Author, podcaster, and investor Tim Ferriss believes in the power of avoiding distractions. Asked recently what of his advice more people should follow, his immediate response was to adopt the low-information diet that he laid out in The Four Hour Workweek. On his podcast Tim said:
I have not had any social apps on this phone in two years, and that’s not because I broadcast that for sitting on my moral high horse. It’s because I understand that it is playing a dangerous game to assume that you can use willpower and self-control. At the very least, it is exhausting and you can save your mental calories for something more important.
To have this type of addictive technology embedded into your phone with notifications that you’re subject to 24/7, through which algorithms are being wielded against you that have billions of dollars in teams of data scientists and UI experts behind them, I think it’s unnecessarily challenging to subject yourself to that and to expect to be able to overtake that and single task effectively.
And some people say, “Well, I have better self-control. You can just use self-control.” That may be true, but I could also have junk food littered all over my house, and I can make the same argument. I could say, “Well, if I have enough self-control, I won’t eat the junk food,” but it’s a hell of a lot easier just to remove all the junk food from your house.
If you can single task for a few hours a day without any interruption, which is why I use Do Not Disturb and so on my laptop as well as frequently as I do, and my phone is almost always on airplane mode, you will have a huge competitive advantage over the majority of people who are — let’s just call them knowledge workers, anyone who works on a computer. If you have the ability to single task for, let’s just call it, three hours a day in a single block of time, you have an unbelievable competitive advantage.
The critical point here is that when Tim says “low-information diet,” he is not necessarily saying you should have low levels of information input.
His key point is that we should deliberately avoid the conditions where we can be distracted by low-value information. This is endemic in our current society, notably in our use of smartphones.
In Thriving on Overload I point out that most information has negative value: simply taking the time to consume it or being exposed to it detracts from our lives.
Most of us need extensive information to perform well in our work and ventures. The point is that we don’t need to be always exposed to information.
If we want or need to consume massive amounts of high-value information, we can do that at the times we choose, when we are focused and able to absorb and create value from that. At other times we can switch off.
Intermittent fasting usually describes not eating from early evening to late morning, taking solid breaks with no food.
The “intermittent fasting information diet” is simply not indulging in low-calorie information snacking through the day. You select the times when you will engage with information. In those periods engage with high-quality information that will add value to your life. Outside of those times avoid all distractions.
If you really want to “snack” once or twice during the day for 5 or 10 minutes that is OK, but make those scheduled times, not something you indulge in as you please.
As detailed in Chapter 4 on Attention in Thriving on Overload, allocating our awareness with intent brings us massive rewards. Engage fully with information that adds value to your life when you choose. And avoid engaging with information otherwise.
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Image: Adriel Kloppenburg