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Ask HN: How can I remedy scatter brain and information overload?
357 points by coned88 on Dec 6, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 222 comments
This may seem like a silly question but it's something that's been affecting me for a while now. With the sheer amount of information available in the world today I have simply become overwhelmed. My mind is in a constant racing state. It's calm but not calm if that makes sense. While I could very well be thinking about nothing or something specific like writing this message. My mind seems to have multiple levels. One of which is directed to what I am actively doing and one below it which seems to process information in a never ending manner. I am not actively thinking about these things but it's there. Articles and books to read, shows to watch, things to do in my personal life and at work. Career advancement. All of these things just never stop but I could be calm. I can sleep fine, they don't cause active anxiety. They just linger in the background. Shooting around saying me me.

It's getting exhausting. I like to be informed. I like to know what people are talking about and like to be able to have a point of view. I like to have an opinion and be able to argue it. But I have realized it's just getting to be too much.

Currently my instapaper account has some 800 articles I have yet to read. Kindle has about 10 books I want to read. pinboard account has about 100 unread articles most of which are small books.

Any advice on what I should do? Do I just purge them?

1. Give up news. Not necessarily Hacker News, although it's an idea, but mainstream newspaper, television, radio etc. news. It's remarkably easy to cut out completely in one fell swoop and can make an enormous difference to your mental real estate. You won't miss it, you won't miss out (the big stuff will find its way to you regardless) and it can actually be an entertaining challenge to be religious about avoiding it in its ambient forms.

2. Beware the rabbit hole. Whenever considering following a tangential link or taking time out from work for some infotainment diversion, fully consider that it carries a risk, which you cannot necessarily assess or control, that it will end up taking you a long way down. Take that first step by all means but in full consideration of the expected (statistically speaking) cost of doing so.

3. Rename your "to read" list "sounded interesting". Come back to it if something on it ever bubbles up from your subconscious as being relevant to the task at hand. Maybe.

4. Meditate, walk, write. These three activities above all others seem most widely recommended as reaping huge rewards in this arena, with a daily dose of around 30 minutes being a typical prescription for each. This is not from any long term personal experience unfortunately, but there's a near certainty at the back of my mind that a regime of these three each day would be transformative for me. A couple of observations on these I can draw from personal experience; the first two activities can be combined; and on the writing, pen and paper is to be recommended, and committing to throw it out at the end of the session is a marvelous cure for writers block.

> You won't miss it [news], you won't miss out (the big stuff will find its way to you regardless)

Maybe it is different in the valley or wherever, and of course highly dependent on your social circles, but not being able to comment any current affairs can make some conversations quite awkward. Personally I'd find that it would not reflect well on the person.

Also I would say that it is far better to choose your own news sources rather than rely on random regurgitations.

And this is coming from a person who does not follow news, and hasn't done so for most of his adult life. Ignorance is a bliss, but it is still ignorance.

> [...] not being able to comment any current affairs can make some conversations quite awkward

Not really.

I don't watch TV since 1998. I also don't read newspapers (exceptions are sometimes made for weekly magazines like Time, Economist, Spiegel or New Yorker and monthly magazines of all sorts) and don't listen to radio (for example, I always drive in silence -- it's not boring as many people tend to think). I also don't read general-purpose news web sites, like BBC.

Despite all that I have never felt awkward talking to anybody about current affairs. Someone expresses to you their dissatisfaction with some politician or excitement about some celebrity you never heard of (I was in this situation trillion times)? Ask them who is he or she and why they cause this dissatisfaction, which party they belong to, or whether they have previous history of screwing things up.

People will gladly explain this all to you if it really matters to them. Your desire to listen will remove all awkwardness.

I concur about watching news. Just stop. I cut my cable entirely actually. I still have Netflix, which can be a time sink, but is less prone to just being "on" all the time like a lot of people do with news channels.

"News" is just a way to constantly bombard you with negative bullshit which will cause all kinds of anxiety and resulting other problems. I stopped watching television about 8-9 years ago. I don't have a TV or a radio anymore. My car's radio antenna is physically disconnected from the receiver. No newspaper, no general news portals, local or international. Haven't missed out on a single important thing. Tremendous improvement in mindset and interests.

As someone with clinical bad levels of attention at times. I can't emphasise what you said enough. These things will help enormously.

I can whole heartedly second these recommendations, it's basically exactly what I did a couple of years ago and it's helped me tremendously.

I've had this discussion with many folks, and I've come away with the conclusion: we each have a natural limit to the volume of information we can process in a day.

I personally find that if I read world events/news/major tech sites in the morning, I find my mental capacity a bit strained at work for the rest of the day. If I limit my input in the morning to focused planning of the day, and VERY restricted reading (maybe one article/specific topic, or listen briefly to news radio on the way to work ~25min), I am much more productive and less stressed. It doesn't appear to matter the medium (read/listen/watch).

My theory is, there are only so many topics you can legitimately consume in a day, sort of like a quota system. It should be your primary job to decide in what priority you want to occupy your brain with.

Plenty of other posters mention sort of the same thing: decide what is of VALUE to you, not just interesting. The world is full of interesting information, but if all you do is consume it, what good was it to you? Reserve some time and mental capacity to put that information to use.

My honest answer? I ended up dating someone who was constantly on my case about being forgetful, forgetting names, details, being scatter brained, blah blah blah.

Miraculously, that didn't drive them away and, now, just over a year of dating later, I've noticed I've developed new mental habits to train myself to remember details, in order to avoid the negative reinforcement of my S.O. nagging about my forgetfulness.

And, in practice, these days, I'm quite a bit more effective at identifying what details are relevant, reliably persisting them to memory if needed, and identifying/purging/ignoring irrelevant details, which actually end up getting in the way of storing the important ones (this, of itself, was a problem that, when solved, yielded lots of forward progress for this issue).

Sorry, I'm not sure if this is something you can very effectively optimize for (and maybe shouldn't!... 'seeking partner to help fight scatter brain'), but it's a true story, and one angle, at least. :)

This is actually a great answer. The same thing happened to me, and I think it was almost natural based on how our opposing personalities balanced. This balance has turned out to be greatly beneficial to the both of us—she helps keep me focused and improve my skills in the scatterbrain area, and I help her branch out and be more spontaneous and creative at times. Works great.

It doesn't have to be a romantic relationship that does this—I've worked with people whose personalities balanced out mine, and together we had a similar good thing going on. Creativity and ability for the mind to wander is a great thing for inspiration and discovery, and then bringing in the focus is great for making ideas real.

So, seek out other people who balance your personality. The fact that your mind works the way it does is not necessarily bad, and there are people all around you who can compliment you.

There was a time when people gorged. They wisened up and figured out that a certain economy of intake was better for their health.

I think people do the same now with intellectual material. An economy of what you take in is a good thing. It makes you healthier and less worried. There's going to be a lot of stuff that you'll miss but that's okay. Most of it is going to disappear soon given the churn rate of tech. If you do need to indulge, do so in more foundational materials rather than the "library of the week" or "language of the month".

Another thing is to take up a hobby. Something non intellectual. Something physical is good, something artistic is fine too and explore that area on a regular basis - preferably daily. Don't (and this is serious) track all aspects of the hobby as many people do with devices. Stay offline and just lose yourself in the hobby for a while. Don't feel compelled to share every bit of your life social media networks notwithstanding. You should have private compartments that are your own space.

Another useful bit of advice to have a "dry day" once a week. No going online. It's great to get yourself aligned again.

As much as technology has given us, I think it has a dehumanising effect. disconnecting on a regular basis is a good thing. You only gain from it.

I cut out reading (24 hour) news this year. I no longer read bbc news, my local papers etc. I figured (and it's true) important things tend to get mentioned (either on HN, or just in conversation etc.)

There's also the idea of the "circle of influence" (i.e. worry / do something with the things you can _actually_ influence, forget about the rest - slightly comes back to the 24 hour news thing for me). Perhaps you might enjoy reading "The 7 Habits of Highly effective people"

Good luck :) You're certainly not alone.

> I cut out reading (24 hour) news this year

I did this too, and it feels great. I can't remember where I heard it from but I'm stealing it:

  "I would rather be uninformed, than ill-informed"
A lot of what you see on TV and read in newspapers is either advertisements from PR firms disguised as news items or propaganda. This is even more so if it's election season.

tl;dr: Turn off your TV.

“If the news is that important, it will find me.” [0] is the quote that came to my mind.

[0] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/27/us/politics/27voters.html/

I really recommend meditation.

Other than that, you just need to accept that you'll never be able go through it all. And prioritize what's most important to your life. And sometimes just lay it all aside and recharge.

But meditation has really healped me with all of these. And in the end it's quite of a high-quality problem.

First comment on NH ever for me - because I really think meditation can be the answer to your problem. I read this book about a year ago - Search Inside Yourself (http://www.amazon.com/Search-Inside-Yourself-Unexpected-Achi...). I started practicing meditation - maybe a couple of times a week only and more whenever i am stressed out. It has helped me deal with all kinds of stress and i am more focused then ever before.

This book was written by one of early Google engineers who has learned meditation and created a class that he has taught to thousands of Google employees. Unlike much of other writing or classes on meditation this one is written in plain language and cites lots of neuro research. It is not even that long.

So go read first half of this book, practice it for 3 months and then reevaluate.

> First comment on NH ever for me

Welcome to HN! I lurked for years before I posted. Even though I am less 'active' now because of various projects, I still use HN as a filter for what might be of interest.

I also recommend meditation. If the spiritual connotations put the OP off, focus on the mindfulness aspects. Mindfulness is really about focusing, or letting go of distractions so that you can focus.

For an easy introduction to this type of meditation, I highly recommend calm.com's five steps to mindfulness. You can find it on Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/mayank-agrawal-14/sets/calm-com

Meditation is wonderful. I've been meditating for 13 years at the remarkable multi-day retreats managed and run by dhamma.org.

I would caution that the instruction is given by video recording by S.N. Goenka, who is a man with great faith in Buddhist scripture, and that faith pops out pretty strongly in places (e.g. karmic rebirth). If you can forgive that, he is careful to stress that the practical aspects of the technique and that they are by far more important than theory. I know of no other teacher, organization or venue that offers 10-days of intensive meditation instruction on a donation-only basis, and putting up with a small and frankly harmless amount of magical thinking has actually been good practice for me over the years.



"800 articles I have yet to read...Currently my instapaper account has some 800 articles I have yet to read. Kindle has about 10 books I want to read...pinboard account has about 100 unread article"

The following is just my opinion and I don't mean to be antagonistic. However, IMHO, your issue is that you think that being aware of topics is equivalent to truly understanding those topics. If you were really interested in those 100 unread pinboard articles, you would have read them - you seem to like the idea of knowing about the topics of the articles more than actually understanding the underlying concepts contained in the articles.

Stop trying to "be smart". If you're interested in an article - read it. Right now - try to understand it. If you read it and don't get it, find a writeup on the same topic written by a different person and read that. Continue this until you finally "get it". If you can't take 5-30 minutes out of your day to read something, you're likely not that interested in the topic. Your entire post screams that you don't know what you want to know nor how to manage your time. If you're serious about learning, start learning - and that means not adding another thing to any list until you have crossed off everything of your existing list. Instead of adding things to lists, make an effort to try to check things off of your list that already exists.

At the end of the day, life is all about choices - you can choose to continue to add things to your "to-do" list OR you can choose to start completing the existing tasks on your list.

I don't understand how you can do a full on attack on the OP without knowing him or his situation.

You seem to think that a person has nothing else during his day than read every piece of news that comes their way. It might be a good idea to consider the fact that some people are extremely busy (with work or other tasks) but still want to stay informed. Those people would probably come across a piece of news or article that looks interesting, bookmark it to read later (because, you know, they have work now) and never get around to actually reading it because of work load.

If you can stop whatever you're doing and follow up every article that seems interesting to you, you might not be doing important work, or your time is very flexible to allow such a thing. It probably isn't a good idea to generalize that this can apply to everyone.

Valid and like I said, I didn't mean my comment to be antagonistic and certainly wasn't overtly trying to attack the OP. Obviously it came off like that so my apologies.

But, I think you're missing my point - the information overload, in this particular case, seems to be a direct result of the decision to continually add articles to their list all the while knowing that they are never going to be able to find enough time to read them.

"You seem to think that a person has nothing else during his day than read every piece of news that comes their way."

I understand that my post could have been interpreted in this way, but what I actually meant was that if you are truly interested in something, start making time for that interest. Sure, no one can drop everything they're doing whenever they want to pursue each of their interests every time they arise. However, you can make the decision to create time for your interests - and this means prioritizing your interests.

