6: Do more with less

How to not read 1,000 articles a day

After learning how this guy reads 1,000 articles a day, I wanted to see how I stack up to it.

Since last Sunday, I received 169 newsletter emails. It’s 24 per day.

Considering I sleep 7/8 hours a day and work almost the same amount of hours, and taking out 1.5 hours for workouts, that leaves me with 3.5 newsletters to ready every hour. In between meals and other stuff of course.

This realization was a wake up call.

Now if you think that on average these newsletters are between 500 and 2,000 words of content, there’s no way I can really absorb and implement learnings from 3 different sources every waking hour, after work and workouts.

If you’re in the same place or are overwhelmed by something that’s getting out of control, I wanna share what we could do to get out of the mess.

It’s about energy

I like how Scott Adams looks at prioritizing:

The way I approach the problem of multiple priorities is by focusing on just one main goal: energy. I make choices that maximize my personal energy because that makes it easier to manage all of the other priorities.

Reducing variables and ruthlessly focusing on one main indicator that what you’re doing is the right thing (or at least the closest thing to the right thing you could ever do our of endless possibilities).

We can think of consuming information the same way. Consuming requires energy. Energy that we could spend doing something else.

If we are to consume, we better do it right.

Crowding the mind

The problem of having too much stuff to read has become a big theme lately, especially since I started writing this newsletter.

  • From a reader’s perspective: every single one of us is at a different stage in life. The things you write and recommend might work for a percentage of the audience and be totally useless to the other part.

  • From the writer’s side: consuming too may resources crowds your mind with other people’s ideas. This leaves very little room for you to think critically and creatively. Which means you get fewer novel ideas and more recycled or reframed ones.

It’s time for some decluttering.

My plan for decluttering

This morning after realizing how fucking impossible the task of consuming 169 newsletters per week is, I headed to Unroll.me.

This cool website lets you see all your email subscriptions in one single page. For each, you can either unsubscribe, keep in inbox or add to the “Rollup”.

The Rollup is basically a daily collection of all the newsletters you decide to add to it. Instead of spending 5 or 10 minutes every hour and reacting to emails like bullets flying over your head, you simply get 1 single email containing all the newsletters for the day.

After a quick selection (it’s amazing how easy it is to decide what to keep and what to throw away when you see the amount of stuff you get at a glance), this was my situation:

Rollup: 44 newsletters

Inbox 5

Unsubscribed: 47

I’m curious to see how this new set up works, but my system going forward will be very simple:

Every day I’ll get my Rollup. Out of all the emails in it, I’m gonna pick 1 to add to my Instapaper reading list (if you’re interested in my knowledge management system, just shoot me an email) . This way at the end of the week I will only have 7 new articles to read and dig deeper into.

This solves the overwhelm and over-abundance problems, but what about deciding what’s worth reading?

For this I turned to some people who know their shit when it comes to being productive and managing energy.

How to decide what’s worth reading

Give it a rating from 1 to 5 (1 being toxic, 5 being refreshing, energizing)

Mike Cernovich uses a scale from 1 to 5 to decide whether he wants to spend time with people or not. Ruthless but often necessary. We can do the same with information.

If you’re below a 4, bye. I don’t have time to let other people drain me with their negativity, their toxic views, their terrible outlook on life. That is draining. And if you’re using your energy or having it drained, and you have to reboot your energy, that’s energy you didn’t do something aspirational for.

Where are the leverage points?

Mark Mason proposes to look at our choices from the lens of where they fit our skills. The way to to know what fits is to first make mistakes (like subscribing to a thousand newsletters) and learn from them. Then give your undivided attention to the 10% that gives you 90% of the rewards.

What is a good use of time? How do we know?…Improving 10% at a skill or vocation is unlikely to result in a significant increase in pay, but improving 10% at managing complex projects or managing people could potentially multiply your income many times over throughout your career.

Basically, there are leverage points in life. And it’s not always clear where those leverage points exist. 

The cupboard sheet

David Cain started going through a sheet of paper he attached to his cupboard, every time he felt off or stuck. On this sheet he added a list of activities he could do to get unstuck. The trick is to only add activities that are not easy to do but that improve your well being and that you’ll never regret (like meditating or working out). Pick content that makes you feel the same way.

Then there are activities that improve your well-being. They improve mood too, but often not right away. You never regret these activities. There’s a certain comfort to be found in doing them, or having done them, but they do take effort. These are the ones that go on the list.

I might not feel amazing, but I do feel more capable, and that is a huge relief. My desire for diversion is also sated, and I no longer feel stuck.

Feel the vibe

My coach Alasdair suggested how I could deal with decisions involving travel, big purchases etc. It requires a bit of introspection and being in tune with yourself, but you can probably feel the energy that a piece of content gives you before you dive in. Is it something you feel like reading because you’re curious and excited about or only because it sounds weird/unique and “like something the cool guys would read”?

Observe where the feeling/desire/message is coming from and its energy. Is it a subtle knowing feeling, a sense of possibility, a whisper? Or is it a need, obsessive, very loud, very all or nothing?

Hell yeah or no

Derek Sivers uses a pretty straightforward strategy for decision making. Does something make you shout “Hell yeah!”? If so it’s worth pursuing.

When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”

We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.

Narrative-market fit

David Perell recently wrote about “narrative-market fit”. Similarly to the startup concept of product-market fit, he says the media basically looks for what fits the current prevailing narrative to decide which stories to write. This is a pretty good filter for us to decide what to read. Whenever you see a headline that follows one of the current narrative discussions, you can pretty much stand clear of it.

Whenever you read the headline of an article, ask yourself: “Does this story have narrative-market fit?

The more fit it has, the less you should pay attention to it.

Lasting value

Robert Cottrell, the man who reads 1,000 articles a day we’ve talked about, has a clear idea of what’s good. In short, look for interesting ideas, strong arguments, good writing and writers you resonate with.

Pieces with lasting value do three things: share really interesting ideas, deploy strong arguments, and have particularly fine writing — typically in first person.

The more I read the more I become persuaded that the real guarantee of quality in a piece is that the person who’s written it is great.

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Using these filters I plan on selecting what goes in my reading list this week. I’ll update you on how it goes next Sunday!


Here are this week’s top finds:

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You guessed it, nada. This week let’s focus on decluttering.

Have a great week!

Chris