On saying ‘No’ to great ideas

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

– Steve Jobs

Prior to the Digital Age, we had much less competing for our attention. There was no Facebook, mail took time to arrive at its destination, and conversations were limited to land-line telephones and face-to-face communication.

The world is quite different today. I’ve written extensively on the need to simplify and escape the treadmill of blog posts, tweets, status updates and web content that can drown us in information overload, but it wasn’t until I heard Lot18’s President and Co-founder, Philip James, refer to Steve Job’s quote above that I truly understood why it’s so hard for us to simplify in the Digital Age:

There are too many amazing ideas out there.

Let’s say you’re interested in entrepreneurship, and you’ve just discovered an inspiring TechCrunch article on starting your own company, which you promptly read. But wait! Through this article, you discover four links to more information about entrepreneurship from credible, respected sources. These could take you hours to pour through – each containing dozens of hyperlinks pointing to other articles and essays – but it would seem crazy to ignore all of these relevant, well-written articles. So you add them to your reading list. Day-by-day, this reading list grows until you start to feel overwhelmed. Before you know it, analysis paralysis begins and your initial enthusiasm for entrepreneurship begins to dwindle. This is the process many of us go through when we encounter too much information in too short a time period.

The same process occurs when we set goals. Like many of the readers of this blog who are interested in personal development, I’ve read books on personal finance, networking, physical fitness, nutrition, entrepreneurship, and more. Through these books, I’ve accumulated a list of goals that would take 10 lifetimes to accomplish. It’s simply too much. The problem is each and every one of these goals could easily be seen as important for my future success and happiness; they’re all incredibly worthwhile goals.

How do we handle such situations? How do we stay laser-focused?

Allow me to refer back to the quote at the top of this post: The definition of ‘focus’ in today’s world is about finding what matters more than anything in the world and saying no to the hundred other great ideas right in front of you.

Do you have five ambitious, worthwhile goals for the next few months? Pick one and excel at it like no one believed you ever could.

Do you have 20 blogs you read every week? Trim it to three.

Do you want to lose fat, build muscle, and run a marathon all in one year? Slow down there tiger; trying to do all of those at once will likely ensure you do a terrible job at all three.

Do you want to travel the world for five years after you graduate AND start a family before you’re 25? Both are great goals to set, but they’re simply not compatible; you must choose one.

I think you’re starting to get the idea. Saying no to great ideas takes discipline, and it will hurt at first. But the reality is that too many great ideas can be just as dangerous as none.

You have a choice to make.

Today’s world has so many great ideas and opportunities readily available, it feels almost silly to cut yourself off from them. But you must. Do it for the sake of your health and happiness; trying to do too many things at once is quite stressful. Additionally, do it for your future success; it’s better to be the best in the world at one thing, rather than mediocre at five things.

The question still remains: what do you have the courage to say ‘no’ to?

Suddenly Without Free Time: A Case Study on Productivity

TimeHonestly, I didn’t realize how easy I had it in college until I started my full time internship in NYC this past week. I wake up to get ready at 6:30am and oftentimes don’t get home until 7:30 or 8:00pm. And considering that I aim to be in bed by 9:30pm (I need at least 9 hours of sleep to feel rested, so I try to achieve that amount), I have very little time to do much of anything during the week outside of work. Compare this to the 3 hours of class I usually had on any given day in school, and it’s not hard to see that I’ve lost a considerable amount of free time. Continue Reading…

Skimming: A Side Effect of Information Overload and How to Avoid It

Last month, I wrote a post on how to avoid burning out from information overload. However, there appears to be a lingering side effect of information overload that persists even when the information source is cut off. This side effect is the habit of skimming through information and it seems to develop in response to having high volumes of information to go through.

I recognized this habit in myself when I took one week off from blogs, videos, magazines, etc. and chose to focus on one book that I considered to be a very valuable resource that I wished to integrate into my lifestyle. Even while reading this book, I noticed that I read as if I were skimming and I had a hard time recalling the information after I read the chapter. It was almost as if my brain was trained to allow facts and information to enter and then leave shortly after, as if to make room for the next round of materials to read. Obviously, I was not happy that skimming was so ingrained into how I read.

Here are some strategies I put together that have been working very well to keep the skimming habit at bay:

1) Read it twice. No explanation needed here. Reading something multiple times is a sure-fire way to increase your retention and comprehension.

2) Write comments down. By writing down your thoughts in the margins of books and printed out material (or even in a separate notebook), your mind stays more engaged with the information at hand, hence increasing your retention afterward.

3) Talk about it. Having a discussion on a topic with friends or colleagues has been shown in studies to increase your own comprehension of the topic. Teaching a topic also has the same effect.

How to Avoid Information Overload

What you will gain from this post: Strategies to prevent and reduce information overload in your life.

In the spirit of this article, I will keep my writing to a minimum. The vast wealth of the Internet allows for unprecedented access to information. However, when taken too far and information comes flying your way faster than you would prefer to process it, information overload results. This type of overload is not fun. It prevents you from retaining valuable pieces of information because of the sheer volumes of information you are exposed to. It can also stress you out if you feel obliged to skim through everything that comes your way. Here are a few strategies you can use to reduce information overload in your life:
Continue Reading…