FWIW I understood exactly what you meant, and I think you identified a real factor - it's important to identify a root cause of such self-identified "problem behaviour", not just identify coping mechanisms and carry merrily on doing so. I think you are spot on, partially at least. (I'm neither the OP, nor any idea who the OP is - but your comment resonates)

" However, IMHO, your issue is that you think that being aware of topics is equivalent to truly understanding those topics. If you were really interested in those 100 unread pinboard articles, you would have read them - you seem to like the idea of knowing about the topics of the articles more than actually understanding the underlying concepts contained in the articles."

It's not always about knowing things in and out. I am in a position where I need to know a lot about a lot of things. If developers come with some new tech and want to do xyz. It's very helpful for me to know what xyz is. If non technical people or management comes with demands abc I need to know the bounds of it.

It's not great being in a meeting or on a phone call and not knowing what the other person is talking about. Not only does it make you look uneducated but it makes the other people lose respect for you.

To do what I want I don't need to know everything about a topic. But knowing the basics and its existence goes a very very long way.

I know a good bit about a lot of topics. Then in my specific field I know a lot more in depth.

My Instapaper account has 250 unread/unfilled items, ranging from interesting algorithms to neat libraries to interesting articles. Any time I find some interesting tidbit I put it away to read when I'm not working. I can't read anything I want whenever I want, I have stuff to do during the day, can't justify to my boss if I spend 6 hours reading articles on neural networks and trying the methods if I have a project at hand that won't benefit from it

I tend to have similar problems, compounded with the fact that I have been working on remote for the most part of the past five years or so. Here are, in no particular order, some of the things that have helped me.

Computer and desk are for work; leisure time should happen somewhere else, using something else. The more time you spend goofing off while in the exact same place where you work, the more likely you are to do it during work hours.

Staring for long hours at a screen can seriously mess up your sleep. If you want to read at night, do it on physical books, an e-book or a reading app with good night-mode (I like Instapaper as well).

When I need to focus and think about a problem, I like to leave the computer aside for a while, take pen and paper, and sketch possible solutions. Depending on your job, it could work for you as well.

Get out of the house. This depends on the person, but I have never really been able to focus when working at home: I always end up going to a cafe or library, as having other people around (even if they are strangers) helps me focus.

When I need to write a long letter or blog post, I often use my iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard. I lay back on a chair/couch, keyboard on my lap and iPad on a table in front of me, out of easy reach. The idea is to get in a comfortable position where the only thing I can do is type.

Finally, one has to accept the fact that it is simply not possible to keep up with the flow of new stuff. We need to prioritise, least we start forgetting the really important things because our minds are too full with cruft, too used to skimming through things without time for reflecting on them.

You might be INTP. FInd out and if you are, find a community of them. It helped me.

And to put it succinctly, minimize your information firehoses and reject the notion that you need to keep abreast of everything even if it is not relevant to you.

Purge all of your reading lists and resist building them. If you keep any lists or bookmarks, require that they be things you HAVE read and want to keep as reference for later. I do have a "toread" bookmark folder, but I almost never go back to read things there.

Visit only one or two tech sites a day. For example, I come to HN to the exclusion of almost anything else because it does a good job of showing only relevant things. But I limit this to 3-5 times a week and only when I'm bored. It's a good filter.

Lastly, get a personal project that serves as a good source of challenges. Use it to help decide if you should read about a particular technical topic. You'll find that this serves as a good filter, but at the same time you'll magically seem to read about things relevant to your technical challenges in a surprisingly timely manner.


I don't think information addiction has anything to do with a particular Meyers-Brigg personality type. They seem like an orthogonal axes. If anything, I would imagine INTP are less likely to have this issue, because they are interesting in meaning and not just information. I would think the more social personality types would be more addicted to news or e-mail, but that's just speculation.

One thing I do is take notes on most things I read. Just a couple sentences. This helps in several ways:

1) If you're not willing to take notes on something, it's not worth reading. So you read less.

2) It limits your rate of consumption, because writing takes time. So you read slower.

3) Having it written down and organized reduces the burden on your brain. It's like the GTD system. You want to relieve your brain of holding information. Your brain will know it is one click away if you have organized your notes properly.

4) When writing notes, you are relating it to things you already know. It forces recall. This prevents your brain from being just a jumble of useless disconnected facts.

Sadly, the desire to understand the 'real truth' requires significant time spent taking in data. Anyone who can promise meaning from a single point of view is lying.

Notes rock. I agree with 1, 2, 3, and 4.

I like tasks and reminders in any of a variety of systems. I send myself a lot of emails to process later.

> You might be INTP. FInd out and if you are, find a community of them. It helped me.

I took one of those self tests and it came back ITSJ

Certainly not a problem unique to INTP, I just said that because your problem seems so familiar - personally and from others that I know.

Please note that this is not about MB, it's about getting hints about who you are and how you use the information you seek.

I was not aware of MB until a friend IRL told me that I might be a certain type. I took the test, and from there my world seemed to open as I at least had a way to learn more about myself.

I read the term "information diet," and I think that is what it comes down to. I've had to do this time to time. Having a motivating side project to help you pick between what is and is not relevant to you at a particular time is a good idea.

Anyway, good luck.

If you don't mind my asking - what community do you participate in to mitigate the scatter brain effects of being INTP?

GTD. GTD = David Allen's book GETTING THINGS DONE which has been mentioned below already. I've lived the splatter-gun-to-focus process that GTD can create, if you stick with GTD. I blog about GTD on and off. Here is my before/after with pictures: http://restartgtd.com/gtd-journey-after/ and, here is my 5 year GTD time lapse of refactored desks and trusted systems: http://restartgtd.com/gtd-time-lapse/

Thanks for the links, very insightful.

As somebody who unfortunately is only a fairly recent GTD convert I was wondering if you could elaborate more on why Omnifocus wasn't for you?

I was thinking of buying it for both my Mac and iPhone but I am still undecided as I don't know if it really is the right solution for me. GTD to me most of all is about honestly taking stock of our own shortcomings as human wetware (and pragmatically be OK with it) so I'm essentially asking myself if David Allen would rather be for some organic, haptic "real world" physicality at least..

Personally, following Allens instructions to the letter made GTD "stick", when all the digital tools I tried had failed for me over and over again. Having a physical reminder of everything made building a habit far easier and avoided distractions that come with a computer and a screen.

Thanks for sharing I was suspecting something like this..oh welp, those alluring glowing computer screens they surely are distracting.

http://gtdfh.branchable.com/ is my write-up of how I use GTD, in case it helps.

First of all, purge all the articles. They might be a little outdated and redundant now anyways.

But, I can understand and relate exactly to what you're going through. The only difference (imo) is that my over-active mind has actually led to some pretty bad anxiety that I'm just recently being able to cope with and manage. I was at a point about a year ago where there was so much stuff happening around me and so many things I was constantly trying to process (work, school, private projects, potential startup ideas, relationships, family, etc.) that I would end up in the hospital from panic attacks, seemingly from information overload.

What i did to cope was seek therapy - and I actually only did that for about five sessions until something clicked. I've since been able to simply prioritize things in my mind and ignore things I deemed irrelevant. This has helped immensely. Also, I've taken up meditation to really train my brain into not getting so distracted so I can focus on only one thing at a time when I need to.

You're definitely not alone here. We've spent our entire lives consuming information at a level that we're not actually designed for, it'll take some time to train yourself to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.

Awesome glad you are doing a bit better

Same here. Recently my Moto G broke. It would take 3 weeks to get it fixed and I decided not to have a phone in the mean time. I did this before, people will complain about your poor availability but for me it is only friends, and mostly via Whatsapp. At Work I'm behind my PC mostly and very reachable, I have a desk phone as well so I can call people and I use Skype out...

This experience is always eye opening. It always makes me wonder what the hell I was doing with that smart phone all the time. I just got it back (!after 7 weeks!) and I do 3 days on a battery because I hardly check it. I lost the habbit. I feel much better, when I bike to work I don't have a podcast playing (Twit, No Agenda, yes I miss it, I even burned two No Agendas to a CD for a long car ride, had to dig around the attic for burnable cds :)), I'm not whatsapping during work, not reading long posts on he toilet. I have time to think. Think about what to do, what to learn, how the day will look like. This alleviates a lot of stress, just having a clear and relaxed picture of what your day will look like.

In short: Just stop it. Just Stop overloading your brain. You know exactly what is wrong but you are too weak. Stare out the window, go on walks without your cell phone, quit facebook. The world will not miss you.

I have a very strong feeling that when we stopped being bored, stopped waiting, stopped doing nothing, stopped staring and replaced it with constant consuming of information, we lost something valuable. And indeed, those apps are shortcuts to dopamine release, it is hard to stop. I admit, getting my phone back was like getting a new gadget, but I try to restrain myself from using it. One small trick is to do most thing in the browser, it does not put notifications in your notification area.

By the way, you posted your question here to find an easy way out, to get a tip like: Scratch your left nut for 3 minutes once a day and feel better. But there is no such advice. There is no shortcut. You are going to have to do something radical if you really want change. If you really want change, delete all those accounts, get a dumb phone.

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. -Henry David Thoreau

It is hard work.

You say i wrote this to get the easy answer but I got yours which is a big help and really put things in perspective. I think if I just stopped reading reddit I'd be fine.

Thanks so much.

Ok, I shouldn't have put it that way.

What I mean is that I get the distinct feeling that you know what to do, you say you like to be informed but you are getting an overload of info. It is so extremely easy to conclude you should reduce the amount of information you consume that you already know that. So why don't you do it? Because you don't know how. I'm saying it will take a lot of work indeed, and a lot of willpower. There is no other way than to indeed just stop reading reddit.

Imo, what you need (and me too) is more time to let your thoughts wander, to let your brain connect dots on its own without distraction, to let your brain relax. So you reduce the amount of info. Why is this hard? Because you seek immediate satisfaction, that is what you get from all that information. But all this info is not satisfactory in the long run, hence your cry out to HN. The process of undoing these tendencies is not rewarding at all in the short term, but it will be in the long run. That is why it is hard, especially for someone like you (and me.) Hard problems require focused willpower, not changing /etc/hosts, you'll find something else to distract you.

+1 for the nut-scratching tip. Worked wonders.

For a long time I felt (and now feel) the same as you. I just wanted to share an experience that, while completely anecdotal, is perhaps atypical, and has been one of the defining experiences of my life.

I got the Internet as a birthday present on my 8th birthday, and pretty much disappeared from normal society for the next few years. The Internet was (and is) fascinating - I could learn anything, interact with people I'd never met with, and, notably, do adult things without anyone doubting me because I was young.

But as I got older, the Internet, and therefore my mind, just got busier. Eventually it was not only random articles and a few chatrooms, but dozens of apps and sites that are programmed to give us a dopamine hit. Being online to me feels like walking around in a casino trying not to gamble.

I don't think I concentrated on one thing for more than 20 minutes for years, and outside of school I didn't have to. So I just convinced myself that school was archaic, skipped as much class as I could, and ended up a mental butterfly. It was working for me.

Except for when I wanted to get stuff done. I probably started learning to program 100 times, but I would get distracted with cat pictures or something, and even though I loved computers more than anything else, I couldn't do much to create with them. I was diagnosed with ADHD, but I didn't really care; I don't think that experience is unique to either me or people who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Then, all of the sudden, I went on a Mormon mission in eastern Ukraine. Two years with 30 minutes of Internet a week (at an Internet club 45 mins away from my apartment). My entire life was structured in a way I never would have structured it in order to get me to concentrate on the things I considered most important for that period of time.

My mind slowed down - in an almost literal sense. I had only finished a couple of books in my entire life before the mission, and on the mission I could easily read the Old Testament for hours on end, paying attention to intricacies of text I never would have realized before.

Then I got home. I jumped on Facebook, and right back into my old habits. My mind was gone for weeks. Not gone in the sense that I wasn't learning anything -- I would pick up tidbits here and there, but I never got deep enough into anything to make any of that learning useful. It terrified me.

So now I spend a lot of time on very strict information diets. I severely limit my time on HN, Reddit, Facebook. I try to keep my reading on a Kindle so the Internet isn't even an option. I would love for someone to create an app (that works) that limits what sites I can use so I can go into "wired in" mode when I'm programming.

In short, don't be afraid to place restrictions on yourself. Let your mind slow down.


Works well. It cannot be turned off and you can set it for a specific amount of time. You choose the websites you would like to block.

