Over a quiet twenty four hours in Bruce Country, Ontario, I experienced a an Internet Sabbath – one version of the low information diet – delivers no less than four results.
First, it improved my creative capabilities. Second, the experience caused to me read books more deeply. Third, the experience prompted me to pick up pen and paper to express my ideas. Fourth, and most importantly, I found myself spending my time and energy in sustaining my relationships. Let me explain why I got here (I always love background and exposition in movies so I’m including it in my writing) and why I think you can benefit from the low information diet, or, if you prefer, the low information diet.
In “The 4-Hour Work Week,” Tim Ferriss introduces the concept of the low information diet. In a world of CNN, Tweets and more information than you can shake a stick at it, it was a novel concept. As a long term news junkie – I’ve spent 10 Euros to buy a single English language newspaper in Europe while travelling – the low information diet concept was always a struggle for me. As with many ideas, repeated exposure in different contexts made all the difference.
In May 2014, I read “The 4-Hour Work Week” again and this time, I READ it with a pen in hand. I made notes on many of the pages. I was determined to learn from the book – everything from the concept of mini-retirements (e.g. my interest in moving to France to six months) to running a muse business that provides a healthy six figure income. In fact, that’s one of the reasons Project Management Hacks exists in the first place. The turning point that inspired me to implement a variation of the low information diet came from an unexpected source – a memoir on religion.
My wife recently surprised me with a copy of “The Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs and I started it yesterday. In fact, I read the first 100+ pages in a single day; a reading pace far in excess of my usual speed. It helps that Jacobs is a gifted author and I’m a fan of his work (I’ve very much enjoyed his other memoir books: The Know-It-All, The Guinea Pig Diaries and Drop Dead Healthy). It also helps that I’ve been intrigued by meditation and mindfulness for several months now so a memoir inspired by religious theme struck me as intriguing.
The intersection of the Sabbath and Tim Ferriss pushed me over the edge and brought me to take action on this selective ignorance project. As I building a business while I have a corporate day job, it is difficult to stop work entirely on weekends since that is one of my few opportunities to work on building my enterprise. My approach was to take what I call “an Internet Sabbath,” – simply going twenty four hours without using the Internet. Since I carry an iPhone around with me by habit, this is harder than it sounds at first glance.
Result 1: Improve Creativity
“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” – Jack London
Last night, I was reading The Copywriting Grab Bag by email marketing expert Ben Settle. The book is a short series of vignettes, essays and observations on copywriting methods and inspiration. When I first started to read it, the ideas did not quite sink in. This past weekend was different.
I sat down with nothing but The Copywriting Grab Bag, a pen and the notebook. I started off by imply making point form notes about copywriting notes about marketing and copywriting. Before long, I started to make notes about implementing Ben Settle’s ideas. For example, I came up with a multi-step plan to better use Reddit to grow my readership. I had thought of ways to use Reddit before but I had never taken the step of actually writing down the ideas. Before I started to write this entry, I also wrote a description of who I imagine the ideal reader as the ideal reader for Project Management Hacks.
Result 2: Reading Books More Deeply
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” – Francis Bacon
Over the course of this year, I have read twenty five books already. I tend to focus heavily in the business and related genres. Since May, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of different kinds of reading. Reading a novel for enjoyment is one kind of reading. Reading a business book with exercises and activities is a different kind of reading.
Reading “The 4-Hour Work Week” or “The Ultimate Sales Letter” without a pen in hand guarantees poor results. The books are great but they’re not magical.
Over the Internet Sabbath, I resumed my habit of reading a book with a pen in hand and a notebook. At first, I simply noticed that my reading pace slowed down. This might strike you as a problem if you assume that maximum speed is always an asset. By slowing down my reading speed by a degree, I found I could use the ideas and think through how I could apply them myself.
If you’re a reader (or if you aspire to read more books) and you’re interested in benefiting more from the reading experience, reading more deeply can yield tremendous results. You can ask yourself questions like, “how can I apply this idea to my challenges?” It may sound a little strange to ask yourself questions like that but simply view it as an exercise to help you read books more deeply.
Result 3: The Power of The Pen
“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” – William Faulkner
There is a big difference between writing on a computer and writing with a pen and paper in my experience. Writing on a computer allows you to accomplish some incredible results, I agree. Computer writing completely transforms the challenge of editing and improving your words, no doubt. Unfortunately, writing in Microsoft Word, Pages or Scrivener all have one major weakness.
You’re writing on a computer where the opportunities and distractions of the Internet are a few clicks away. Sure, you can disable your network connection for a while. But when was the last time you actually did that? It happens on occasion to me when my Internet service provider has technical problems (more often than not, I simply visit a local Starbucks though).
When you carry a notebook and a pen, there’s no notifications demanding your attention to install software updates. There’s no links to follow. Your low-information diet becomes much easier to follow when you’re using a pen and paper. Instead of the endless information of the Internet, I found myself temporarily limited to the books that I happened to bring with me.
By picking up a pen and notebook, I started to come up with new ideas. For example, I started writing out details and plans to bring one of my bucket list goals to life – living outside of Canada for 6 months. I also came up with the idea for this article while writing on paper. Those are just a few of the examples of how writing on paper can transform your vaguely formed ideas into tasks and steps that have the potential to improve my life.
Result 4: Increased Focus on Deepening Relationships
Thy friendship makes us fresh. – William Shakespeare
Contrary to what a certain French philosopher said, Hell is not other people. Putting time and effort into relationships is incredibly important. In my case, I enjoyed a long and pleasant outing in the local pub’s patio. I may well have gone for this outing even without embarking on this Tim Ferris style experiment. I found that I was able to focus better (the added rest and sleep of the weekend no doubt helped as well).
If you take nothing else away from this article, implement this productivity hack. Deepening personal relationships and improving business relationships is an activity that is well worth your time. It’s much easier to stay focused on the other person – their interests and their conversation – when you leave the phone at home (from time to time).
To take this relationship development to the next level, look at spending at least an hour out with the other person. I once heard the saying that quality time comes out of spending a quantity of time. There is much wisdom in that saying. Whether you go out for drinks (like I did) or simply go for a walk, I can’t recommend the result highly enough.
Now it’s your turn! When was the last time you embarked on a technology Sabbath? It’s one of the best ways I’ve found to implement the principle of lifestyle design.
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