March 21, 2016

Top 4 Lessons from Bit Literacy

As a coder, college grad, and human that doesn’t live in a cave, naturally the Internet’s affected me a lot. And naturally it sometimes makes me want to beat me head against a wall.

Or a bookshelf. Or a heater if I’m having a bad day. Or the new office white-board if I missed a…the point is it makes my head hurt and costs money to clean.

Looking for a solution to cut down on my cleaning and medical expenses, I found a summary of Bit Literacy on Blinkist. It turned out to be so helpful I bought the actual book. The author’s core message in one line is:

Learn to let the bits go.

Bits refer to all general forms of info online. The common theme in most issues is being overloaded by bits. So people must learn to isolate the important bits and ignore the others.

I encourage anyone who uses computers or smartphones regularly (i.e. everyone not in a cave that lacks wifi) to read the book - Amazon even has a free Kindle version. Otherwise, below are four ways to let the bits go that stuck with me the most.

Get a Strict Media Diet

Imagine a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet. Great food, a “variety of quality,” and you could never get through it all. Take that and make it a thousand miles long. That’s a highly scientific metaphor for all the information online.

This is only bad when people try to over-stuff themselves with it all. With so many sites selling themselves as being helpful or even essential, it’s tempting to try and read them all.

We rarely remember everything we read online. Pick the sites you forget the least and focus mostly on them and few others.

Do not do this. While lots of information out there is helpful, how helpful differs for each person. Take a few sites you know has content important to you and focus on those. Also gather others that occasionally have useful info and just skim them.

Trying to read and remember everything doesn’t work. It spreads a person’s focus and memory far too thin. Then it doesn’t matter if they’ve found a blog with the recipe for chocolate-covered bunny candies that turn them into sex gods - it’ll be lost in the haze of information overload.

Don’t miss the chance to eat candy and be a sex god. Let the useless articles go and focus on the important ones.

Empty your Inbox

If you have email, there’s a 98% chance you have too much stuff in your inbox. How much is too much? I define it has “anything more than nothing.”

Seem like a strict definition? It’s meant to be. An ideal email inbox is empty whenever possible.

I don’t need to explain how overlooked and bloated email can ruin one’s life. Someone already did in a perfect way for the Internet: a long, scrolling comic.

Thankfully, getting one’s email to zero is simple. Go to each email and answer these questions:

  1. Have you ever read this email? If not, delete it and unsubscribe from future updates if possible.
  2. Have you read it but likely won’t need to again? Put it into an appropriate email folder (or computer folder), delete it, and move on.
  3. Does it have an important attachment? Save it somewhere and delete it.
  4. Does it need an actual response? This is a scary thought, I know. Send a response as soon as you can and then, you guessed it, move or delete the email.

Please don’t use email as a to-do list. Too often it gets forgotten and then emails pile up again. That’s what actual to-do lists like Wunderlist are for. Let the emails go and get back to the clearly productive work on whatever last site you visited.

Use a Text Editor

Unless you have serious info requirements that only an app can meet, like making complex graphs and charts, don’t use them. Most info can be handled with a surprisingly simple tool: a text editor.

Microsoft Word’s main function is making documents print-ready. Word documents that aren’t printed are bulkier for no good reason.

This sounded crazy to me, and I’m a coder that uses a text editor on a regular basis. Use it for writing everyday stuff like articles, lists, work schedules, and all that? Isn’t that what tools like Microsoft Word are for?

But the book made some good arguments against relying on these too much. Take Microsoft Word for example. Much of it’s functions just make documents print-friendly. Have you had to print everything you’ve written on your computer? Likely a few things, yes, but unlikely all of them. Many were then saved to a larger Microsoft Word file for no reason.

Writing in just a text editor is a big shift, but brings flexibility to one’s computer. Text files are lightweight, easier to manage and backup, and can be more easily changed between formats. With information management changing so rapidly, this flexibility really helps. Plus text editors have many awesome functions for editing and removing text if used right.

Already have lots of files saved in Word and don’t want to migrate them all at once? Move them over as you open them instead. It’s a more gradual process that brings more important files over first. Whether it’s fast or slow, let the software go and focus more on the info itself.

Get a Typing Shortcut App

A typing shortcut app recognizes when you type several characters and replaces them with something else. For example, typing “sny” would replace it with “Sincerely Yours,” right away.

If you had the same reaction as me, your mind was slightly blown just now.

I didn’t know this software existed but have found it useful ever since. I got Typinator and only have a few shortcuts now, but it has still saved me much time and wrist pain. Add a shortcut for just about anything, save some time, and let the keystrokes go.

In Conclusion

The quote on front of my “Bit Literacy” copy was from Seth Godin, calling it ‘The Elements of Style for the digital age.’ I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s still a great read to at least get better perspective on digital living.

The best takeaway is still the simple lesson to let the bits go. It applies to web content, emails, apps, typing, and many others not mentioned here but are in the book. Get control of the bits flooding our lives so we can let the unimportant ones go and focus on the vital ones.

Keep that in mind when new bits try to enter your life. Are they truly needed? Are there simpler ways to handle this new info? Will it complicate your life too much? Consume too much time to be worth it?

If one is honest enough with those questions, it’s surprising how many bits can be let go.