Your phone is obviously a weak point, but it's a start.

lol you know, unless were on HN where people know about the hosts file :P

I kid. It still works, although I use rescuetime now and it's pretty useful seeing how much time you waste on certain things. Costs money though.

> It cannot be turned off and you can set it for a specific amount of time

I almost stopped using the app due to the lack of an off button, after my boss asked for some data and I could not get it on time because the website was not on my whitelist.

Luckily, there is a way of turning it off. If you don't want to know it skip the rest of this comment, and otherwise here it is, in case someone needs it: the app uses the local time, so by changing your computer's time forward you can end the block earlier.

No way to disable things is a dealbreaker for me.

It should be possible (if slightly annoying) to disable restrictions, but it should only ever be temporarily disabled.

A chrome extension I use called stay focus has an option to require typing a long document exactly in order to disable it. Unfortunately it's trivial for even a mildly technical person to figure out how to get around it, so it's become useless for self control.

> it's trivial for even a mildly technical person to figure out how to get around it

Copy & paste?

No, it counts keystrokes too, so that doesn't work. I haven't tried to get past it myself, but really all I'd do to sidestep it is go to incognito, or use one of my other browsers.

I mean the extension itself is very easy to bypass. Just right click on it and remove it or disable it. You can also go into incognito, or a different user, different browser, etc.

For me it's the opposite. Having a loophole to turn it off is a dealbreaker for me.

Thank you!

I severely limit what's on my phone - no social apps, for example, and it's enough of a pain that I don't browse the Internet on it much. So I've mostly solved that problem.

Thanks. Also, if people haven't seen this yet, you can easily click on your HN username and set noprocrast: yes.

"Offtime" does a reasonable job for Android.

This sounds very common to me and countless other friends who work in tech/online -

I half wonder if I am not meant to work in front of a computer the rest of my life. I sometimes think it would be more beneficial to pursue something more blue collar like becoming an electrician or something similar. Sure, access to a smart phone these days still provides plenty of access to distractions, but what if my job wasn't so involved with actually NEEDING to be in front of a screen all day?

No idea if I could ever make the leap, but I do often see the appeal.

If you want to try this, don't wait too long. Being an electrician is a though job physically. If you're past 35 and you're used to sitting in front of a screen for a living, your body will have difficulties readjusting to the strain.

Source: I did this myself about 5 years ago, following a complete burnout on being a C++ developer. Worked as an electrician for about 18 months.

Try stayfocused- I used it all through med school. Half an hour on my 'big 4' - smh.com.au, HN, facebook, wired and later reddit a week. During exams I'd hit the nuclear options n and only allow wikipedia and university sites.

Great productivity booster

Edit: whoops forgot the link. https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/stayfocusd/laankej...

It's an app that doesn't work in the specific way that you wish, but I have found leechblock to be a wonderful addition to my internet life: http://www.proginosko.com/leechblock.html

You can eliminate large swaths of the internet from loading in your browser and control what sets of sites are blocked when.

I was having trouble with Leechblock until I realized I could redirect the page to something like a static image. I often find myself blinking and staring at a Leechblocked result without quite knowing how I got there, particularly from the middle of a flow state. (I'll be hacking on something and randomly open browser, ctrl+l, "reddit.com" without conscious thought.)

I change up the image every few days but I try to have it point to something like the recent Orion launch or a trip photo from the Portland Hikers Field Guide. Instead of redirecting to Google's homepage (which is what I did at first), seeing the image gives me positive reinforcement to pause and be more mindful about what I'm doing, where my head is at, etc.

It's been an enormous help in instilling my habit to stay focused.

On osx and linux, you can edit your /etc/hosts file to "uninstall" domains (e.g. reroute them to localhost). The barrier-to-edit is involved enough (prompt for root password, invoking an editor, etc) to at least slow you down before you undo the block.

I set a simple cron job to do just this. Weekdays from 9-5, Facebook, Reddit, and a few other sites are routed to localhost. Getting around it is more of a pain than just opening an Incognito tab, which is all that's required to get around a blocking browser extension.

Just having that schedule imposed on me for a few days was all it took for me to get out of the habit of opening a new tab and heading to one of the aforementioned sites any time I ran into a difficult problem. I've noticed an increase in my productivity, and I don't really even feel the need to twiddle away that time anymore.

There is hosts file on windows as well and you can do same thing ;)

Thanks for sharing. Allow me to provide another possible aid for those who would not be well-served by the kind of isolation and regimented schedule one would encounter on a Mormon mission (e.g. those with delayed sleep phase). I also went on such a mission for two years, and my mind could never adapt to the 14-hour 6-day workweeks.

The only solution that worked for me, which I figured out years later, was controlled caffeine intake with just the right calorie balance plus an interesting career that isn't affected by delayed sleep phase. With those two things, my motivation increases, scatterbrainedness decreases, and I can get significant things done.

It's cool to hear that a Mission helped someone in a real tangible way.

But, as a counterpoint to the "beneficial" Mormon story, I would like suggest that my early experience in the organization was not very good (I left as soon as I was old enough to legally do so. I would have left at 13 had parents permitted.).

I am firmly convinced these types of organizations often induce strange mental problems of their own which are often far worse than the sins they are trying to cure.

Not to slam anyone's beliefs, just a counterpoint to "hey, this helped me!". It didn't help me, and it has very much unhelped a lot of people I have known. And I guess I really question whether this type of thing helps humanity as a whole.

I am firmly convinced these types of organizations often induce strange mental problems of their own which are often far worse than the sins they are trying to cure.... And I guess I really question whether this type of thing helps humanity as a whole.

I agree entirely. People well served by their community have little motivation to question it, but that doesn't mean that everyone would benefit from membership in that community, or even that the community is beneficial to society as a whole. I have many thoughts on the subject, and maybe one day I'll write more.

>plus an interesting career that isn't affected by delayed sleep phase

Would you mind sharing what kind of career you have chosen, or examples of others that fit this description?

I started by creating my own product and consulting companies, and as my monetary needs increased and revenues decreased, kept them running on the back burner while adding full-time remote and in-office web development work. I consider myself very lucky to have met the people who could connect me to projects that didn't care so much about daily schedules, only results. And if I may say so, I definitely deliver results.

Maybe a lightweight proxy server (running a r-Pi? or another headless server) on your network and routing traffic through it? I offer this as an extension to my post many comments down, which basically covers my belief that you must first filter/proxy the mind. Not trying to control how to hand everything the world has available but instead only allowing yourself to focus on what you need available and saying no to the rest.

Anyways, it's bit of a time consumer setting up said software initially but you benefit from a lot of angles once done. (Network security, content management, less likely to back track on systems that take more work to implement, as well as having a sophisticated and global system across all devices routed through the proxy server.) I believe some software packages even allow for the management of access times as well as content type. White list only a couple sites/ url's / IP's you use and white list them for only the time you need to be able to use them. Have someone else change the computer password on the server that you trust and boom. Just don't get distracted trying to circumvent security now...ha ha

Just a casual suggestion based upon experience as a school system administrator. Normally though if I am having a problem that starts in the mind, I develop a solution that either starts there or starts at whatever triggers it in my mind. Just a thought. Hack yourself you know?

> So now I spend a lot of time on very strict information diets.

What helped me was signing up to newsletters. Once a week I get newsletters summarising the most interesting links for HN, and also ones about Python, Big Data and Data Science.

I redirect HN/Reddit/Facebook to in my hosts file, because going to these sites is an automatic reaction in a browser, and all I need is a 404 to remind myself why I no longer visit them all day.

Lastly, I only use Facebook for chat but I get distracted by the feed. So I unfollowed everyone on my feed and now I don't have one.

For HN, there's the fantastic HNDigest[1] that sends you a summary email of the day's top posts.

1. http://www.hndigest.com/

I use this one, nothing but good things to say about it: http://www.hackernewsletter.com/

Thanks for the mention, Christian :)

Would love any feedback on the service!

"... now I spend a lot of time on very strict information diets ..."

I can see this happening in the near future. People using some technique to measure and restrict their Internet binge.

Is there a way to use Raspberry Pi to restrict website/Internet access??

What was your age when you went to ukraine. How old are you now?

wow that's some great advice. Thanks so much.

I can't remember from whom I read/heard this from, I think it's from Rob Walling in "Start small, stay small", but what resonated with me was the following:

1. Put yourself on an information diet, and

2. Filter out any reading that you cannot turn into an actionable item.

For instance, I have pocket open right now. There's an article named "Cache is the new RAM". I just removed it. Why? Yes. It is interesting. But the information cannot be translated into something of value with respect to what I do.

Believe me, you won't miss out on the things you forgot existed.

Write it all down.

What do you need to do? What do you want to do? What things don't really matter to you?

Organize it on paper or whatever medium makes sense. I like OneNote and Trello. I've found its one of the easiest ways to remove those thoughts from the back of my mind is to put them someplace actionable and consistent. A stream of consciousness todo list isn't very productive.

With regards to instapaper or readability, either:

a) Treat it as a bookmarking service, not a read-later service. Then reference it when a topic comes of importance to what you wrote down above or you're just bored.

b) Clear out all 800 articles and start over, possibly being more selective or auto-clearing them monthly.

These are both things the brain does naturally, pruning through attention and focus and long-term storage for future reference :)

EDIT: Formatting

> consistent

I think jimfleming covered what I was going to say really well, but I wanted to really emphasize that for this to work, you need to be maniacally consistent with using the system.

I use Asana, and just keep a tab open next to my inbox. Sure, having a todo list helped from the start, but it took probably 2-3 months of consistently putting everything (and their anticipated due dates) into Asana before I could really trust the system. Now that it's ingrained into my workflow, though, I know that anything I need to keep track of is there.

Once you get to that stage, it's like a whole different life -- seriously.

Relax, it's okay. :-) I went through the same thing. I realized that it is neither possible nor important to know a lot of stuff. It is more important and a much more satisfying experience to follow one's own interests and learn what one needs to in the process, as this kind of knowledge stays with you and does not clutter your mind. Knowing stuff is not at all as important as being able to apply logic and ask the right questions in any context.

If possible, try to work on something of interest that will take time, focus and patience to achieve, like a painting or writing poetry or coding something way beyond your current skill level. That would help your mind to calm down and focus. Hope this helps.

Thanks a lot this was great advice.

Glad I could be of help. :-) Thanks for asking the question.

It's not at all a silly question, I've experienced the same and, reading the comments, it seems many others have too.

My own problem was being too attracted to novelty, every little bit of information that arrived in front of me was the most important piece of information in the world. But, before I could act on it, the next piece would arrive. This manifested in me having a long lists of books and articles to read, things I wanted to do, things I wanted to learn, and, eventually, dissatisfaction because I couldn't keep up with it all.

I "solved" my own problem by just routing every distraction as it arrived into a look-at-later list. Then when later arrived I'd scan through, decide what was actually worth following up on and just delete the rest. If you do this then you will realise how unimportant most of those distractions were.

Going onwards the key is not to have 10 books and 800 articles and 100 more articles, I'd suggest purging them. Focus on one book, ignore the rest. After you finish that first book then pick one of the rest. If some of the books were just bought on a whim and you don't have the enthusiasm to read then just delete them, it's not a problem, no one will judge you. Delete all of the articles, if they're important enough then you'll see them again.

Afterwards, don't buy any more books until you've finished the ones you have. Notice the difference between not wanting to read a book that you have and wanting to read the one you're thinking about buying. Is it really important? Do you need it now?

With the articles, continue to use Instapaper, it's a great way to avoid the immediate distraction. But only keep a limited amount of things in there. Notice how quickly you add new articles and how quickly you read them. If you're adding faster than you can read then delete the surplus. And if you notice the list becoming unwieldly then delete them all and start again, you won't miss anything, nothing is that important.

The same idea applies to many things, remove the impatience of "now!" and it's easy to view and prioritize them. You'll never be able to do everything, so just do the things that you want most and purge the rest. They're not important, it doesn't matter.

" I "solved" my own problem by just routing every distraction as it arrived into a look-at-later list. Then when later arrived I'd scan through, decide what was actually worth following up on and just delete the rest. If you do this then you will realise how unimportant most of those distractions were."

Good idea. Frankly when I come on HN or reddit I may scan through and open a ton of tabs. But then as I go through the tabs I'll close many since they no longer seem as important

look-at-later is amazing. I use Instapaper for exactly that. Now I have made a habit of shoving everything there and going through it at a specified time in the day.

is look-at-later a product I am confused.

Ha, no, no product, it's just what I call the list.

I use IAWriter for it, but you can literally use anything.

