I love consuming media. I love reading, watching, and listening – for entertainment and education.
We live in a golden age of media, thanks to the internet. At the touch of a few buttons we have access to an uncountable number of books, articles, podcast episodes, videos, courses, etc.
At times, it can get a bit overwhelming. At the moment, for instance, I have:
- Over 100 books on my Amazon wish list, plus a couple of dozen books on my Kindle in various states of unread.
- Over 350 podcast episodes saved in my podcast app (Pocket Casts).
- Over 450 movies, documentaries, and TV shows saved on my IMDB Watchlist.
- Over 2,000 articles saved in my read-it-later app (Pocket).
And that’s not all! There are videos queued up on Youtube and Netflix. There are courses I’ve pinned on Masterclass and Skillshare. I’ve got hundreds of PDFs on my computer. I’ve got a stack of printed articles and magazines that never gets smaller.
It’s a firehose. Each time I open a media app I usually add something new to the list. When I spend an hour reading articles in Pocket I often find that I’ve found links to more new articles than what I’ve actually read.
In this article I want to talk about how I consume and manage media. If you have any suggestions or resources, I’m all ears!
One of the key things is to accept the situation for what it is. There will always be more media to consume than hours in the day. When I die, my inbox won’t be empty.
I could declare “digital bankruptcy” and clear all of my lists. That might feel good for a while, but I’ll end up in the same situation again. The best I can do is accept it – and embrace it for what it is, which is a great challenge to have! I’ll take an embarassment of riches any day over not having enough quality content.
Another thing to remember is that unless you’re dealing with a specific problem, the marginal benefit of any additional piece of media is unlikely to be significant. People thought I was pretty well-read at the age of 30. I’ve got 10 years of reading and experience on that version of who I was. Is the stuff I’ve learned in the last decade as valuable or important as what I’d already learned? Maybe some of it. But I think there’s a temptation to overrate the marginal benefit/importance of each new piece of material.
Be mindful of how you source media
I touched on this in a bit in a 2015 article. Basically, I think it’s a good idea to be like a magpie – be promiscuous regarding where you source your information. RSS feeds from good sources are still good (I still use Feedly). Chasing your content is still a good approach: don’t wait for media to come to you based on what is scheduled on TV or what pops up on your Facebook newsfeed. (Next time you check your newsfeed, look at it critically. How much of it is actually nutritious? The signal-to-noise ratio on the Facebook newsfeed is terrible.) Actively seek out stuff that you think might be interesting. If you come across some form of media, make a note of it straight away!
Look backwards to look forwards
When we use internet-connected services, they usually create a “digital exhaust”.
- With Youtube, you can look at your History
- With Netflix, you can look at your Viewing Activity
- With Kindle, you can look at look at your Kindle library and sort by what you’ve read recently
- With Pocket Casts, you can look at some of your Listening History
- With apps like Pocket, you can create zaps with Zapier that allow you to keep track of articles you’ve added, archived, and starred.
Every now and then, I’ll look back at what I’ve been consuming lately.
There are good reasons for doing this. For example:
* It reminds me what I’ve been reading/watching/listening to. It’s surprising how much this reinforces things that I would probably have forgotten. It’s also valuable when I’m going to go into a situation and I want some things to talk about.
* It allows me to audit what I’ve been consuming – have I been consuming the type of media that I’m proud of consuming? Is there anything that I need to focus on? Am I going down a rabbit hole and/or getting caught in a bubble?
Purge (but don’t declare “digital bankruptcy”)
Sometimes I’ll look through lists and purge them. I’m not a big fan of declaring digital bankruptcy. But when I look at my list with a critical eye, I often find things that I’ve added that are no longer relevant or interesting.
I recently culled about 100 downloaded episodes from my podcast queue. Every couple of weeks I go through my Pocket list and delete articles, wondering why they ended up on the list in the first place.
How many of books have you read and really enjoyed, where you can’t remember the title, author, main characters (broad information about the characters, let alone names and characteristics), plot points, and themes? Let alone the insights littered from page to page?
