A newsletter subscriber sent me a note to ask that I remove him from my email list. He was taken aback by the length of the newsletter. It was 642 words in total. That’s a lot less than a magazine article, and a bit more than a blog post. He complained that the email newsletter was too long.
The subscriber who sent me the note is right. For him, the newsletter is too long. If it doesn’t create value for him, then he is right to unsubscribe (and you might think about unsubscribing from anything doesn’t create value for you).
Are we losing our ability to read long-form, write long from, and think in more than soundbites? Twitter allows 140 characters. Text messages are limited to 160 characters. The news that you see and hear every day provides you with sound bites, framing a complicated, complex issue up to what can be read in a minute or two. For a lot of information, this might be enough. But if something is important, you need to drink deeply.
Sipping from the Stream
While I was recovering from brain surgery in late 1992, I read a book a day for about 60 days. I told my neurologist that I felt like my brain was on fire. He told me that it was likely compensation, that there is nothing about having a piece of your brain removed that would cause it to operate at peak performance.
After about 60 days of recovery, I started back to work. With less time to read, I slowed down to reading a book a week. I kept up this pace while working during the day and attending college at night, and then when I attended law school. No matter what my work or school work required, I maintained a book a week.
I was sipping from the stream, making sure I got a small taste of everything as it passed by. But I wasn’t applying as much of what I read as I might have.
I’ve intentionally slowed down my reading. Instead of trying to keep up with the stream, I am more selective. I have chosen to drink deeply because the value in reading books and magazines, listening to audio programs, and taking courses is to apply what you have learned.
When you sip from the stream, you gain awareness. You get to sample lots of ideas. But you don’t devote enough time and energy to truly benefit, and you have likely shifted your attention from one idea to the next, not gaining much in the way of application.
There is a difference between awareness and integration.
As you sip from the stream, you need to look for what is most important and most useful to you now. And then you need to drink deeply. You need to find longer form content and spend time studying it. Ask yourself “What part of this do I need to apply to my work?” Or, “How do I begin executing on these ideas now?”
Information is essentially free and completely ubiquitous. You carry a good part of the collected knowledge of humankind in the smart phone in your pocket (or more likely, in your hand). Not everything that flies by you is worth your time or your energy. Small sips are not going to quench your thirst.
What is worth your time and energy deserves more of your time and energy. When something rises to that level, drink deeply without worrying about what you are missing.
How much time do you spend sipping from the stream of information being hurled at you? How much time do you spend drinking deeply?
How much of what you see, read, and study are you applying to your life in some useful, meaningful way? How much do you forget within hours?
How would your results be improved if you spent more time working on studying and applying a few things instead of trying to keep up with the many novelties and distractions?
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