Data Diet: Feed Your Head with a Better Info Balance

  • Print

Lawyers consume enormous amounts of information. My earliest memories of lawyers’ offices include desks piled high with advance sheets and legal magazines waiting to be read and routed on to other lawyers. Add in email, blogs, podcasts, social media and more—available anytime and anywhere by mobile devices—and it’s no wonder that many lawyers are feeling overwhelmed.

Developer Clay Johnson’s new book, The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, strikes a chord with many people feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the increasing amounts of information we receive and need to deal with.

Johnson argues we should become much more conscious about what information we consume and how we do so. While his title suggests a reduction, it’s really the process of becoming more aware and thoughtful that should be our priority. We might want to reduce our intake, but we also want to improve the “nutrition” of what we do consume.

Take a few minutes to put together a list of all the information you read, listen to and watch on a daily basis. Make a rough calculation of the time you spend and where you spend the biggest portions of your time. Finally, determine your level of satisfaction with those time expenditures.

Now you can get a sense of what might be out of balance, where you might make cuts and where to explore better ways to deal with information.

Here are some suggestions:

1.) Cut the email noise. Dig right in by reducing volume. Think about email newsletters you receive: If you don’t get value from them, unsubscribe right away. If you want to read them later, move them out of your inbox to a folder. Do the same with email lists, social media notifications and other emails that come to you automatically. When in doubt, cut it out.

2.) Read by RSS. If you read a lot of blogs, create a Google Reader account and subscribe to the RSS feeds for the blogs. You can then see in one place all the blogs you subscribe to without having to visit each one.

3.) Explore alternative delivery. In many cases, podcasts or videocasts can give you the same information that you might otherwise read. And there are Web services that can turn any text into speech for you.

4.) Pump up your speed. If you can’t prune back the information you receive, then fight back by learning to read faster. There are now inexpensive or free mobile apps, like the highly rated Reading Trainer for the iPhone and iPad, that will train you to read faster.

Social media analyst Clay Shirky has famously said we suffer from filter failure rather than information overload. Concentrating on improving your information diet might be the best move you can make this year.

Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based legal technology writer and information technology lawyer. is his website and the home of his blog.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.