The Information Diet

The Information Diet

I’ve just started experimenting with an “information diet” and the effect on my productivity has been enormously positive. This concept was invented years ago and at the time I thought, “sure, I guess some people need that.” But not mois! However, after years of avoiding it, I’ve recently joined Twitter, and while not an enormous time suck on its own, it caused me to look at everything I do that isn’t making progress toward my goals. As I’m in the process of expanding my consulting practice into something serious, I really want to focus. So here’s what I have cut out on my diet days:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • News sites (including Hacker News)
  • Wikipedia
  • IMDB
  • Yelp1
  • Web stats – Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools, WordPress Stats, etc.

It kind of pains me to write that out because it really highlights the unimportant stuff I’ve been doing every day. Yes, social media is part of marketing a business, but there’s a lot of nonessential distractions that happen while you use those sites.

So what was allowed?

  • Actual work
  • Books that make me better at my job
  • Urgent & important chores (walking the dog, cooking, laundry)
  • TV while eating

I knew it would be tough, and easy to put off, but thought that I should be able to do it for one day. I’m giving up sweets for Lent, which I do every year and never find it to be a problem, other than not getting cake on my birthday. However, that’s a unique situation. I’m not a terribly religious man (I can’t remember the last time I went to church), but when you promise God you’re not going to do something, you just don’t do it.

Heck, if I promise just about anyone anything, I follow through. But when you promise yourself something, you really have nobody to hold you accountable. And I was worried this was something I could put off indefinitely, so I used an oft recommended trick, which is to start now, not tomorrow. I’m guessing it works because there are many tomorrows, but only one “now.”

Here’s the problem: I was watching The Wolf of Wall Street when I thought of this. That itself wasn’t the problem; I wasn’t telling myself I had to shut off the movie. The problem was that as soon as it ended, I desperately wanted to hit Wikipedia and read about Jordan Belfort. What an outrageous story! What parts were true? This lasted for a solid 36 hours and I probably should have called my doctor. But as a fountain of useless knowledge, this was precisely the type of thing I would learn and retain for years, displacing some equally unimportant fact, like the value of pi to 2 decimal places.

Here’s the remarkable thing: I still don’t know any more than Martin Scorsese saw fit to tell me. As far as I know, the whole thing’s true. Because the day after my “fast,” every time I used a junk food site, I was acutely aware I was not making optimal use of my time. I felt I had to be careful. It was kind of like when I pass an awesome ice cream shop after hitting the gym. “Hell no! I am not destroying the progress I just made.”

And after a couple days of junk info, today I went back on the diet. It was a lot easier, and I feel good about it. It reminds me a lot of a low/slow carb diet. Tough at first, but when you see progress you want to keep going. Only I’m getting results way faster than I do on low carb.2 It seems like something I could do more than 50% of the time. Which is definitely what I should do.

  1. Foodies can spend silly amounts of time looking for a place to eat lunch or get coffee []
  2. I am not one of those people who loses radical amounts of weight without feeling hungry. I’m hungry after months on that diet. []

Syncing Thunderbird Contacts and Calendar with Blackberry

Sometime late last year I switched from Outlook 2003 to Thunderbird.1 I liked Outlook, I was used to it from work, so I didn’t want to switch. But it didn’t take long before it’s abysmal IMAP support drove me nuts with bogus error messages. I know Microsoft makes money off Exchange servers, not IMAP servers, but how hard can it be? Every other free mail client works great with IMAP!

This includes Thunderbird. Sure, it’s not as polished or mature as Outlook when it comes to contacts2 or tasks, but I am no longer getting error messages every 10 minutes. Unfortunately, Blackberry Desktop software won’t sync Thunderbird contacts and calendar items.

Enter Google. Now, I still haven’t jumped on the Gmail bandwagon; I use Yahoo Mail for my spammy accounts, simply because I already had that account. But I do have a Google account, and I recently learned that their Contact Manager and Calendar apps have their own home pages that don’t require Gmail accounts. And they allow 2-way syncing! So here’s what you need:

A Google Calendar – use the links above. Make note of the private XML link; to find that, you must click on Settings, then the link for your calendar.

This Thunderbird add-on gives you calendar and task functions. I’m assuming you already have this installed.

Provider for Google Calendar
This Thunderbird add-on allows syncing with your Google calendar. Unfortunately, your current Thunderbird calendar is no good anymore. If you already have stuff in it, you have to export it. Use iCalendar (.ics) format! The other formats do not support recurring events like birthdays or any weekly reminders you have set up. Import that file into Google Calendar, disable your current Thunderbird calendar (under Properties), and then create a new Google calendar within Thunderbird (this requires the private XML calendar link).

This Thunderbird add-on syncs your contacts with Google Contact Manager. Make sure your contacts are clean before you sync. For instance, I imported my Outlook Contacts into a Contacts address book, but Thunderbird defaults to a Personal Address Book. I should have copied them over right away, but didn’t. Thunderbird automatically collected addresses, so I wound up with duplicates I had to merge or delete. Zindus will spot duplicates during the syncing process and let you pick one and delete the other, but it’s probably safer to do this by hand. When that’s done, go to Tools >> Zindus and sync.

Google Sync

This mobile app syncs your contacts and calendar with what you just set up on Google. It can be installed from within Google Mobile, which I already had installed so I could get Google Maps Mobile.3 Install it, sign in, and you’re done!

  1. This was after switching from SquirrelMail to Outlook. []
  2. Why can’t I highlight text on the contact card? This drives me nuts! []
  3. BTW, Maps is way better than Sprint Navigation. Sure, there’s no voice nav (which I admit is important), but for seeing where you are, scrolling around that map, and doing local searches, it wins hands down. Its routes are far superior, so if you can remember the directions, you’ll get where you’re going faster than the Sprint voice navigation. []