Inside: Are you overwhelmed by the amount of information on the internet? Here’s how to manage information overload using a low information diet.

You’ve finally decided to eat healthier. With eager motivation, you research “healthy eating” on the internet. You find yourself getting lost in a sea of options: Keto, Atkins, Paleo, low-carb, South Beach, Mediterranean, vegetarian, and vegan.

Each lifestyle promises weight loss, improved health, and increased energy. Knee-deep in Quora, you find yourself overwhelmed. So once again, you put off the diet.

When it comes to information, there can be too much of a good thing. It’s said that information is power, but today’s information overload can leave us feeling…powerless.

Fortunately, there’s a solution.

The Solution to Information Overload

In his book 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss proposes a solution to information overload called the low information diet. This “diet” seeks to limit the amount of unnecessary or excessive information we digest to free up time and brainpower to increase productivity.

As CEO of his tech firm, Ferriss found himself working at the unsustainable pace of responding to 1,500 emails per week for four years. He later wrote, “Just as modern man consumes both too many calories and calories of no nutritional value, information workers eat data both in excess and from the wrong sources.”

We don’t need to be a CEO to feel the strain of excess data in our lives. Ferriss proposed the low information diet as a means of productivity, but Christians can benefit from applying this concept to our lives as well.

Why You Need the Low Information Diet

In our modern technological era, we are inundated with a flood of information from the time we wake up until we go to sleep. According to a recent study, the total amount of data consumed globally in a year was 79 zettabytes, or 79,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.

According to a classic study, the average American consumes about 34 GB of information each day while awake—about 100,000 words or 23 words per second. They take in about 11.8 hours of information each day.

While the amount of information available to us has increased, our human limitations have not changed. We are not computers and robots that can process whatever is presented to us—or at least we shouldn’t be.

Something must give, and it’s frequently our well-being and relationship with God. Information overload results in at least three serious consequences for Christians.

1. Less Margin

Research shows that despite the glorified hustle culture in the U.S., we work less than we used to.

One hundred fifty years ago, the average worker in industrialized countries worked more than 3000 hours per year—about 60-70 hours each week for 50 weeks per year. Now, the average worker in a Western country works roughly half that amount when vacations and time off are factored in.

The invention of the smartphone in 2007 was one of the biggest blessings and curses for mankind. One reason people feel so overworked is that nowadays we instantly reach for our smartphones during any downtime. This habit fills our spare moments with more information and squeezes out any free time that we might have had.

Parkinson’s Law is the concept that work will expand to the time allotted for its completion. If you allow yourself two hours to complete a task that should only take 30 minutes, it might end up taking you two hours.

Similarly, phone usage—and information—fills the time that we allow it to have if we are not intentional about drawing limits.

It’s not that smartphones are inherently bad. They offer plenty of amazing tools for us to take advantage of. However, they have contributed to our perception of having less margin and time.

There’s just so much to do and see on our phones 24 hours a day!

2. Poorer Mental Health and Concentration

Research has shown that constant information overload can lead to feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, powerlessness, and mental fatigue. 

The cognitive overload from too much information can lead to impaired or impulsive decision-making. And multitasking at work, which involves processing large amounts of information, has been shown to increase levels of cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones). 

Author Linda Stone once coined the term e-mail apnea referring to our overflowing e-mail inboxes. People with classic sleep apnea have periods when their breathing stops while sleeping.

Stone found 80% of people that she observed experienced e-mail apnea, which she defines as “a temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.” Gasp!

Information overload has also fragmented our ability to pay attention and focus. Economist and psychologist Herbert A. Simon aptly described this phenomenon. He wrote, “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

According to one study, the human attention span has decreased to 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. Apparently, we now have an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish, which has a 9-second attention span!

3. Stunted Spiritual Growth

Perhaps the most significant consequence of information overload is what it does to our spiritual walk. You’ve heard the saying, we are what we eat. When it comes to information consumption, we are what we consume.

Of the information that we actively and passively consume each day, some of it is relevant and important—and much of it is not. 

Information that is aligned with our Christian worldview builds us up and encourages us. Too much irrelevant information distracts our minds from God and chokes our spiritual growth (Luke 8:14). Too much negative or toxic information changes us for the worse, causing us to feel angry and irritable, encouraging us to be less Christ-like.