This is one of my great frustrations with consuming media. It can often feel profoundly interesting or useful in the moment, but can promptly leave your brain.
I am confident that this happens to everyone, including the smartest of us.
For this reason, I do various things to try to remember material:
- Where possible, I highlight material. I have Readwise integrated with my Kindle and Pocket, so whenever I highlight something it gets saved into Readwise. I also have Readwise integrated with Evernote, so that all highlighted material gets added to a note specific to that book/article. Do I go back through these highlights? Quite often, I don’t. But I find that the act of engaging with the material can be useful in itself.
- With some books/articles, I go through a progressive summarisation process, similar to what Tiago Forte describes. Let’s say there’s a book I’ve read that I want to review. I find the Evernote file that includes all of the highlights from that book. On the first run through I will bold the passages that I reallly like. (I’ve created a shortcut on my mouse so I can do this easily.) On the second run through I’ll only read the bold passages, and highlight the passages that have extra-special resonance. When I want to review my thoughts from the book, the first thing I’ll do is go back to the highlighted text.
- While progressively summarising, or once I’m at the highlighted section, I sometimes create flash cards based on the material. I use ANKI for this purpose. This allows me to use spaced repetition to remember valuable stuff. (Other things I use ANKI for: remembering people’s names, and jokes/conversational gambits.)
- When I’m reading/watching/listening to something interesting, I’m make a point of bringing it up in conversation. I find that talking about things makes it more memorable and internalises it more.
- When I REALLY want to internalise something, I write about it. Sometimes it turns into a post on this blog. Often it doesn’t.
- Sometimes, I’ll re-read/-watch/-listen something that I think is terrific, or that I really want to internalise. Often, I’ve forgotten so much it’s like I’m reading it again for the first time, but sometimes I’ll also feel the familiarity of a long-forgotten friend.
Be creative and efficient in how you consume
There’s so much good stuff out there. I think it’s really important to be creative with triaging what to consume, and how to consume it.
I can’t believe that there are still people who feel like they should finish all books that they start. Life’s too short! If there’s something that doesn’t resonate and/or isn’t useful, I’ll move onto the next thing. Worst case, I know what to come back to if/when I need some specific information, or I’m in the mood for what it offers.
With some material, I’ll skip to the chapters/episodes/etc that are relevant to me and ignore the rest.
You may wish to consider watching and listening to things at faster than 1x speed. I listen to most podcasts at 1.5-1.8 speed, and Youtube videos at between 1.5-3 speed. I sometimes watch (or more often, re-watch) movies at 7x speed. It’s amazing how much you can still get from consuming in this way.
Too many albums that are on your “list of shame”, that you feel like you should have listened to? I skim through songs and create personalised EPs of albums (ie, shorter versions of albums with promising tracks) and focus on those. If they’re good, they’ll foster my motivation to listen to other tracks. (Most recent example: Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres: Higher Power, Let Somebody Go, Biutyful, My Universe.)
Too many promising TV shows to watch? Make it easy on yourself by “pareto watching” a show. Look up a show on a service like Rating Graph and then watch each episode with a rating of a certain level or higher (plus the pilot and finale). I’m currently watching Lucifer in this way, only watching episodes with a rating of 9.0 or higher. Sometimes I miss a thing or two but I catch up pretty quickly and don’t feel like I’m missing much. (This is also a great way of rewatching shows without watching every episode. As if anyone needs a reminder to rewatch Seinfeld’s “The Contest” or Breaking Bad’s Ozymandias.)
Am I missing something from using these tactics? Of course I am! Is it worth the cost? In my view: yes.
If you have any creative ways for consuming media, I’d love to hear from you!
I consider myself an infovore. I love reading. I love listening to, and watching, interesting and useful stuff.
Do I sometimes get overwhelmed by the firehose of material on my “to read/watch/listen” lists, plus all the great stuff that keeps coming? Of course I do.
But at the end of the day, this is a GREAT problem to have. I might not be able to get every drop of water, but I want to drink as much as I can!