Limit Options, Make Decisions, Maintain Sanity (an anecdote)

March 17th, 2010

Living in the information age, our access to options is effectively limitless.  If I want to subscribe to a design blog, for example, there are far more options available to me than I could possibly hope to read even once, let alone read repeatedly to make an informed “subscription” decision.

Given that, my practice (and what I recommend you practice) is to establish limits for myself when it comes to web consumption.  In the case of blog subscriptions, I keep the number at or below the number I can squeeze into my browser’s bookmarks toolbar (usually between 10 and 15, depending on how succinctly I can label them).

My Bookmarks Toolbar

The most important commodity in my day (and, I assume, in anyone else’s) is time.  Browsing hundreds of blog subscriptions every couple of days would cost me a LOT of time, with very little return (how many blog posts actually affect decisions you make in life).

Limiting the time spent browsing by capping the number of entry points into the blog world (knowing, as Frost said, “how way leads onto way”) gives me a view into what’s going on in the areas I care about, without the constant lingering anxiety of having unread items in my feed reader.

When you’re reading a good post, there will be references to other interesting sites and blogs which that author found valuable (it’s the nature of the web).  What’s important from a bang-for-your-buck standpoint is that you don’t hesitate to axe one of the subscriptions in favor of a better subscription.  The evolution of your bookmarks toolbar should be constant, ensuring that you’re getting the best value for the time invested (while the list might not change, it should at least be put to decision).

Deciding whether an up-and-comer is worthy of a spot in the 10-item lineup is much less anxiety-inducing than deciding which of a hundred new feed entries is worth your time.  And focusing on the quality of what you read instead of drifting through filler-post after filler-post will get you more valuable (and usable) insight per unit of time spent.

In the end, indecision is itself a decision, and a statement (in this case) of how we value our time and attention.  Setting limits forces us to focus on value and prioritize the spending of resources (time, attention, space) over which we have some control.

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