Learning in the midst of information overload

We live in a world where we are easily inundated by information. Our news feeds constantly update, providing an endlessly scrolling list of tidbits. There are always more Youtube videos, more podcasts, and more articles in our feed readers.

My own story roughly matches this. In the past I tried to cull my list of subscriptions: follow the right people on Twitter and unfollow the ones who tweeted too much. I tried to save time by only clicking on the interesting headlines. Ultimately I found that I still couldn’t keep up, and I was afraid of missing out on what I wasn’t clicking on.

The main mistake is “trying to keep up” in the first placeā€”or having this passive, feed reading behavior be your only way of learning new things. Reading Twitter is a good way to keep up, but it shouldn’t be the only professional development that you do. Sure, it might help you discuss the latest ideas with your coworkers at lunch, but it’s also not going to go very deep for actually improving your professional skills.

Active Learning

Stop Passive Learning. Start Active Learning,” by Andrea Angela was the original impetus for me to write this blog post. The main point of the blog post is to stop endlessly consuming news feeds, because it leaves you constantly feeling behind. Then you have free time, and this allows you to choose a topic to learn, and then look for resources around that topic.

I like that Angela acknowledges that we won’t always have the mental capacity to do “active learning,” and that it is at those times that he turns back to his news feeds in a more passive approach.

Another blog, “Improve Your Self-Improvement” has a similar idea. Don’t just learn something and then set it aside. Share what you learned with others.

Ratio of producing to consuming

After I read about active learning I immediately remembered John Sonmez’s video about the 70-30 rule. This rule talks about the ratio of consuming to producing. Spend 70% of your time producing and 30% of your time consuming. Producing is making value for others, and consuming is just a passive activity where you are looking to be entertained or “informed” but you aren’t actually using that information.

When I think about the 70-30 rule I think of several contexts where I am producing and consuming.

At work, I probably do follow this ratio. In the work context, I would associate producing with tasks like coding, debugging, documentation, and giving demos. I would associate consuming with things like reading my email, checking out the work news feed, and reading the all-company announcements and stuff.

The other context is my after-work work, a term borrowed from “Improve your Self-Improvement” meaning professional development or personal development that is career-related that you do on your own time. In this context, I am striving to move more toward the 70-30 ratio. Some producing tasks include writing blog posts (yay, doing that right now), or taking notes, or coding on a side project. Some consuming tasks include watching Pluralsight, reading my RSS feeds, or other articles I come across on Twitter.

In conclusion, I want to be more proactive, and come up with my own ideas, rather than trying to react and digest others’ ideas all the time. I want to have my own opinions about what is important to keep up with in the tech industry, rather than just assuming that the newest thing is important to me.

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