For me: Pick some system for dealing with stuff. I dont think it much matters which one you do as long as you have one and it isnt based on stuff actively being in your brain. Mine is inbox 0/4Ds whatever you want to call it, with me allowing myself to put tasks for me in there.

Most of those systems focus on aggressive prioritization and removing lists of tasks from your mind and moving them to paper.

Be aggressive about not storing stuff anywhere else. I used to have 10+ items that I semi-actively thought about - now I've reached a point where I have nothing at all loaded as "I must think about this/remember this/do this" - that stuff is all written down.

After that its just practice and repetition. Any time "I should do X" pops up, write it down in your system, or say "thats ok, I have it written down in the system" if you already have.

Doing this isnt all good - there are times that I miss having a long list spinning in the back of my head. It means you need to load the list actively if you're actually going to have discussions about what you are planning to do. Its weird in the start to go "Uh I have no idea, let me check" if you're asked what you're doing today/this week or asked if you have some great ideas about random topic X. But its overall a lot more effective to be focused on whatever you are actually doing rather than what you could be doing.

This is the right way. A system allows you to unload your brain and get all the crap out of the way, so you can stop thinking about it and focus on the task at hand.

As overplayed as it is, GTD really is pretty good. It basically boils down to: keep lists, use them religiously, and focus on one thing at a time. But the book itself is good and goes into significantly more detail, all of which is useful.

Any system will do, as long as it's trustworthy, and you actually commit to using it.

As W. Edwards Deming said, "A bad system will beat a good person, every time." Couldn't be more true. You can try try try to be as good as you will yourself to be on your own, but regardless, even a poorly implemented system can do better than you can on your own. This applies to many aspects of work, and your own system is just the beginning.

Great thanks. How does one keep the lists? Is paper preferable?

I use my email inbox. Many people will say that is wrong. :) I dont think it matters, as long as you have something that works for you. Paper, some app, email, whatever.

I used to be similar and here is what I do now:

- Avoid the news. 99% is rubbish and the other 1% isn't going to have any effect on you. If anything is important enough you'll hear about it anyway (from talking to people, Facebook, etc). I only read HN and a few Reddits regularly now, but even most of that is rubbish. If you hear about a news topic that is interesting to you, sure go read into it, but you aren't going to gain anything from constantly checking the news 'just in case' you miss something.

- Don't care about TV / movies / books / articles. Nothing you read / watch is going to dramatically change your life, so don't feel you are missing out. Again the good stuff will bubble up to you somehow. (Don't care doesn't mean don't consume, I still take a break to watch shows and movies every so often, but I don't do it religiously). After Google Reader shutdown I didn't bother finding a replacement and I don't feel any less of it now.

- Meditation. There are lots of different branches of meditation, rather than focusing on a single problem the one I do has you focus on thinking about nothing. You just need to observe any thoughts instead of following them, and eventually your mind will be silent. It's leads to greater mindfulness which means being present in the moment rather than thinking about the past or future.

Don't care about TV / movies / books / articles. Nothing you read / watch is going to dramatically change your life

Then what will? How will you escape any local maxima without input from far away - far away in location, far away in time, far away in concept and ideas, far away in political, social, economic, artistic, &c. worldview from where you are?

Why would you skip the lessons other people took decades to learn, to refuse to learn from history and from others outside your immediate contacts, on principle?

>Then what will?

So you assume that TV (80% crap), movies (pure entertainment, excluding documentaries, which are also mostly crap anyway), books (60% crap) and articles (90% assholes with opinions) are the only possible sources of information? Do you really think there's nothing conspicuously missing from there? Here's a hint: it's the origin of all the above and can provide more than all of them combined.

Look how often the writings of Marcus Aurelius pop up on HN.

Are you suggesting it's easier to go talk to him than it is to read his writings? Or that the people you talk to can and will tell you everything his writings could teach you?

No I'm not tautologically suggesting that awful TV shows are amazing. Nor am I saying that you can't learn from living people you talk to, which is why I qualified with 'local maxima' and 'far away'. Your friends, your HN topic choices, your business contacts, are to some extent an echo chamber of people doing things you do, liking things you like, sharing the world views you share.

Reading the life experience of people who did things we can't do, experienced things we will never experience, lived in political and social situations that don't exist anymore, saw and dreamed of things in ways we just aren't thinking about ... is pretty unique.

My mind is the same way inside. It's never quiet, and it's terribly annoying.

To start, minimize intake. When I tried to stay on top of things, I found it weighed me down, limited productivity, and didn't _really_ help. Skimming topics is almost as useful as actually reading them. The benefit there is that you acquire a lot of assorted bits of background info, which might come in handy. But you don't need to deep dive and worry about getting through all the material. Just knowing it's there is enough. And even then, consider limiting the scope.

The whole "being informed, having an opinion, arguing" -- it's really not productive. I look back over all my HN interactions, and the vast majority of it isn't really productive. Your opinions don't matter, and nor do the arguments. If I spent the time I've wasted saying shit on HN doing something useful (even reading fiction books), it'd have been better spent. (Now reading threads I've learned a lot, and getting some of my statements corrected has been useful.) But there must be some low-level psychological drive, since here I am. Mostly it comes from periods of boredom or depression, where I can't get over the initial impulse to work. Eliezer covers it here[1].

When I've taken HN breaks for extended periods of time, and I don't fill in that gap with another "news" source, I start to feel more peaceful, focused, content.

1: http://lesswrong.com/lw/3kv/working_hurts_less_than_procrast...

> Skimming topics is almost as useful as actually reading them. The benefit there is that you acquire a lot of assorted bits of background info, which might come in handy. But you don't need to deep dive and worry about getting through all the material. Just knowing it's there is enough. And even then, consider limiting the scope.

Good point.

> The whole "being informed, having an opinion, arguing" -- it's really not productive. I look back over all my HN interactions, and the vast majority of it isn't really productive. Your opinions don't matter, and nor do the arguments. If I spent the time I've wasted saying shit on HN doing something useful (even reading fiction books), it'd have been better spent. (Now reading threads I've learned a lot, and getting some of my statements corrected has been useful.) But there must be some low-level psychological drive, since here I am. Mostly it comes from periods of boredom or depression, where I can't get over the initial impulse to work. Eliezer covers it here[1].

Another good one. It doesn't matter.

For some time I used to feel the same as you (and most of people here as I understand). It was not easy but I started an information diet. I never went back.

My information diet (in case of being helpful for somebody):

general news websites and newspapers - None. If it is important you'll know about it by somebody or it will be on HN top 10.

hacker news - Top 10 articles of the last day [1].

specific news (in my case, javascript) - Weekly digest email [2].

twitter - Once a day, no tweeting and following only 10 accounts. Probably still too much.

facebook and email - Once a day. Probably still too much.

skype - Just by appointment.

smartphone - I don't have one. A basic phone is enough (unless I'm traveling; maps and gps are really useful).

tv - Just by appointment (ex: watch a sport event, specific TV show, etc).

To organize myself I use Secretweapon (GTD for evernote) [3] and Folder-system [4].

[1] http://www.daemonology.net/hn-daily/

[2] http://javascriptweekly.com/

[3] http://www.thesecretweapon.org/

[4] https://github.com/we-build-dreams/folder-system

The sad reality is that even if you read a book a week or a book every few days, you would never be able to read the top X books. Life is about choices; you will have to choose.

You already know who you are. Focus on relationships and finding out about who people are.

An old adage: people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Meditation will help you. If you don't already do it - volunteer your time and skills. Especially to teach those who might not be as confident as you.

Good luck!

Great advice thanks.

It sounds like you've already realized you're drinking from a fire hose. There is no possible way to consume all information. It is being generated far faster than you could even hope to consume in many lifetimes.

Since you can't be informed about everything all the time pick a topic or two that you are deeply interested in learning more about (or keeping up to date). Then enjoy the fact that you can tune out the fear stations (CNN, Fox News, etc.) and concentrate on your specialty. Because most other people won't know nearly as much as you about your selected topics you may be perceived as far more informed than others.

I get a weekly business magazine and used to be vigilant about reading every article every week. Now I just skim the headlines and dig into something if it's interesting. I'll even throw out a previous week's magazine if a new one arrives. Anything important enough from the old issue will be in the new one.

The other advice that I can give is to pick the most important item/article and put 100% of your energy to accomplishing your goal by a specific deadline. Then move onto the next goal. My brain is much happier processing in serial instead of parallel.

Good advice thanks

I worry that the people who really have the answer to this probably aren't going to see this or post a comment.

In its own hilarious way, this could be closer to truth than most of the stuff here.

I recently realized that I was taking in a large amount of information every day but retaining very little of it. Between HN and Reddit, I would "learn" dozens of things each day and end up not getting a lot of value out of it. While this is tangential to the problem that you're having, I can definitely empathize.

Two things that I'm trying out now:

1) Write down things that you learn each day and review them weekly. I find this helps me to filter out a lot of the extraneous information and focus in on things that could be useful in the future.

2) Monthly or bi-monthly focus on one specific skill or area of knowledge. Out of all the things I could read/watch/listen to, I try to concentrate on things that relate to one thing that can make me better. Bookmark or save interesting things that you come across, but limit your attention to just books or articles about one topic for the rest of December and January. The other stuff will still be there when you come back to it.

The tl;dr is to write out your goals and come up with a plan to achieve them. Focus on one and set aside time each day to make incremental progress. Everything else will take care of itself.

Yes, just purge them. Why not?

I sometimes use my brother's computer and simply close all of his open tabs, and he always thanks me.

You say you're not anxious... But I'd think more about that angle. What you describe sounds like a form of anxiety. You can be anxious and still be able to sleep.

Information doesn't have to be painful or exhausting. Why do you feel like this information is a burden? Why do you hesitate to declare a jubilee and just clear your Instapaper?

How do you relax? What are your habits like?

Maybe you're focusing your problem-solving energy on fixing this info overload problem, when what's actually bothering you is something missing in the other parts of your life?

I know what you're talking about, but I also quite clearly see how I've previously rushed to blame info overload. Actually, my ability to let info just be what it is—without it causing anxiety or unhappiness—seems to depend crucially on other factors.

> Yes, just purge them. Why not? > Why do you feel like this information is a burden? Why do you hesitate to declare a jubilee and just clear your Instapaper?

Fear of missing something important I guess. The info could prove important in my life. It's a burdern because of the how I feel now. Worn down.

> You say you're not anxious... But I'd think more about that angle. What you describe sounds like a form of anxiety. You can be anxious and still be able to sleep.

I have an anxiety disorder and this could be anxiety. It's not the same feeling though as when I think I am going to have a heart attack.

> How do you relax? What are your habits like?

I go to work, work on computer. Come home and relax on computer. On weekends I occasionally go for a hike.

> when what's actually bothering you is something missing in the other parts of your life?

Certainly possible.

I'd love to hear more

Building lists for reading later is the same as having all the world's information at hand, which the internet makes very easy. And it is literally unfiltered, too. It's of no real value to collect for later, and sadly, consuming information without need (practical use) might be entertaining, but won't be remembered by your brain, aka waste of time.

A tendency to consume for distraction might indicate a burnout as well. In a certain age or after too much monotonic work this is a common auto-reaction, to keep us sane supposedly. Do something different.

While meditating can be calming, I suggest physical activity, helped me at least, it is amazing what a little running (every day) can do. And in general - ignore all the trash information, there is too much available these days - stick to what you need to achieve goals (provided you have set those already).

Bare minimum, don't visit news websites of any kind. They're designed to attract clicks and be sensational and make you think it matters. Really, almost no news story has any impact on your life. You would be exactly as happy and able to live your life without knowing anything about the story.

Anything truly important you'll hear about from other people. If you want, get a subscription to the atlantic or something where they have long form articles that are well researched and most importantly... delayed from the events. The delay puts things into a perspective that makes it much easier not to get drawn into feeling a need to "keep up". The story, if it's worth knowing about, will still be a story in a month.

I have the same problem, at some point you stop having time to read all that, you just collect the information for the sake of collecting it. It's actually a kind of hoarding disorder, and in my experience the similar measures can be applied:

- Learn to prioritize important vs useless info

- Impose yourself a limit on time/amount of data daily

- To support the above set some offline time to do something else, something useful and relaxing

- Organize your data and just delete all that you know you will never have time to read

- Learn to accept that you will never know everything, it's impossible, so it's not a big deal if you miss some info. No, really, no big deal at all. Relax :)

Great thanks so much

Change up your metaphor. Sometimes it's best to think of your "stuff" as a stack to go through sequentially, sometimes a library to collect and browse, sometimes transactions to be budgeted on some kind of ledger of your time and attention, etc.

