Saturday, 18 February 2017

Are we becoming Information Obese?

Are we becoming Information Obese?

Physical Obesity- we are aware, we can see and some of us suffer from it.
Information Obesity- we are unaware, we can’t see but a large number of us suffer from it.

If we compare the two, there are a lot of similarities:
Physical Obesity
Information Obesity

Intake of food more than our body can process
Intake of information more than our mind can

Large portion of the food consumed is unhealthy
Large portion of the information consumed is
unhealthy or irrelevant
Leads to lack of physical stamina
Leads to lack of mental stamina (concentration)

The lack of concentration leads to poor quality of work that we do and more often than not, poor decisions. If we were to learn to control the flow of information, we would be able to cultivate focus. Our quality of decisions would improve because every single day, every single minute of it, we do one thing- we make decisions.

A few years back, I realized that I was always anxious and in some kind of a hurry. My mind was always clogged with things to do, ideas to work on and a seemingly unending list of stuff to read. It seemed as if my mind was on an invisible treadmill where the only objective was to finish one thing and hop on to the next. If happiness was a state of mind, then my mind was far removed from it. There was no time for the mind to soak in and relish the work at hand. I was reading a lot, listening a lot but had little time to think and virtually no time to think through.

It reminds me of a joke I had read: An auto driver was driving very fast. The passenger on the back seat cautioned the driver of the high speed and the possibility of an accident. The smart driver replied: “Don’t worry. I drive so fast that I have no time for an accident.” I found myself very much like the auto driver. I am going so fast that I have no time to think.

What I didn’t want?  My mind to be like a conveyor belt or an assembly line which has to continue working all the time.
What I did want? My mind to be well-irrigated with information but not inundated with it. I wanted to do a few things but do them well. And in order to do things well, the mind has to be tranquil not anxious.
I concluded that I was information obese and needed to go on an information diet.

The next task was to take corrective steps to rectify the situation and become better at attaining focus.
How do we check physical obesity? The first thing we do is to reduce the intake of food. So, the first thing in my battle against information bombardment was to slow down the incessant flow of information. What did I do?

  • To start with a clean slate, you need to first wipe the slate clean. I unsubscribed from all blogs, all newsletters, cancelled subscription of all magazines, newspapers etc. I was constantly reading about other people’s opinions but had to not time to figure out my own. This step was like “zero budgeting”, what the Brazilian private equity firm 3G does to its acquiring companies. 
  • Next, I cleaned my study room of the all the stuff which was not required and out of date. This included loads of books and piles of papers. Just like our body removes dead cells and the trees get rid of dead wood, I also needed to remove the old to make place for the new.

The next thing in overcoming physical obesity is to reduce the amount of junk food that we consume. In parlance of information obesity, I would call it junk information or noise. When I analyzed what I read or heard or watched, a large portion of that was not relevant to the work at hand. 

Over a period of time, I reduced my exposure to the information that I considered unnecessary. I picked up a few things to read. Now, I read a few things but do them consistently. And doing a few things consistently has helped me more in terms of my knowledge and understanding than before. The ‘less is more’ approach has worked beautifully.

The final step in becoming physically fit is to process the consumed food properly. For the mind, it would be to process the information with full concentration and focus that it needs. The crux of putting our mind into one single thing that we do can be found in this doha of Kabir Das Ji:
जिन खोजा, तिन पाईयां
गहरे पानी बैठ
(One who has sought has found. But only by diving deep.)

And it order to go to the depth of things, we have to focus.
How I was losing focus?

  • My first weakness was that I would start reading/ working on my computer and would end up drifting to things which might be unrelated to the work at hand. Like, listening to a Ted Talk is informative but it can be destructive if you are in the middle of something and become distracted due to that talk. I now, take print outs of whatever I wish to read and put my computer to rest. I have realized it has led to significant productivity gains, for me.
  • I stopped checking my phone and the stock prices incessantly. I removed the mail, google finance and most of the apps from my phone. They all suck our time and mental energy bit by bit every time we check them. The problem is not with the devices, the problem is with our compulsiveness to check them.
  • Another point of distraction was multi-tasking. In order to do multiple things at a given time, I ended up doing less number of things each with a poor quality output. So, I decided to work on a template where I forced myself to work on a given thing for an extended period of time without distractions. As Monk Dandapani (very informative videos available on YouTube) says in his talk “If we practice distraction 24/7/365, we become very good at it. Conversely, if we practice focus, over a long period of time, we can become good at that as well.”
  • I started picking one thing at a time and learning to give all my attention to it. I would pick up the second thing only once I am done with the first.

