It wasn’t that long ago when, if you had an unanswered question, or didn’t know the name of a song, the only option was total ignorance. In fact, ignorance was the normal way of life, and true knowledge was really hard to achieve.
Most people still act like knowledge is scarce and ignorance is easy. But in fact the opposite is now true.
On a long drive recently, the radio blasted a song that I didn’t know the name of. My Moto X phone was on the dash, so I just said: “OK Google Now. What song is playing?” After listening for a few seconds, the phone interrupted the turn-by-turn directions to tell me the answer.
As I walk around wearing Google Glass, knowledge is constantly pouring into my right eye. Apps tell me about incoming messages, texts, calls, social media posts, and even landmarks near me (thanks to a new Glass app called Field Trip). I can ask any question through the contraption, and a robot whispers the sound through bone-conduction vibration—it seems almost like knowledge is being transferred directly into my brain.
My main computer is even more promiscuous with knowledge. My inbox is flooded with information. Some of it is sent by others. Some by alerts and other knowledge harvesting services I’ve set up in the past. I have RSS feeds, Google+, Twitter and other streams of knowledge that never stop.
Here’s The Problem
Nearly all the knowledge that we’re exposed to each day is being pushed at us by somebody else’s agenda. Knowledge purveyors, colleagues, clients, the media, and just about everyone on the Internet wants to influence our thinking in their direction, distract us, sell us something, or immerse us in their assumptions and biases.
This highlights an important differentiator between successful and unsuccessful professionals: The ability to maintain ignorance about irrelevant, misleading, trivial, pointless, redundant and obsolete knowledge.
In this world, context, ethics, planning, analysis and wisdom is far more rare—those traits are therefore more valuable than knowledge. But they take reflection and reflection takes time. If we’re not careful, the constant tsunami of knowledge displaces the time we need to think for ourselves.
Time Is The Most Valuable Resource We Have
There’s never enough time to learn all the things we want to learn. And that’s why the ability to control what we know—to seek out the right knowledge and block the wrong knowledge from coming at us—is the most important skill now and into the future.
Here are five tips to optimize your time:
1. Think About Everything In Terms Of Stopping Information
Stop future knowledge from coming at you:
•Unsubscribe or create filters to either block useless email or file it into archives without burning your time and attention.
•Avoid online information sources with a low signal-to-noise ratio.
•Use a service like Google Voice that can block unwanted calls.
•Upgrade to ad-free versions of sites and apps.
•If necessary, close your office door, to prevent unfocused collaboration. Instead…
2. Be Disciplined About When And How You Communicate
Be firm about communication efficiency. Expect the same from others:
•Check email only a few times a day—avoid the temptation to let email interrupt you.
•Keep meetings short.
•Start meetings on time.
•Interrupt those who babble or stray off the agenda.
3. Cut Pointless Distractions During Work Hours
All work and no play may make you a dull executive, but it can be too easy to gorge on the Web’s entertainment smörgåsbord:
•Avoid the temptation to watch videos or read entertaining articles during work hours.
•Schedule all that for specific times in the evening or weekends.
4. Constantly Refine Your Streams
Social media timelines, RSS feeds, news alerts, email subscriptions and other streams are not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition.
•Constantly cut or refine underperforming sources of knowledge.
•Remain vigilant for streams that are wasting your valuable time and attention: Delete or block them.
5. Schedule Time To Seek High-Quality Knowledge And To Reflect
If you do this, you’ll free up time and attention. You’ll achieve ignorance of all the knowledge people are pushing at you for their own agendas.
Now you need to invest some of that newly-found time, to seek out high-quality books, media, social streams, meetings and conferences that are based on your agenda.
The Bottom Line
The world we grew up in—the world of scarce, valuable knowledge—is gone forever.
With wearable computing and ever expanding information sources online, time-wasting knowledge will be increasingly hard to block and ignore. So cultivate the skills, instincts and habits for maintaining ignorance about the wrong knowledge, so you have the time and attention for the right knowledge.