They’re intentionally designed to suck you in for more: Cable TV news, “reality” shows, Amazon, Facebook, Linked-in, Instagram, YouTube, and a billion links on the internet. Just one more click. Let the auto-play on the next video reel you in for another 12 minutes. Pay attention, because after the commercial break you’ll learn what that megastar is doing on their holiday. These companies invest billions exploiting every one of your psychological weaknesses to capture your attention – because they know it works.
Likewise, we’re driven to consume information in our overflowing inboxes, Slack channels, and instant messaging. We get another hit of dopamine when we hit refresh 114 times a day to see if there is a new email message. There is surely someone who needs our attention or has something critical you need to see right now.
This pattern of consume-consume-consume leaves us run down, frustrated with life, irritated with others, and with warped ideas about ourselves. Leaders must be smart consumers, just as athletes pay attention to food as fuel. Develop a mindset of being a selective consumer of information.
This pattern of consume-consume-consume is killing your ability to create. Getting results as a leader requires focused energy and time on creating, making, producing, and working with others to accomplish great things. Though being a creator is harder than being a passive consumer, it is the path to joy and deep satisfaction.
Use these four strategies to shift the balance to creating, rather than mindless consuming:
- Begin your work day with creating rather than consuming. Instead of leaping into your inbox, reading the news, scanning social media, watching YouTube clips, etc., begin with scheduled time to create value. Plan the day before what you will work on, and make sure you have all the materials at hand.
- Schedule time to be an info consumer, and set a timer for X minutes to avoid “just one more” syndrome. If you schedule the time, you’re more likely to be a smart consumer. The timer is your friend to keep you focused on the best content. Know why you are reading and watching. Entertainment is fine when it has its proper place in your priorities for the 168 hours you have every week.
- Keep a running list of what you need to create, and refer to it regularly. We live in a world awash with information and tempting distractions whispering “watch me, read me.” Build a discipline where there is a list of valuable contributions which calls to you.
- Commit to specific times to ship or deliver your creation. Not “this week” or “this year” but a specific day and time. Telling your colleague, “I will send this by 3pm, so you have time to review it before the meeting tomorrow” is commitment. Promising to your boss that you will deliver the presentation on the 14th next month is commitment. Keep promises you made to yourself, as well.
There’s no “right” balance of consuming vs. creating time. We can readily agree that you’re unlikely to say, “I wish I had watched more videos” on your deathbed. Smart consumption of information is necessary for leaders with great ambitions to help many others. There is no substitute for disciplined use of time to create value. Creating value – however you are gifted and skilled to do so – is the key to extraordinary leadership of yourself and others.