Consider this analogy:
Knowledge is like the ocean. It's vast and ever changing. You're a stranded sailor, lost in the great blue. A mere speck. As you drift around the ocean you see a lot, but it all appears the same. You might even revisit places you've already been without even knowing.
There is simply too much to know. We all relate to this in day-to-day life. I believe the process of finding fulfillment is the goal of life. Understanding how to seek, filter, consume, and internalize knowledge is a critical component to this process. Some techniques I've learned in my time are noted below.
Managing Complexity & Information
Knowledge and information are closely linked. Knowledge is derived from information. A cornerstone of navigating through life effectively is understanding how to manage complexity and information. Complexity is a byproduct of an abundance of information. Each day the world becomes more abundant with information than the day prior. It piles up. Learning how to effectively process information is challenging but necessary skill to possess amidst the chaos.
Ever wonder why a computer or smartphone slows down when too many applications are running? There are many reasons, but one relevant one is context switching. Running lots of applications at the same time requires the computer to constantly be changing it's focus. It's always having one application on it's mind, then it has to do the equivalent of a mental-reset before focusing on another. In this way, humans and computers are similar.
Take on too much at once and you'll be overwhelmed. The action of switching attention from one activity to another takes time and mental energy. That time adds up over the course of a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime. It also fatigues the mind. Humans are not good at processing multiple streams of information at simultaneously (though some might claim the contrary). Splitting mental-bandwidth leads to poorer performance and results.
Many of us lead incredibly busy lives. We've got responsibilities. Work. School. Family. There are so many things to think about. Context switching runs rampant in this type of environment. The good news? It's possible to address this problem without sacrificing those facets of life. The following sections highlight some steps one can take – many reduce context switching and all of them present unique benefits.
The essence of minimalism is that less is more. It takes on many forms. Reducing the amount of material goods in a household is one form of minimalism. Another form might be striving towards a zero-waste household. Practicing minimalism is beneficial because it instills a mindset that derives value from simplicity.
Minimalists tend to avoid making decision that would further complicate their lives. A friend once told me a story. Someone they knew had been working absurd overtime. Why? They were making payments on new truck, two quads, and a new jet-ski. Money aside, it seems like such a waste. How would this person have time to enjoy these luxuries? A minimalist would not approve of this type of lifestyle – they would rent these vehicles instead of buying them. Much less of a headache.
Practicing minimalism can be difficult at first. The consumerism culture plaguing many countries throughout the world tells us that we always need more. Such a mindset is fruitless because it leads to a life of temporary pleasures. The classic minimalism motto is that less is more. An aspiring disciple of minimalism may find this motto hard to approach. Relinquishing control of physical belongings is perhaps the best first-step to take. It's a clear goal, with somewhat tangible actions.
The Sticky-Note Method
Here's a clever and somewhat comical approach. Place a sticky-note on each item you own. Write down the date that you placed the note, and also the expected number of times you expect to use the item in a month. If you find yourself using the item, then discard the sticky-note. Any items remaining at the end of the month should undergo serious scrutiny – consider selling, donating, or tossing items that fall into this category.
The sticky-note method provides visual aid to the decluttering process. It makes it clear exactly which items are used. I've never used this method, but the idea of it is appealing.
The Essentials & All Else Method
This is the method that I employed. It's basically a two-step process. All items you own fall into one of two categories:
- The essentials category is to contain items that are needed for day-to-day life. Examples include cookware, toiletries, some clothing, common tools, etc.
- The all else category is to contain items that are not strictly required for day-to-day life, but might fall under some hobby.
Now that these two categories are established, you take each item you own and ask the question of whether it falls into one of the two categories. If the answer is yes, then keeping the item around is probably for the best.
There are two main issues with this method. People bullshit what is "needed" and people have too many hobbies. You must really be honest with yourself for this method to work – attempting to find some obscure justification for shoehorning an item into one of these two categories is detrimental. Having too many hobbies is also a problem. Best to stick with a few and master them. Too many and you run into the context switching issue discussed in the last section.
Digital minimalism is becoming popular. The sheer number of apps available on smart devices can be overwhelming. Social media often complicates peoples lives (more on that later). Email is a popular communication medium for companies and advertisers, cluttering inboxes. The list goes on. Many minimalists have identified this information overload and cut back.
Most smart devices nowadays have feature-rich operating systems. Both Android and iOS include built-in software that tracks your usage of the device. On Android this software is called Digital Wellbeing, and on iOS is called Screen Time. This is handy for seeing breakdowns of what apps you are using the most. You can even set daily timers for apps to limit your use. Everyone should take advantage of these features.
Notifications are bad. They induce context switching. Bottomline, they control how and when you use your device. It should be the other way around. You don't need your phone telling you when to check your email. You should choose when to check your email. I've found turning all notifications off except phone calls and text messages to be ideal.
Unsubscribing from email lists is easy – just scroll to the bottom of the email and click unsubscribe. It takes no time and saves you lots of time rummaging through emails in the future.
The concept of buffer is to provide yourself with the ability to handle unexpected events with ease. Summarized in one sentence, don't bite off more than you can chew. Establishing buffer requires good time management and a somewhat selfish mindset (not in a bad way, though).
Use a Calendar
This may seem cliche, but effectively managing your own time opens up the possibility to form a buffer. Time management is easiest with a calendar. Digital calendars are great for coordinating with other people. Taking advantage of them is wise; however, I'm also a huge fan of whiteboard calendars. The visualization a physical calendar provides is wonderful. A whiteboard version can be adjusted on the fly.
Learn to Say No
This one is harder for some people. After all, you don't want to hurt anyone's feeling, right? Here's the thing. Any sensible person knows that other people have their own lives. It's perfectly fine to dedicate your time to others, but you also need to allocate a reasonable portion of time for yourself.
Long story short, social media is a plague. Purging it from your life is pure upside. Here are just some of the reasons why.
Note: Reddit can be good, in moderation.
Fostering an Inferiority Complex
In many cases, only the best moments of our lives are shared on social media. It frequently appears that everyone is having a better time in life than you are. This is a facade, but it still fosters an inferiority complex. It makes you compare your life to that of others (bad idea). Get off social media and the comparisons evaporate. Turns out that life is not always sunshine and rainbows. Those people are living their own lives, and have their own problems too.
"Bringing Us Together"
Social media claims to bring us closer together. The technology backing social media platforms is impressive. Communication with practically anyone on Earth has been trivialized. News stories and events can propagate across the globe in minutes. From a technical perspective, social media is a remarkable accomplishment. The problem is the human element.
In reality, social media pushes us farther apart. Genuine, face-to-face interactions with others have largely been replaced by social media. This is a huge problem. Human interaction is important – it's innate, a consequence of our evolution. Social media places a huge barrier here.
I hate advertisements and actively go out of my way to avoid them. Think about scrolling through a social media feed. A reasonable percent of the content is ads. This sucks. Literally little bits of your life are wasting away each time one passes by. Ad-blockers are great, but many of them do not work on mobile devices or on social media platforms.
You can't experience life if you are so caught up in the lives of others. The clock is ticking.
The steps listed above have had profound positive impacts on my life. I came to these realizations at different times. Combining them has been a satisfying experience. What works for me may not work for you, but the benefits of the aforementioned are clear-cut and objective. Might be worth a shot. Best wishes to you in your own walk of life.