When you find a metaphor that works for you, the "rules" become rather intuitive. Lately I think of my information consumption habit as something of a diet: Eat when you are hungry. Stop eating when you are full. Stock only enough food for your anticipated needs. Favor nutritious foods. When possible, share meals with friends and family.

I could have written that.

I'm in a (some would say privileged but it isn't) situation where money just falls into my bank with little effort by myself. (Shareholdings.)

I am at a total loss as to which of the many "hobbies" I have surrounding me that I should educate myself with each day. I'm learning about 100's of things from Lego lighting projects to basic electronics right now; I don't know where to dabble next.

The way out, I feel, is to sell many things, leave my phone at home, don't connect to WiFi after 8pm at home - and try and just Be.

This works really well for me:

1) Meditation in the form of working out: The key here is the meditation. Having regular times that you clear your mind and focus on nothing but what you're doing helps focus in other areas of life. My personal preference is intense exercise with headphones in. The music gives a harmonic rhythm that helps drown out any other thoughts and prevents my mind from wandering. Lifting heavy weights gives me something to focus intensely on and not think about the outside world. It's also extremely important to not bring your phone to the gym or watch the TVs at the gym.

2) Systematically externalizing your thoughts: I find that my thoughts feel more cluttered and disjointed the more I try to keep in my head at once. It's important to find a good and reliable system for organizing and managing everything that might occur in your head on your computer. For example, I use OmniFocus to manage anything that I might want to do ever - small tasks to big long-term goals. I use Pocket to save any reading that I want to do later. I use YNAB to budget and manage my money. I use Evernote for any random notes that I have for myself. I use Google Calendar to schedule any event that might need my attention. By utilizing tools to augment your brain capacity, you can effectively offload a lot of the processing you would normally do. It's important that you use these systems regularly otherwise they'll atrophy and you'll go back to keeping everything in your head.

I can completely relate, Often I find that I wish I had a minoritory report style HUD in my eyes/brain to allow me to sort, append and edit things I think about. My mind is racing. There is so much information available, so many people sharing things that I want to read, intend to, but never get to. It's hard, and I sympathize with the OP. The best advice I can give is that of all the things I've learned its dont be hard on yourself, take baby steps, and build positive habits... There IS too much information out there, impossible to consume in any normal manner. Dont be afraid to let go of some information (at least for me, it feels like I'm already letting go because of the overload/) A lot of the time, some of these things are more temporary than others. Try to start to focus on the things that are highest priority, most interesting to you, and have the most relevance to you as you are now. If this is troubling, the question becomes more of a priority focus than an overload of information. Otherwise, it just becomes a diligence and habit problem. Along with this is also a problem with letting go with information. The fact is, that its impossible to learn all the things right now. So focus on what is relevant to you, take baby steps, read every chance you get but dont burn yourself out. You can override this information overload.

Fellow scatter brain here. I don't know if more anecdotal stories will help in any sense but at least we're not alone it seems :)

I also have tons of articles and books I have not read. But - they are all limited to few specific areas. I have this scatter brain mode and focus mode. As I focus on specific things I realize that the trove of stuff I've gathered from the scattery moments are actually really valuable since they usually cover material part of my current brief obsession.

I really did not see this going anywhere five years ago but now I realize I've actually built up a quite a good reference library and accidentally have an improved mental picture where all the bits and pieces fit.

So - my anecdotal advice - I've found it really reassuring to have a few specific goals in form of plausible future stories of self improvement and as I scour the interenets in search of trivia in my scattery moment I've succeeded in building this firewall to suppress my collector instincts. I ask myself - does this plausibly fit anywhere in my current "self improvement stories" - and if they do, I just go wild. But I file them with librarian pedantry and when the whim of focus comes I know where to look.

I've managed to collect plausible study paths in several unrelated fields and actually managed to follow a few of them - at a really slow pace, though.

Dedicate set blocks of time to read novels. Only on Sundays for example. It doesn't matter what the book is, as long as it's fiction. It can be trashy but fun stuff like The Davinci Code... In fact, the lighter the better to start with. The important thing is that you read them from start to finish. This resets scatter brain. No joke. Physical books are the best way as well, since a Kindle lets you get distracted too easily. Just grab a book and go to the park.

Delete until you have a quantity you can handle. Most articles collected over the web are too piecemeal or disconnected. A bookmarking tool ends up collecting a messy assemblage of to-do's.

Also, a lot of places signal golden information, but they're mostly junk. Nobody will ever admit that they deliver too much junk; everyone wants to say that they are worth your attention.

Pay attention to the gold-per-junk ratio as you read a textbook. As you move to a specific technical sub-Reddit. As you scan Hacker News headlines. As you look up questions on Stack Overflow. For my specific case, that mental exercise has informed me to ditch Reddit, and to only look at Hacker News when filtered to the top 10/20 (because Hacker News is only sometimes good, but majority distraction), and to save no more than a handful of authoritative or systematically comprehensive guides to information per subject matter. I don't read any news at all outside of this.

I also pay attention to what I know. I think about what information has carried over time as a tool in my kit, and how little that is. A lot of information over the web won't make it into your kit. This has guided my decision on what to delete from my life.

Meditation can be a powerful tool for dealing with information overload and reduce stress. Even just spending a few minutes to consciously be still and clear your mind can help.

Kevin Dewalt explains it better than I can. http://kevindewalt.com/2013/07/28/8-ways-meditation-makes-yo...

You are your own worst enemy.

[edit] After reading my post again it seems pretty scatter-brained, I guess that's appropriate in some way.

Back in 2011 I decided that I would teach myself all this great computer science stuff and work in information security. Apart from the fact that security in itself is an advanced topic, I had given myself a very long-term goal without realizing it.

It wasn't until a few months of research that I realized how truly enormous computer science as a topic really was. The moment I realized this I remember sitting back in my chair and thinking "fuck". So, I started with fundamentals and went from there. Thus far I've learned enough to hold my own and have the confidence that I can make it in information security once I get there.

I can't tell you how many articles, blog posts, and comment threads I read about being productive. Books I've put on my list to read and am currently reading (about 4 right now) is virtually always growing. It wasn't until the last month or so that I realized a pattern in my behavior; I will focus intensely on one thing for a variable period of time and then lose interest in it.

A few tactics against myself that have proven useful:

- Blocks all websites that waste my time between the hours of 0800-2200.

- Uninstall all games and their respective clients (done this many times).

- Keep work/studies on screen/desk 24/7; the idea here is to have to stare at what you're supposed to be doing right now, as you do not do it.

I still procrastinate terribly and go around my own countermeasures on a regular basis, but I've improved nonetheless. Hang tough buddy, you're only fighting yourself so identify your weaknesses and exploit them.

I've gone through that. What you need to do is some time management techniques. One of the most important is prioritization. It's great that you want to read all those articles, but set a time frame after which they are no longer relevant. At the start of every day make sure you have a list of tasks that you MUST get done. Do those first, nothing else. Aside from getting things done, it will give you a sense of accomplishment. For longer term tasks/projects I right the top 3-5 on post-it notes and put them in an area I see them every day. A constant reminder that those are my priorities. Most of this is based on the Daily Planner technique by Brendan Brushard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLYwz3JUsLw Be aggressive about purging. If it's really important, it will come up again. Also, remember that email is someone else's to do list for you, not your to do list.

You are not alone, AFAICT everyone has hit this at one time or another. People like to think, and communications have made it easier than ever to think about a lot of different things. I expect it is the mental equivalent of 'free candy' which is to say that for many people if there is a source of free food nearby that is stocked with lots of things they like, they eat way too much and get fat. When we think too much we get distracted. Thinking about it that way helps lead to a solution, goals, and recognizing your distraction for what it is, treats. [1]

My technique is to set a timer and work on something while that timer is set, and when it goes off I can reward myself with a peek at the distractions. I fool myself into not being tempted by the distractions because the timer will tell me when I can enjoy them, that leaves me as focused as I can be on the problem at hand.

[1] He says while typing on HN while he should be fixing code.

Meditate every day. Start with 2 minutes and work your way up to 20 minutes.

The book, "Mindfulness in Plain English" is a great place to start.

Good luck!

Thanks looks great

Some advices in this post are related to restrictive tooling and some are related to adjusting ones attitude. Whereas I used to rely on the former, nowadays I find the latter brings a completely different (and better) kind of calm.

This article [0] is one of the best ways I've ever seen it put, and I think both the culling and surrender parts it mentions are very important - not just one of them.

Inner calm is so important. Like countless others in this post have said: Try meditation, and give it time. It can be an important piece of the puzzle of silencing those voices.

Good luck.

[0] The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/04/21/135508305/the-...

I have been trying to find an efficient way to deal with this, and the trick is to decide what the most important thing is at any given moment for you. When you are fairly sure what that is, let's say it's an article or a book, you have to finish what you set out to do initially before another interesting thing gets your attention. The cost of context switching is very high, and you have to really pick out what matters to you. If you can take the time to think about it, there will be things that you want to dive into more depth than others. Once you are able to reach a certain level of expertise on a topic, I find it becomes easier to concentrate on few things (signal) and ignore the rest (noise).

A lot of people get trapped into this these days.

You have no commitment to read these articles. They should serve you, not the other way round.

I would personally purge everything and stop using pinboard/instapaper for a while.

Try to unsubcribe to as many newsletters as you can as well, it definitely helps.

Sometimes it does feel like I serve them. That's scary. I am hesitant to let them go because there very well can be things that may matter in there. I've had conversations with people who I wouldn't have been able to had I not read that one article about something. But at this point it's getting crazy so I think you're right.

    Bastian had shown the lion the inscription on the 
    reverse side of the Gem. "What do you suppose it 
    means?" he asked. "'DO WHAT YOU WISH.' That must mean I 
    can do anything I feel like. Don't you think so?"

    All at once Grograman's face looked alarmingly grave,  
    and his eyes glowed.

    "No," he said in his deep, rumbling voice. "It means 
    that you must do what you really and truly want. And 
    nothing is more difficult."

    "What I really and truly want? What do you mean by 

    "It's your own deepest secret and you yourself don't 
    know it."

What has helped me in that past is this here: "do nothing alternative"[1]. That is, I select a task that I think is most important to me and set aside a certain time to do it (lets say 2 hours). During that time I either work on that task or I do nothing. So if I don't want to work, fine. All I can do then is stare at the wall.

This has to effects: 1. I calm down. Its kind of an enforced meditation period. 2. I usually get bored and go back to the task.

[1]: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-happiness-project/20...

About news, read this article from Aaron Swartz:

http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/hatethenews "I think following the news is a waste of time."

Now I get all my news from weekly newsletters in an email inbox I only open on Saturdays. The rest of the week I don't read any news.

I use Nutshellmail.com for getting my twitter feed emailed to me on Saturdays.


Fighting Information Overload With The Impending Doom Engine


Always late to the party, I had the following two thoughts on the walk to work this morning:

1) "shows to watch" - just delete these and reclaim the time. TV shows and movies are in a new golden age, and if they don't continue to get better then you'll still have the "old" ones from now.

2) When I feel like I'm consuming too much media I remind myself of Stephen Covey's bit on Production vs Production Capacity, and that spending too much time on Production Capacity is just as bad as spending too much time on Production. There reaches a point where you have to start applying your knowledge and just getting the work done.

Quick practical advice that works for me (a guy with 300+ books on my Amazon wishlist that I'm blatantly never going to buy and read):

Stay off reddit & google news, check HN in the afternoon/evening and not first thing in the morning, save Product Hunt for the weekends and mentally check yourself whenever you land on a wikipedia article so you see the rabbit hole before you jump (you can still jump down it on occasion, just be aware you're doing it). Another commenter mentioned renaming your "to read" list to "sounded interesting" - that's awesome too and something I'm going to go do right now.

I use a page on a tool like OneNote or Evernote to write every day the notes that pop up on my head, or interesting information I read. Then, during 1hour of the weekend, I grab that page and a) trash the info that actually doesn't matter b) save the info that I think it's useful, in a certain section (Startup ideas; Biz Dev strategies; etc)

I also use Pocket to save articles to read later, but overtime I became more agressive in filtering what to read. If I don't feel to read it, I just trash it. Now it's kind of a habit. (I still do have articles saved in Pocket from several weeks before. But they are MUCH less.)

Decide what the ultimate purpose is, then prune accordingly. You don't need to, and you can't, know or do everything. So in order to succeed, you need focus. How can you get it?

Accept. Don't try to control. Observe without judgement. (But always observe). That is to say, stay aware of your thoughts and feelings as you compute. Stay aware of your body, your breath. Check in on yourself as much as you can. How are you feeling? What excites you? What do you really want to do?

