learn!
The best and most encouraging book I’ve read on the courage to start things is Seth Godin’s Poke the Box. I recommend it if you need a kick in the seat of the pants, or just some encouragement to start something instead of “thinking about it” for another year.
2. If more information is just going to paralyze you.
There’s something unhealthy about continually taking in information and not doing anything about it.
I found that taking in too much information just kept me distracted all the time with “the paralysis of analysis.” Having 20 different ways to get where I want to go is actually confusing and de-motivating. I’d rather find 1-2 ways from a source that I trust, and put my effort, time and focus into actually taking action.
During my information fast, I focused on ACTION – actually doing things that I already knew and had already learned.
3. If more information makes you more frustrated and discontent.
Ever read a great idea, or an encouraging, glowing report on another church, or another business — and think “Well, yeah, but I can’t do that because…”?
Lots of info I was consuming fit into that category:
- I didn’t have the money (frustration with my calling)
- I didn’t have the time (frustration with my family)
- I didn’t have the facility (frustration with location)
- I didn’t have the staff (frustration with others)
- I didn’t have the leaders/church board/etc (frustration with the people I was called to serve)
(My wife caught this in me first, and called me on it. I’m very thankful for her practicality & wisdom.)
If you’re in that kind of zone, even reading great reports & novel tactics from somewhere else can create discontent with YOUR situation.
So I stopped reading them for a while…
…put the action and effort and learning into my people and my place…
…and gained some needed perspective on life.
If you’re the guy who is out there and hasn’t read a book in 2 months… this post is not for you. But if the three items above apply to the way you’re consuming information, give it a shot for 3 months and see what happens.
Don’t quit reading this blog, of course. 🙂