How do successful people do it?

When we read about successful people (yogis, investors, philanthropists, musicians, sports persons etc.), we will realize that successful people are minimalist. They are sparse in their wardrobe, they are sparse when they talk, they are sparse in how they spend and they are sparse in how they work. By limiting the amount of things that want their attention, they are able to conserve their precious attention to the few tasks that really matter. And once they decide what they wish to do, they are able to attend to the task with full force. All their eyes, mind, intellect and efforts are devoted to the task at hand.

Gaining focus is not easy, but it’s not difficult either if that becomes our deep driving desire.

Over a last few months, I met a couple of investors who shared their feeling of being anxious all the time and being overloaded with stuff. I shared my own experience with them and also thought of writing a post. So, if you feel you are distracted and want to gain focus, you need to find for yourself where you energies are dissipating and you need to plug those leaks.

Have I attained whatever level of focus I aspire to have? No, but I work to improve on that every day. And I have tasted short periods of deep focus. I can now say with 100% conviction that the taste of focus is so sweet and so enduring that everything else falls pale in comparison.

My mind is relaxed now and I enjoy whatever I do. Focus puts us in the zone and puts us in a sweet spot. I feel, focus is meditation in action.


Ravi Shankar said...

Spot On Ankur!
Have been thinking to delete my facebook account from quite some time but after reading this post, I finally pulled the trigger :)

Really like your constant emphasis on focus, both in investing and life.

avinash patra said...

Thank you. Wonderful post, with actionable steps.

Ashish Pandey said...

Nice post Ankur, will discuss more in our mails.


Neeraj Marathe said...

Without a doubt, your best post till date Ankur. Many thanks.

Dkr said...

So nice, essential in the present day, thanks a ton.

Anonymous said...

Very Nice and Useful Info.

Hemant said...

Very well said.Thank you.

nrityasadhana said...

Very nice article. Please send the links of which you have talked about.

Unknown said...

Very thoughtful post. Thank you for penning it down!

Deepesh Agarwal said...

Going through the same, thanks for sharing your insights.

Samir Shah said...

Edison (of the light bulb, amongst other things), was a particularly focused worker. This is an excerpt from an interview of his:

“You lay down rather severe rules for one who wishes to succeed in life,” I ventured,” working 18 hours a day.”

“Not at all,” he said. “You do something all day long, don’t you? Everyone does. If you get up at seven o’clock and go to bed at eleven, you have put in sixteen good hours, and it is certain with most men, that they have been doing something all the time. They have been either walking, or reading, or writing, or thinking. The only trouble is that they do it about a great many things and I do it about one. If they took the time in question and applied it in one direction, to one object, they would succeed.

“Success is sure to follow such application. The trouble lies in the fact that people do not have an object — one thing to which they stick, letting all else go. Success is the product of the severest kind of mental and physical application.”

Ankur Jain said...

Thank you Samir for sharing this piece.

Very well said.

amit pathak said...

very enlightening.If employed constantly can help a person in all aspects of life.

Anonymous said...

It's a good one Ankur.

Most value investors (I hate to use that word, because there is no such thing, it's investing or it's not) in India, I have observed, like to talk about (among other nonsense) how they shun news, etc. but are constantly on social media selling themselves so that their core business can make money. I occasionally see their jabber just for fun; It's fun to mock their dishonesty.

Your post is more refreshing, much practical. More importantly, honest.

Varenya said...

Hi Ankur,

Thanks for the great post. As somebody who is suffering from the same disease, can you please help a bit more? Can you tell what's you day like? What's your routine and what sort of stuff do you do when you are doing that focussed work?

Unknown said...

Fantastic post. Very relevant to the way we work thesedays!

Taresh Bhatia said...

Good thoughts

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