By taking this attitude you see begin to see the instincts that lead to action. When you begin to understand connections, you will gain a degree of control.

Strangely, and Organizer can help. Software or hardware (calendar notebook), just writing stuff down in a timely helps relax. I know what I have to do today; tomorrow will take care of itself. And I have that written down, so I don't have to keep juggling it in my head.

800 articles is just a couple a day for a year. I know, more keep getting added. But some get stale too; some get skimmed and turn out to be not what you wanted. Its not about the number; its about the rate.

I need time to clear my head of ALL the stuff. During commute, or before bed, or brunch on Sunday - as long as I have respite, I can deal.

I wouldn't hold myself up as an example to follow, but I tend to go in cycles ... spending some time obsessively skim-reading lots of technical writing (to the detriment of my wife and children) ... then bashing away at work and trying to calm my stress enough to be productive (also to the detriment of my wife and children) ... then spending some time in an exhausted stupor, then waking up and beginning the cycle again. It's not a very organised life, but I do manage to get some things done (although not as much as I should/could/might).

This is what I do, spurts of alternating heavy technical reading and heavy work, but it absolutely wipes me out (at the minute, I'd say 7-10 days a month I feel zombie-like), and i know it really pisses off my SO. It works; i absorb large amounts of information very rapidly, and i can apply that information usefully, but I feel similar to how the original questioner described their situation - the sheer amount of information often feels like a flood that's impossible to filter, especially when I'm weary.

You've clearly struck a vein among HNers, noting the 200+ comments.

I've found going off-grid for several days a huge help to clear thoughts, and reboot the mind. Bill Gates famously took twice a year solo-trips to a lake cabin, just to read and write in peaceful silence. People used to call that vacation.

But I find these individuals who boast they blissfully ignore news and current events all together depressing. As though we're regressing to our reptilian past.

Relative to your conundrum, I'm reminded of the quote by Oscar Wilde “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Here is my view: there is a lot of information that is unnecessary if you know the basics. Take for example mathematics: if you learn well the basics of analysis, number theory, geometry, and combinatorics, everything else is noise that you can pick up if needed. Learn philosophy and you will see that most new ideas are not really new anyway. Read the classics. These are the basics that give you perspective so that you don't need to read every scrap of "new" information out there, and concentrate only on what you need.

Here are a few things I'm trying and it seems to be working well: - Delete Facebook account - Block time wasters using browser extension (reddit, news sites etc) - Block these sites also on my wifi router - Keep a daily log of all the habits I want to build/break (actually I've hacked a rails app to do this, it only runs on my machine tho :)

I've whitelisted only a few time wasting sites (HN and Twitter) but generally I don't read news articles anymore, I just get news in chunks from Twitter (good enough for me).

You should try David Allen's GTD system. I'm pretty angry at myself for not having tried to understand and apply it earlier (had been reading about it for many years before..) it really is a great holistic concept to give structure to your most precious finite resources (brain, time).

Also delete your RSS reader, loopback HN and other "educational" sites to localhost (subscribe to http://www.hndigest.com instead) and try to get back into reading books again.

Good luck!

Thanks a lot. I do suffer from reading HN and reddit too much. Sometimes I just keep consuming content. It's crazy. There's some benefit to it but overall there's not. I'd probably be better if I spent time focusing on one thing,

Thanks for hndigest I hadn't heard of it before. I have to say though for me the comments are the best part of HN.

Thanks for the mention, hoggle.

Actually, it for this same need (where I was becoming ADD by constantly checking HN) that I created HNdigest.com)

I want to second the advice to write. That helps me a lot. Pick any of your hundreds of interest or articles. Reserve some time for it, lets say one hour. Study / read for 30-40 mins. And then use the rest of the time to write a summary. That is the hard part and forces you to concentrate and really understand the subject. It also clears out a lot of subjects because you will notice much faster what you are really interested in. Ideally blog about it so you have the pressure to write something decent.

People may give you the advice to determine what is relevant to you, and then focus on that. Unfortunately, finding out what is important requires wisdom, and this will make you want to read books and papers again.

With respect to this paradoxical situation, I found reading the Tao Te Ching very interesting. It suggests that you should stop focussing on wisdom and simply accept that things will go one way or the other. This might give you some rest.

If taoism is a bridge too far, then you may want to get started in meditation or mindfulness.

Taoism isin't too far. I once read the Tao of Pooh and thought the ideas were great. I think my conflict is that information allows things to change. Decisions can be made given a better understanding.

I'll check out the Tao Te Ching book. Thanks.

> Decisions can be made given a better understanding.

This might be the root of the problem. You have to accept that most of the time you need to make decisions with your _current_ understanding.

There are some situations where you will need to seek information in order to make a better decision. (Trust yourself, you will know the difference instinctively.)

In those cases gather only the information you need to do a good enough job.

Decide what is important to you and ignore the rest.

Also focus on people and friendhsips, sports even. The human mind isn't meant to work without involving the body at the same time.

(I dare you to check your iphone or think about your reading list while trying to surf a wave for example :-) )

I got to a similar point about 2-3 years ago. Whenever I have a task that I need to focus on I go into what I call "5 minute mode". From :00-:05 of the hour I am free to check email/twitter, call someone back, find articles to mark for reading later, etc (Dopamine hits). Then :06-:59 = "in the zone" time.

This gets harder in an office environment, but usually some headphones, a don't bother sign, and shutting down all communication channels get's it into other people's heads.

I rock climb because when you are in fight or flight, you don't think about anything but that next hold. It lets me reset and turn off everything else for a short time. Participating in endurance sports gives me time to think to myself and prioritize/concentrate what I want to do during the rest of the day. A list of daily goals helps when I'm really overloaded.

I also don't watch TV and I've removed most infinite scroll apps from my phone.

I skydive for this exact same reason. During freefall I get up to 1 minute of being 100% tuned out from the world and it's a bliss I've yet to find elsewhere.

How do you start rock climbing?

The state you describe sounds very familiar to me. What helped me a great deal was to simply stop drinking coffee.

The first few days after stopping my concentration was completely destroyed, I couldn't focus at all. After about 2 days things started clearing up and I got back my calm and focus.

Most of the people I know consume coffee all day long, every day, and don't seem to be affected in the same way I am. Just thought I'll mention it, in case it might help!

Good point. I can give it a try. Thanks

I used to have this problem myself, and the main cause, I think, was a lack of direction. Now I have one, and I discard any piece of info that doesn't concern me, instead of trying to read everything because "it may come in handy".

Assange's typical breakfast while in exile? Yeah, whatever. New distributed computing paradigm? Can wait till proven useful. Uber vs. Lyft? Don't care, using neither. Foreign news? Whatever. Someone got harassed by authorities/uber driver/whoever? Nothing I can do about it. Rant about poor customer support? Them's the breaks. "What I learned" articles? Good for them, don't care. Article about some random niche (e.g. most prolific zipper brand)? Will read first paragraph, tops. Inspirational blog post about "the one thing holding you back"? Bleh, probably wrong in my case, we each have our own obstacles.

I still have hobbies and interests, and feed them, but to anything that's not related I don't even give a second look. I ignore everything related to tech I neither currently use nor particularly like, as well as any "lifehack" article (ooh, 0.5s off my showering time!), or an overly opinionated piece (any of these words in the title: incredible, insane, unbelievable, horrible etc. See cracked.com).

Also, nothing by any writers condescending enough to talk about their reader as if they know him/her in their articles ("the reason you...", "you must..", "you know...", "of course, you may..." - no, that may not be the reason I, that may not be what I must, I may or may not know, and of course, maybe I may not).

So the main takeaway, I guess, is to question whether each and every one of those instapaper/pinboard articles really matter to you. I used to be a big hoarder myself, and wondering when I'll get through it all, but I realized I'm doing just fine not doing so. Sure, let them gather up! Have a 100-item, 1000-item, 1000000-item backlog, what of it? You'll have something to do when bored, but until then, leave them be, and don't dare look at how many are there (it doesn't matter, you'll never clear it anyway).

I still hoard BTW, but just because doing so gives me the sense that "I won't be missing anything, I'll get back to it". I won't, of course, but my lizard brain doesn't know that, so shhh!

As for books, just forget about them. Leave that list aside and only look at it when you feel like reading a book and wondering what to pick up next, and never look at how many are left. May be hard at first, but you may eventually learn to just "let go".

Misc techniques I found useful:

Speed reading - read only the first few words of each paragraph, good articles are well-divided in paragraphs, and you can skip the crap. Generally, I skip case studies, unless the subject particularly interests me - the conclusion may be proven flawed in a few years anyway, once a disruptive element will enter the equation - "How could real estate possibly be a bad investment? Look at these case studies showing how reliable an investment it is!".

Shortlist - make a list of interests (not more than 10, including job-related stuff, and be specific. Say "Northbridge", not "IT and stuff..."), discard everything not related.

Next! - if an article keeps repeating the same thing for several paragraphs ("since they're successful", "because they're successful", "have successfully..."), it's a red flag that it probably doesn't have much content, is just filling up a word quota, and may have even given away the conclusion in the title (as a hook for the reader). Skip to the last paragraph, then move on.


Discard the irrelevant, filter your knowledge input, get used to there always being more out there to read, and to being unable to absorb it all. Disregard how much there's left to read ("oh no, 1000 more news items to go!"), and skip over the boring and the trite. Anything that doesn't help you, your family/friends or your career, and anything you cannot do anything about (natural disasters, conflicts in foreign countries - odds are you won't remember these yourself in a couple of years, remember how many other things you'll get to read about until then), you can do without.

I had the same problem. I solved it by trimming down to one thing and doing, learning and reading about only that one thing.

Remember: Jack of all trades is a master of none.

You want to do everything or do just one thing and be a master in it?

I'd say, try following Google's Philosophy #2 https://www.google.com/intl/en/about/company/philosophy/

Part of the problem is that you don't have time to think deeply about things, because there is to much to think about. The solution is simple: drop almost everything except what is most important to you and allocate plenty of time to for it. (This solution is simple but not easily implemented.)

A good read on this topic is "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains" by Nicholas Carr

I bet you could be more informed and successful in your career by reading only a small portion of all the content you have picked out.

Anything vital you do miss on will come to you through the social network you could be building instead of reading through all this stuff.

Moreover, reading more won't give you a point of view. It'll only give you others' points of views. Only you can create your own point of view.

It's possible I could do better by really narrowing it down but who knows. I am pretty good at what I do because of it I think. I'll have to think about it.

As for the POV's. isn't that what we all do, throw around others point of views? I wasn't educated in a way that fostered original idea.

Build something. Nothing leads to prioritization like optimizing brutally for ROI on time. Is it the most pertinent thing you can be doing? When you really lock yourself into a lean-startup REPL of building, measuring, and repeating, valuable tasks float to the top and the contrast in value propositions becomes so extreme that nothing else is visible.

1) Step away from the Internet for 2 weeks. Limit yourself to 30 minutes a day for essentials.

2) Get a lot more sleep. Sleep is needed to give your brain time to process and organize.

3) During the two weeks, pick a single book and read it. This will help train your mind to concentrate on one task.

You will feel much better after 2 weeks and will then be in a better position to reevaluate your browsing habits.

> I like to be informed.

It sounds like you need to be informed and that you'll be unhappy if you aren't.

Now if you replace 'informed' in the above sentence with anything else (e.g. cigarettes, coffee, alcohol, sex, etc) you'll notice it sounds like an addiction, because it is. Anything that makes you feel good can be addictive, and learning new things feels good.

To me, it sounds like your problem is that everything that you have at this very moment, isn't enough. Thus, you feel like you have to look out into the world to fill yourself.

I agree with others, I would definitely recommend you try to meditate several times a week. Start at 15 mins every day & work your way up.

Also, exercise more!

Rescuetime, notes/documents for offloading and this talk helps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAwDWe7OIF8 (John Cleese on Creativity and the Open and Closed mode). Basically you are on Open too much.

Great thanks.

there are only so many waking hours in the day. If you want to read articles and books that time has to come from somewhere else, or be doing while you do something already (like use the bathroom).

Also you need a system, that's NOT your brain, that you can trust to hold all this stuff. All the todos and things to watch and priorities and life goals. That way you're free to think about other things. I ended up building a web platform to help me manage it all, but I do not recommend the same path. Still, you may find there is software out there that works for you that can help you offload all this stuff into. GTD is a popular methodology and it has plenty of good tips (like capturing everything) that are hugely beneficial even of themselves.

Great thanks. I'll look around. You're right.

