My Information Diet

I maintain a large information diet. I've gotten questions about information diet at least a dozen times over the past few months so I thought I'd detail how I think about this part of my life.

I'm a fast reader and quick at processing and synthesizing information, so I do a lot of original sourcing of articles. What I read and how much time I devote to it depends on what I'm doing day-to-day. A friend of mine likes to say you can either "keep up with stuff" or you can "do stuff" — while I don't think the two are as mutually exclusive as this implies, it is true that if you're in production mode you necessarily have to downshift on consumption.

Regardless of my mode I hold some principles dear.

First, I never try to keep up with breaking news. I don't care if I hear about something a couple days after everyone else. Besides, when you find out about something a few days after it happened you get to read an analysis versus a mere summary.

Second, I think actively about how I'm consuming my news and information and implement systems and processes accordingly. I never log onto a news web site and randomly surf. Nor do I pick up random magazines to flip through or buy books at airports. Instead, I think about what sources of information consistently provide the highest quality content and when in my schedule it makes sense to consume the content. For example I've found reading my RSS reader when cooling down from a work-out or while eating lunch at my desk is a perfect match of activity and physical location. With books, I am selective about what I read and am always armed with a book of my choosing when faced with downtime.

Third, I use meta-filters to pick up stuff that falls outside of my "intentional zone." Instead of reading all the various book review newspaper sections, I read the Amazon book blog which each Monday does a summation of Sunday’s book reviews. Instead of sifting through all the newspapers each day or trying to keep up with the best magazines, Slate does a daily round-up of what's in the major U.S. newspapers and a weekly round-up of what's in the major U.S. magazines. Arts & Letters Daily and Bookforum are two other terrific meta sources of smart articles. I also use friends. One friend reads Tucker Max's delicious feed and tags the best from it (and I read his feed). Another friend reads Forbes and sends me relevant stuff. And so forth.

Here are the key channels through which information flows for me:

RSS

60 feeds in high priority folder, such as:

50 feeds in medium priority, such as:

  • Amazon Book Blog – Roundup of book and publishing industry news
  • EconLog – Excellent economic and libertarian commentary.
  • James Follows – Commentary on world affairs from the longtime Atlantic Monthly reporter.
  • George Packer – Commentary on world affairs and politics from the New Yorker reporter
  • Venture Hacks – Tips for entrepreneurs
  • Slate – All new Slate articles, which I love.
  • Neurolearning – Research at the intersection of cog science and learning.

40 feeds in low priority, such as:

  • Justine Musk – Well written reflections on the writerly, recently-divorced life
  • Lessons Learned – Entrepreneurship deep thoughts by Eric Ries
  • Aguanomics – All things water and economics.
  • Cognitive Daily – Regular postings about cognitive science and research.
  • Gulliver – The Economist's blog on business travel and travel industry in general.

I’ll look at my high priority once a day. Medium and low usually about 4 times a week and I scan the headlines and read maybe 40% of the posts.

Twitter

I follow about 150 people who update. I’ll check Twitter a couple times a day usually on my phone while on the go. This is mainly a stay-in-touch mechanism and it’s not a super high priority – I miss stuff. And I still encourage people to email me rather than send DMs or @replies if they want a response. Some of my favorite people to follow on Twitter:

Print magazines

I get The Economist and the Atlantic Monthly in the mail and I frequently buy the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, Harper's, and others at airports. I frequently read individual articles from the New Republic, National Review, Columbia Journalism Review, National Geographic, Business Week, and others.

Books

Books have the highest wisdom density of any medium. Here's my post How I Think About Books. Here are my favorite books from the past few years. The number of books I read depends on how much traveling I'm doing — the more time I spend on airplanes, the more books I read. I also have a Kindle 2 which I'm getting used to. For long drives I'll download an audiobook off iTunes.

Friends / Blog Readers

People send me articles, news, and provocative emails. For example, four people sent me the widely-circulated NYT op/ed last week on the follies of graduate school education. I don't like depending on other peope but it is a helpful overlay.

7 Responses to My Information Diet

  1. Chris says:

    Hi Ben,

    Nice post. Do you have a complete list of the blogs that you’re subscribed to? This was a nice subset, but it’s always cool to see it all. Mind sharing?

    -Chris

  2. Shefaly says:

    So do you ever return to your Delicious folder to consult something (except when writing an article or post)?

  3. Ben Casnocha says:

    Will try to post at some point!

  4. Ben Casnocha says:

    All the time! When I vaguely remember reading something, it’s always there.

  5. Dave Franzel says:

    Here’s a blog you might be interested in, I didn’t notice anything like it in your lists and it’s a lot of fun to read when you want a break from politics.

    link to universetoday.com

  6. peter says:

    Hey – have NNW folders set by subject (VC/Mac/Thought, etc) but priority is a much better angle! Thanks for that – maybe now I’ll skim less and read more!

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