Back in 2012, I did my first new years noise purge. It was an incredibly helpful exercise and one that I’ve looked forward to doing again. To quickly recap, I wanted to reduce the amount of noise in my day-to-day life, and as someone who spends most Of his day online, it involved cutting the people I follow on twitter/instagram/facebook/RSS feeds in half, I removed social media apps from my phone and I decided to post less on those services. Two years later, I still happily keep social media apps off of my phone and all but eliminated my usage of Facebook and instagram. Hooray!
Step 1: How do I differentiate between signal and noise?
There are many different ways to approach finding a healthy balance between signal (good, clear, constructive and productive thoughts & information) and noise. In 2012, my focus was on reducing the noise. This time around needs to be a little bit different though. What good is removing noise so that your can focus on signals if you don’t really know what the signal is? In my attempt to define what I should be focusing on this year, I’ve only uncovered larger and larger questions. How do I define myself? What are my goals? What plucks my heart strings (i.e.: resonates with my soul, moves me, energizes me)? I’ll spare you my fumbling attempts at answering those questions and leave you to think about your answers. You don’t need strong, clear answers, as you evaluate whether something is signal or noise; your gut will lead you in the right direction.
Step 2: Reducing the noise
There are two types of noise. Things that are frivolous and things that you really care about but don’t line up with where you should be focusing. You can’t completely eliminate either and you shouldn’t; it’s good to be aware of them and that takes a little bit of discipline. There will always be subtle bits of noise that creep into your day to day (a funny twitter account that posts a little too much, an RSS feed that you have yet to realize you aren’t interested in anymore, etc). These things require regular pruning to keep and this yearly routine is a great way to do it.
For me, it’s helpful to quantify part of the noise. At this moment, I follow 220 people on twitter, subscribe to 103 RSS feeds and 23 podcasts. Those three things are the primary way I consume information on the internet. I’m not going to lie, I sometimes get stressed out trying to keep up with them. Like I said, I’ve thankfully almost completely eliminated my Facebook use and I no longer use Instagram. For 2015 I plan to trim Twitter back significantly and rely more on topical lists to keep things in order. I’d also like to drop my RSS and podcasts lists by at least a 3rd.
Step 3: Focusing on the signal
Now the part where I provide a clear, tangible takeaway…right? The problem is, as I reflect on what is signal in my life, my thoughts are becoming ever more expansive. It feels silly to leave this post at “Unfollow and unsubscribe from stuff!” but things are nearing the tipping point of spinning wildly out of control (as it’s two weeks past New Years and I’m still spinning my wheels on this). At the heart of all this is the feeling that these things (sources of information and connection) on the internet are distracting me from the parts of life that are truly worthwhile. Those are thoughts that require some more time and another post. So I’ll wrap this up with the same question I’m mulling over: What small, seemingly inconsequential routines in you day-to-day are truly worthwhile to you?