I know that feeling. Check out this book, which talks a lot about focus and discipline: http://www.amazon.com/The-Practicing-Mind-Developing-Discipl...

I just got this on my kindle since it seems to have pretty good reviews. Your comment doesn't really outright say that the book helped you become more focused and disciplined - would you say that it did or didn't?

I'm intentionally taking 4 days to reply to your comment because I didn't feel like I allowed enough time to say. In fact, I still don't think I've waited long enough, but I do at least feel good to say that it is working.

There's a few things going on, and they're specific to me.

Primarily, I'm a judgmental person. And mostly to myself. I judge myself really hard for not doing enough or going fast enough. This book is teaching me to stop doing that, even though it may sound "heroic" to always push myself. I think I get that impression from elite athletes, and I think "well I should be doing that to myself so I can be the best at whatever I'm doing." At some point along the way, I forgot that most of what I learned wasn't the result of that type of thinking. I learned everything from speaking to programming simply by doing, and not by judging myself in the process.

I would also say I'm impatient, but I think that's the same thing as saying I'm judgmental.

This book is like written Adderall in that it causes the same calming effect. It teaches you that it's okay to slow down and just do, and not worry about anything else in the present moment. I know that sounds kind of cheesy and "Zen" like, but I definitely have (self diagnosed) ADHD and I operate on two modes: one where I'm being productive and doing, and one where I'm learning. It's really hard to context switch between the two. So it helps to know that when I'm learning, or doing certain types of activities that I'm not used to doing, it's okay to go slower and not stress out about my perceived lack of progress. The net result: my work IMO actually ends up being better, and interestingly I learn faster because I'm not trying to do that so much.

Hope this helps. Your experience may be different.


This is a real problem that many people experience and it's only getting bigger. I'm developing a solution for myself and soon opening it to others. You can get in touch with me on Twitter (@bnjs) if you're interested in joining a closed beta.

Keep them, but don't think of it as a reading list. Think of it as a database of things you've created which might be worth reading.

You can't learn a million things at once, you've got to pick a topic and focus.

I have no answer, but I found this really interesting, since we are one of the first generations with this problem. We are yet to determine the best way to solve this, which will probably be very interesting!

I wonder if we really are the first generation to have this type of problem, though. It seems reasonable to me that people would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books published over the decades preceding the widespread adoption of the internet. There's just tons of material out there. Even in the academic world, the amount of papers published every year - even before the internet - would probably overwhelm anyone if they tried to keep on top of it.

I'd love to see some pre-internet articles complaining about the pace of publishing and strategies for coping with the onslaught of information at that time. It seems reasonable that it would exist, and I'm sure we'd all find it rather quaint :)

My grandmother always wonders why the younger generations are always so tired or so that's what she sees. She of course was never as tired when she was younger but other than health issues she really is a clear mind. She knew what her husband wanted her to know and that's about it. Everything else is wrong and she sticks to it.

For example I like to bake bread as a hobbyist and do no knead from time to time. She also likes to bake but given her arthritis she can't do it anymore and she really missed it. I got her everything she would need but she wont have it.

Good observation, I think most of us under the same situation with varying degrees of effect. Time to do meditation more regularly, and start building more self control for Internet and some other things ;-)

Turning off my phone between 8pm-8am forces me to look elsewhere for entertainment/reading. I've been using my kindle more and sleeping better. Sometimes the simple things work.

I kinda do this as well. I don't really use the phone from 6pm to 10am unless I get a call. Reading some fiction before bed does help me sleep better. Even so I find reading still tires me out as if it's no different than reading an article.

Identify the sites which consume a lot of time without beeing worth the time and then don't visit them anymore. For me it was facebook and all classical news pages.

Perhaps this could be of some inspiration? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dudeism

That's actually pretty great. One of the best books I have ever read is the Tao of Pooh. I forget Taoism sometimes but it does feel right. maybe it's time to take the Pooh book off the shelf again for another read.

Thanks for this, made my day !

Meditate, go on 5-10 hour hikes, and put down the screens.

I do go on hikes but not anywhere near that length. Maybe that will be it. Thanks

Shift your focus to being a problem solver, not a retainer of a massive knowledge bank. Then go solve a problem. A singular problem. Lather, rinse, repeat.

simple, believe in these facts --

fact 1. sturgeon's law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law), [strugeon's law is actually recursive]

fact 2. You can't enjoy all the interesting things in the universe in a given time instance, so if you feel you are missing something let it go.

fact 3. there is no difference between facebook and public toilet.

Writer it all down. Read GTD, getting the required software, and stick to it. Most important step for you would be a complete brain dump.

I'll point out that there is no required software for GTD. You can implement the system for yourself with just paper and pen, or a text file and an editor. (I use a few text files and an editor.)

Identify the sites which are not worth the time and stop browsing them. For me it was facebook and all classical news pages.

Meditate every day. I like the Calm app.

The Calm app is great - makes for a really refreshing break during the work day.

Imagine what your life would be like if you never saved those 800 articles. Feel happier? Go delete them.

Go to your doctor and ask to be tested for undiagnosed Adult ADHD.

Ten books queued on the Kindle would be a blessing :(

Yeah, I'm the same. It stresses me the hell out.

By stopping reading Hacker News.

That is a big source. :)

There are many good answers, like Vipassana, Dzongchen, even Yoga - any of derivatives of Upanishads and Buddha's insights. The problems is that for most people it means nothing, or just a mythology, so they dismiss it with a first mention.

This could be rationalized, because, like it is with every "good idea" in the world, "other people" piled up such mountains of nonsense, and pushed that nonsense using the best manipulative techniques available to humanity, that some people developed an aversion, like for ads. You could think of teachings of various prophets or programming paradigms, economics or even physics and medicine - crowds of idiots ruined and discredited everything.

The essence of most of eastern "spiritual traditions" is remarkably straightforward - "stay alone and use your own brain". It is that simple. The difference is only in wording . Some traditions call it "primordial awareness", some call it "our true nature", others call it "god within" or "That" or "Tao" - it is not important. Like they said "Truth is one (it points back to us - to "our nature") the wise call it by different names".

So, stay alone and use (develop) your own brain. It doesn't mean some radical bullshit like going in a desert. Rather it is more like Kerouac's "On the road", which is about being an observer of what is. Kerouac, by the way, didn't get Buddhism - he mere confused himself with that popular Tibetan folklore, but he was intuitive practitioner.

Another example could be like this - stop reading all that nonsense in internet - blogs, forums, HN and do read one or two great books, like SICP or PAIP or watch a serious course, like CS61A on youtube. These courses and books are for developing your own understanding of fundamental principles. Then you would see what piles of nonsense are 99% of these internet postings.

So, the answer is not go to Vipassana retreat (btw, "retreat" means solitude (to avoid distractions), so all these groups is mere business) or to turn off all the electronic devices. It means to stop paying attention to blah-blah-blah around you (that's why ancient sages went to forests or mountains) and develop yourself.

Basically, it is about using (focus) your own awareness the way children before age of 4-5 do, before their minds would be polluted by piles of words and artificial, wrong concepts they learn from others. This ability of "direct observation and knowledge extraction" which is the very essence of so-called "our human nature" is, roughly, what they worship in Dzongchen.

All the answers are thousands years old.

Oh, by the way, two-three weeks in a solitude easy trekking in Nepal (Annapurna Circuit trek or Jiri-Gokyo trek) makes wonders. You could "realize" how good it is to be alone most of the time.

coned88, I am pretty surprised with you situation. You have done a marvelous job on self diagnosing the trouble, but you don’t see the solution. In most cases understanding and describing the problem is by far the hardest part. So you are 90% ready to solve the issue.

Disclaimer: you are a smart person, so I will use a couple of thinking shortcuts. Just so you know. You don’t want to read a book, don’t you? (:
 First of all, lets handle this: >  One of which is directed to what I am actively doing and one below it which seems to process information in a never ending manner.

# Thought flies

„Buzzing” in your head, right? Those thoughts are like flies. They fly around, sometimes they sit quietly, sometimes they come back and sabotage everything. You can’t rest properly, you can’t work. It hurts us because of context and task switching costs.

This drains your „brain mana” and we have roughly 3-4 hours of highly productive brain activity per day. And there is only way to stop this leak: kill those flies. The best way to handle this is by dumping everything on paper. Even better, on a single page. A3, anyone? Reading books, articles, tasks, meetings with friends, everything. Directed graphs (a form of a mind map) IMO works best. 

And when you finish it, stuff suddenly becomes manageable. This will help you to get rid of the big issues. Small ones hurt also.

To get rid of the small ones, you have to have a Single Point of Truth. A place where you store stuff. Your head is not the right place for it. If you are doing some work or enjoying a movie and suddenly a fly-thought comes and distracts you from working or resting, just write it and forget about it.

# IRL techniques

There are some tools/techniques I use to handle 90% of thoughts, issues:

Home related tasks: Wunderlist. Tax documents, shopping lists goes there. If it is not there it doesn’t exit.

Work related tasks: Asana. If it is not there, it just doesn't exit. Simple as that.

Online articles: There 2 types. Might be useful later or must read it now. If I just want to store I use Evernote page save or Instapaper and archive. If I want to read it I simply read it or send to Instapaper. Then I just read them in bulk on Kindle.

Email: I use Gmail and Mailbox. First of all Gmail. I really use „Archive” a lot. If I have read what I have or replied I hit „Archive” and forget about it. With Mailbox it is even better. If I want to postpone messages I simply snooze them a day or week. Often, they get outdated quickly and then I just archive them. Empty mailbox —> empty head. I never a have a thought fly about email. I know that everything I need will be there when I open or want to open it.   For any thought fly there is a compartment. Sometimes you just put it on hold and place it on your corkboard and sometimes you just dump it into a giant, searchable archive.

So in a nutshell, you just have to clean your head and move stuff to another storage vehicle. Even the best mind memory is nothing compared to a pen and paper.

# Filtering

The second thing you should think about is filtering. I would recommend reading a small article about Theory of constraints or you can go wild and read (it is a one evening book) The Goal by M. Goldratt. Shrinking a whole book into your case: you can’t have more incoming stuff (articles, ideas) than you process. Otherwise, you will have a huge traffic jam in your head. And adding more items is the worst thing you can do.

So you can just cut off the supply of new and just process the old stuff. Or just get rid of that. We are all information hoarders. But there is a secret: a world will not break if we just purge some stuff. Less is more.

Good Luck!

Awesome post. Thanks so much.

I will check this thread in a month. Write me back how everything works for you (:


I have tried mindfulness. I get really agitated really quickly because I am not doing something actively. I then stopped. Is that all normal?

Disclaimer - I practise mindfulness but I'm not an expert.

Yes it's normal to feel agitated initially. If life is focussed on doing and achieving stuff then deliberately stopping and deliberately not doing anything feels wrong. But isn't it interesting that your mind reacts that way?

I think of mindfulness as a way to be able to observe my mind, to notice what it does, to notice what feelings I have (like agitation sometimes).

What specific mindfulness exercise are you doing when you get agitated? Focussing on the breath can be helpful because it tends to calm people.

I think it is completely normal, I have been meditating daily for 5 years and my mind still gets agitated and restless during meditation, but overall, day to day, it has become lots easier to focus and the day to day agitation and restlessness has been massively calmed.

cancel your Internet account for good and return the modem

It's actually quite valid. I have taken vacations from work before with the sole intent of staying away from computers since I work on them all day. Guess what it never worked out. I always went back to the computer and spent the entire vacation on it.

One word. Meditation.

( Continued From Below -> Sorry again for the length)

You have to be tough. You say you want an opinion? You like to communicate with people and discuss things? You want to be well established in your beliefs and thoughts? Start with being well established in your actions and your own thought process. As it seems to hold contradicting opinions to what you believe needs to be focused on or done.

I too was diagnosed with ADHD. I was scattered. I felt lost in an open world of activities as well as information. I tried management techniques, I tried meditation, I tried mini vacations (which are never unjustified by the way). I tried everything. I disappointed with my foundation and control of my life.

I even allowed myself to endorse taking Adderall. Which actually did more harm than good because I soon realized that yes...yes I'm hyper focused, I'm hyper focused installing yet a new program I don't need. I'm hyper focused digesting yet another topic that I only meant to glance at to start with. I'm hyper focused doing the exact same habits and mistakes that I did to start with! How has that happened?