We must be careful about what we allow ourselves to be exposed to. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV). Matthew 6:21 goes on to say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Philippians 4:8 describes the kind of information that we should be paying attention to: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” 

Let’s be wise and intentional in the amount and kind of information that we consume through a low information diet. Our choices have the power to shape our spiritual growth.

How to Implement a Low Information Diet

The low information diet will look different for each person. But the more noise and stimulus that you deal with in your daily life, the more beneficial this lifestyle change will be. Here are 10 ways to get started:

1. Curate all your information sources.

Go through your social media, YouTube, podcasts, blog subscriptions, and e-mail. Clean up your feeds. Unfollow anyone that doesn’t add value to your life. Unsubscribe to unwanted e-mail subscriptions.

Consider sticking to one (or two) social media platforms. Subscribe only to the people and sources you truly love. Or join paid online membership communities that offer more value.

2. Stick to one (or two) reliable sources of news.

Stop allowing yourself to be bombarded by an endless feed of information. Avoid the incessant negativity of the 24-hour news cycle. Choose a service that summarizes the latest news or that is not politically affiliated.

3. Turn off all unnecessary smartphone notifications.

Push notifications contribute to information overload and multitasking. It’s hard to focus on anything important when we’re constantly interrupted. Turn them off.

And don’t feel like you have to check every red notification bubble that appears on your phone like a game of Whack-A-Mole.

4. Check your social media and e-mail at set times in the day.

Avoid checking your social media and inbox throughout the day. Or give yourself a time limit.

5. Give yourself permission to not finish what you started.

Author Tony Reinke once said that good readers know when to stop reading a book. Instead of reading/listening to every podcast, video, and book to the end, know when you have gotten the value out of them, and let the rest go. No guilt attached!

6. Choose “quiet” sources over audio sources.

If you have a lot of noise in your life (think young kids or a stressful work environment), consider cutting down on your podcasts and audiobooks. Read a physical book/magazine for less stimulus. Give your mind a much-needed break.

7. Cultivate time in silence.

Turn off everything during a commute. Do a task without listening to something else in the background. Avoid multitasking, if possible. Pray, or simply be mindful of God’s presence.

8. Pray when using your phone.

Instead of allowing phone use to be a distraction that distances you from God, converse with God about whatever you are scrolling through. Include Him in your digital life. Talk to Him even when you watch Netflix about your thoughts. Pray when you see a need on social media.

9. Practice humility in not knowing everything.

Don’t be afraid of not being up-to-date with every piece of breaking news. If it’s that important, you’ll hear about it the next time that you’re at the office water cooler. Learn to tolerate information FOMO. 

10. Accept your human limitations.

We’ll always be limited in our capacity for understanding. God is omnipresent and all-knowing—and we are not. This is great news! Take comfort and rejoice in this fact.

Replacing Junk Food with Soul Food

Not only should we eliminate the excessive junk information from our souls, but we should also consume healthier content in its place. Otherwise, it’s easy to slide right back into poor information habits.

Fill those newly found spaces of time with something better for your soul. Hang out with family, friends, or pets. Pick up a new hobby. Pray, read the Bible, or worship.

Take a leisurely walk outside. Get some much-needed sleep. Or simply kick your feet up and enjoy the downtime.

What We Pay Attention to Matters

In his book The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu writes, “When we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.”

Even as the world floods us with information and clamors for more attention, we are not left without recourse. By proactively cutting back on unnecessary noise, we can make room for what truly matters.

Join me in following a low information diet. It might be the best diet you’ll ever find.

Recap: The Low Information Diet

1. Curate all your information sources.

2. Stick to one (or two) reliable sources of news.

3. Turn off all unnecessary smartphone notifications.

4. Check your social media and e-mail at set times in the day.

5. Give yourself permission to not finish what you started.

6. Choose “quiet” sources over audio sources.

7. Cultivate time in silence.

8. Pray when using your phone.

9. Practice humility in not knowing everything.

10. Accept your human limitations.

What are the effects that information overload has had on you? What can you do today to reduce the amount of noise in your life?

For more on this topic:

The Most Underrated Way of Saving Time

Why Decision Fatigue is Making You Tired—But Here’s How to Beat It

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

About the Author

Helen Rees

I am a Christian, wife, stepmom, psychiatric nurse, and writer. I write about research-backed ways to navigate the challenges of fast-paced modern life while growing in your Christian faith.

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