It happens because at the end of the day regardless of the method you try to use to maintain control there is only one truth. You are either doing what you need to do, or you ALLOW yourself to be distracted. It’s a binary truth. It's on or off, and guess what? It's all up to YOU. Not a meditational leader, not a friend, not a spouse, and not an article...not even this comment. It will never be up to anyone other than yourself and the development of the ability to take a thought or a physical distraction at the moment it presents itself and eliminating it entirely. Truly saying NO! NO! NO! Repeatedly in your mind louder than the thought fighting for your attention. You've seen that move "Yes! Man" starring Jim Carrey most likely I would say. In the movie a man encounters a program developed to expand his mind and opportunities by simply saying "Yes" to them. How convenient it turned out for him. He went on a romantic adventure filled with spoiling homeless men with material possessions, late night dance clubs under the ambience of exotically non-rhyming music, experienced the spectacle activity called "Running Photography", and fell in love. Take a cue from that movie if you feel much too spread out and instead of allowing your mind to say "Yes! Man" to each new thought and ambition that presents itself force your mind to say "No! Man" without any other option.

Be a man, be a NO man. Be grounded in your actions and thoughts and train that habit and nature. It takes a while but it can and will happen because physiologically as a human you are designed to adapt. You can undo all those years of allowing your mind to say yes to everything the internet and the world had to offer. Realistically it may take just as long in a worst case scenario to un-train those habits and force them out with the mindset you really want. But in the training process you will actually be having an immediate effect from the very first time you say NO in your mind and eliminate an adversary. So that by the time you feel you have sharp and well-honed mindset you set out to achieve you in-directly demolished every other little thing on your life list as a result.

That's all I can offer. Again I say it might not be the optimal method for anyone in the world except myself. However the logic odd's and chance say that’s not true, and who knows it just might be for you after all...or you whoever may have stumbled upon this comment 73 clicks later in browsing Hacker News, you who meant to come online strictly for Christmas shopping only as it is last minute once again this year, or you who have no idea how you got here to this final sentence in the first place.


You are not alone.

Some words I took from your post were that “[T]there is only one truth. You […] ALLOW yourself to be distracted.” and “It will never be up to anyone other than yourself[.]”

There is a theory that our default state of mind is that “racing state” that coned88 described, that most people are like that most of the time. Only few people, like both you are coned88 notice that it is happening. Fewer still learn, internalize, and practice noticing when their mind wanders and bringing their focus back to the task at hand, or as you put it, being a man.

So in short, yes coned88, you just purge thoughts, actions, and literature that are not moving you towards accomplishing the task at hand.

This can be taught. Or, as you put it, “[P]hysiologically as a human you are designed to adapt” and, more or less, we all have the same basic physiology.

In response to coned88’s first question “Any advice on what I should do?”

coned88’s, I’m tempted to tell you about my personal story, but I will focus on the advice and try to rely on my credibility as a stranger on the internet and citations for credibility.

There are secular meditation techniques based on Tibetan Buddhism has been shown to increase the practitioners ability be aware of shifts in focus. I’m primarily citing personal experience.

I’d like to recommend a book, a course, with instructions to help you increase your focus, but I don’t know of one. The books I have read focus on managing stress and healing emotional wounds instead of improving mental performance. The vast majority of stuff out there uses a lot of poetry, jargon, and generalizations I cannot recommend, but this lifehacker article was the best I found[6]. I hope it helps you.

My secular interpretation of Buddhism is that they used fables to codify knowledge before they had writing. Information is easier to memorize that way[4]. Monks were trained to decode the knowledge from the fables. Or at least that is my understanding.

Considering the short history of psychology in the West[5], as well as the cults, self help gurus, and experiments with drugs in the 60’s, it is still hard to find credible sources that validate meditation. Advances in neural imaging, as well as a growing psychological literature, as well as my personal experimentation has lead me to believe that specific meditative practices lead to increased awareness and control of mental focus.

“Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.” –Christopher Moore, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT as quoted by the MIT Press[1]

A lot of the current research[2] focuses on using fMRI machines to see what is happening in the brain during meditation.

"What we're trying to do is basically track the changes in the networks in the brain as the person shifts between these modes of attention," Dr Josipovic says, according the BBC article. How you use your brain has been shown to physically change over time based on how it is used. "One thing that meditation does for those who practise it a lot is that it cultivates attentional skills," Dr Josipovic says.

[1] http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2011/meditation-0505

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12661646

[3] http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallaci...

[4] http://www.ted.com/talks/joshua_foer_feats_of_memory_anyone_...

[5] William James, Link to Harvard.edu http://bit.ly/1yrbVVD

[6] http://lifehacker.com/5895509/train-your-brain-for-monk-like...

Read your questions, skimmed the comments and decided I'd share a technique for life management. A warning, it is a very, very long comment and I apologize sincerely. This matter is just a personally experienced one and I possess strong opinions regarding it.

You do not have to read it, and I cannot make you do so, but I highly suggest that you do. The information I provide may not be for everyone. I understand this. It may not be for you. That's okay. But as for my own and personal journey it has proven itself time to time to the point that I now longer look for a solution as it has proven it's effectiveness time and time again.

The biggest suggestion I can offer you is to consider what my father taught me at a very young age and continues to do so even now in my mid-twenties.

Be a man.

It's as simple as that. What does "Being a man" entail you ask? It means being TOUGH. It means to see a problem and instead of ignoring or denying you accept that you DO have a problem on hand.

That's the first step. The first step is to always take the first step in solving that problem. Let's look at an example, any volunteers? Oh wait, why not you? You browse all these comments that provide you with multiple methods that can "solve" or remedy your problem throughout the day and night, you go to Google to search up on a few of them that stand out. Dissatisfied you come back and browse more ways, then it’s back to Google....then before you know it you've went 20 links in to 20 different websites over the course of a few days. It is then you have a new problem. You get overwhelmed with the different ways to go about it and all the little details involved with each one. Now we have gone from the pot to the kettle. There is a reason for this. It is because the core problem is not what we expose ourselves to, it is what we allow our minds to waste it's time processing whether directly exposed or as the result of a thought itself. You said you felt like you had a layer in your mind that knows what you need to do, and a separate layer that is absorbing everything around you and filing it away regardless of what you are doing. Therefore the most effective result of any method you try for fixing your issue should have the ultimate result of COMPILING both of those layers into ONE which allows you to truly absorb everything about whatever it is you are doing at that very moment. What I have to do personally will sound a bit odd. I have had to become cold in nature. Allowing my mind to only process the things that I have decided need to be done for the day. I accept no other information. I mentally, and sometimes verbally, say NO to any outside influence that would deter me from what I set out to accomplish. Over time your mind will be honed to the point where you truly do feel a sense of control over the direction of your life. (Disclaimer: I do however allow myself exceptions for the things that directly and sometimes indirectly affect any of the core components in life: Health, Family, Spirituality, and Financials. If a decision I say no to can either really affect one of those in a negative way, or if saying no to taking an unexpected opportunity could truly benefit one of those core components immediately or in the long run I take make that decision on the spot based upon that criteria and importance.)

Let's look at an example situation for how important it is to have a well-developed mental toughness and the ability to say NO.

You wake up, its 8am and you decide it’s time for you to have your breakfast. You read an article and digest it for a few minutes or even debate it for a few minutes with a companion. We're doing good so far it's been 15 minutes no upsets we are well on our way to getting what needs done today.

Now our mind reflects upon our agenda for the day which we liberally emptied onto paper last night. We look down this list of things we have to do and while we are sitting there suddenly a single word, let's say "word document" if we have to type a paper that day, on the list stands out to us in our mind and triggers a wonderment over something related to that. We think to ourselves "I wonder if Open Office software has greater advantages over Microsoft word?". After pondering about that relation we decide to research it a little. We fire up the laptop to do a little quick research to just satisfy curiosity. Well what do you know, Open Office really has established a rival status in the word processing enterprise. We should give that a spin. So you start the download, run through the install impatiently as you know you need to leave soon to attend to your list of things to do. That's okay Open Office is going to simplify some of the things I do so it's going to save me time in the long run.

After installing the software we fire it up to check it out. Oh pretty neat! We browse the tools, definitely got some handy tools for what I need done. We decide to create a document just for fun and testing. File -> New Document -> Clickety Clack Clickety Clack we've got a short little paragraph about how awesome Open Document is in a matter of minutes. Aha! That’s very nice...hey wait! Let’s make an agenda to prettify what I've wrote on paper. Everybody knows a professional looking agenda makes you want to accomplish these things more just as a large sparkling trophy will oust a smiley sticker any day of the week. We realize we need to save some time, so we decide to outsource the document template to one prebuilt and just fill it on in. So back to the file menu it is, then we realize the selection of good agenda templates is much too limited. Ah, I know we will just Google up one real quick. So that we do. About 5 sites and 72 clicks later we have a template to suit our taste. We begin our transfer of the crumply paper agenda to a beautiful little digital one that will soon be on crisp white paper. We spell check in case anyone peaks, punctuate in case anyone cares, and tweak the fonts a bit for readability. We look at the time, it’s after 11am. We justify that with the fact that having this new and beautiful agenda will help us get things done. We print and admire our fine creation. While we sit that at the table admiring our warm from the printer agenda...a specific word on that paper stands out to us in our mind...and we ponder something related to it...

And down again the rabbit hole do we go, as we lack the self-control and fine-tuned ability of saying NO. We lack being tough enough to say, "You know what maybe open office can help we will have to find out tonight when we have what we set out to do done." Or even cutting the though off at the knees as soon as it appears in our mind and strongly saying "I cannot think about that right now." Letting that thought dissolve through sheer intent. Not accepting or allowing its presence any longer, getting up from that table and walking out that door at 8:30am instead of looking up at 11:30am and realizing that even though we have accomplished something new, and even somewhat related to the things we do on the daily basis we have never advanced any closer to having what needs to be done than when we started 3 hours ago.

Further down the road after this process repeats itself over and over through the years, and we go to clock in at our subpar job of help desk support we pause...and our mind for an instant reflects upon our situation of being nowhere near where we expected to be at such an older age. We process this thought further and remember all of the little moments we had a choice between an option that would have taken us farther then we are now and one that took us in circles but seemed a lot more interesting at that single moment in time, and we are faced with the reality that we chose the interesting circle more than we should have. A lot more.


Stay away and learn to say No. Don't care. This way you will reflect on only the most critical.

it is overloading your brain because they are not essential, need to know information that you are forcing down your own throat.

If the information is not urgent enough for you to know at that moment then it's not worth it. As time passes so does the value of the information.

This is entirely controllable and one must stop falling to the prey of information greed.

Sometimes though I'll see an article about a very interesting topic. I really do want to read it but then I see it's many pages long so I'll set it to read later and then I never read it or at least don't for a while.

You're right about the value of the info. There are times I'll go back and then just delete it because I don't value it anymore.

The Decline of the West

OSWALD SPENGLER BELIEVED that he stood at the cusp of a new wave of historical thinking. Whereas in the past, historians had been content to gather facts, chart broad cultural movements, and take the flow of time as consisting of events that were causally related, Spengler had a vision that made these circumstances not merely existent, but necessary. The "morphology of culture" that Spengler conceived made history not merely a past, but a destiny, for each culture contained within it an essence that inevitably must reveal itself. As he states in his introduction,

Each Culture has its own possibilities of self-expression which arise, ripen, decay, and never return. There is not one sculpture, one painting, one mathematics, but many. Each is in its deepest essence different from the others, each limited in duration and self-contained....

Spengler felt that this insight must force historians to approach their work in an entirely different light. For he did not believe that a developing culture borrowed or integrated values or systems from past ones, at least not in their true nature. Each is working out its own unique being, and if, for example, the Greeks borrowed certain mathematical concepts from the Egyptians, it was with an entirely different understanding of what they meant and what they were for. To Spengler, each culture in the world's history had it's own unique "soil" in which to develop and grow. The physical terrain, proximity of neighbors, natural resources, and other factors influence the manner in which the "seed" of the inhabiting people unfolds not only geographically but also socially and economically. This, coupled with the unique temporal period and particular population of each great culture, serves to produce a social organism that is distinct from all others, just as one variety of plant is distinct from the rest.

However, Spengler maintained that the underlying pattern that each followed could be revealed through analysis, especially through studying the art, music, and architecture of each and discovering analogues.

I hope to show that without exception all great creations and forms in religion, art, politics, social life, economy and science appear, fulfill themselves, and die down contemporaneously in all the cultures; that the inner structure of one corresponds strictly with that of all others; that there is not a single phenomenon of deep physiognomic importance in the record of one for which we could not find a counterpart in the record of every other; and that this counterpart is to be found under a characteristic form and in a perfectly definite chronological position.


Here's my advice if you want peace.

"And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Eccl. 12:12-14

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