Turn Off The Noise: How To Deal With Information Overload

Does your brain hurt at the end of the day? Mine sure does. Constantly consuming information takes a lot out of you. The human brain wasn’t meant to digest so much in such small windows of time.

Just how much are we consuming on a daily basis? According to Robby Walker of Cue, we consume some 63,000 words on an average day. That means you finished a short novel today. Go pat yourself on the back, have a beer and brag to your friends.

Where’s your god now?

Don’t have the sense of accomplishment you thought you would, eh? That’s because it’s very difficult to pull the thread of a narrative or progressive case-building out of that mess of words. Each block of content we consume is related to a different area of interest, stimulating a different portion of your brain, causing a new wave of dysphoria and, in some cases, shutting your thought process down completely.

Where does it all come from?

Imagine that your daily routine is an intricate spiderweb shimmering across two tree branches. Now try to follow the path of a single thread from the center to the edge.

This is especially difficult because the lines run so close together. The spider followed a linear path to create the web, just as your day followed a somewhat linear path of its own. But digging up the tiny details that contributed to each new thread of information is damn hard.

We simply aren’t always aware of where the internet will lead us. You start off reading a scholarly article about inner city sociology and end up perusing pictures of Channing Tatum’s new haircut. Unlike the detail-oriented spider, we weave tangled webs.

How did you get from point A to point B? Ask yourself these questions to become consciously aware of how you process information.

  • What are the sites I visit the moment I lose focus? For many of us, the primary answers may be Facebook, Deadspin, Pinterest or Twitter.
  • How much time do I spend on useless information? The best way to measure this is to focus on how much time you spend processing and creating useful information. The rest of the time is most likely spent screwing around.
  • How organized are my social media channels? If you have a Twitter account, for instance, do you split the accounts you follow into lists? This can be an effective approach to focus your browsing.

Focus on focusing.

I usually lose focus when I haven’t organized or structured my day. Here are a couple of strategies I use to stay focused.

  • Create a to-do list and cross off items as you finish them. Closure on each little task is more satisfying than hours spent on “happy information”, or information your brain is magnetically attracted to.
  • Set short and long term goals. This tactic is intrinsically tied to the to-do list. Longer term goals (weekly, monthly) help you get a bird’s eye view of your productivity.
  • Use software features to stay in the zone. I recently discovered the “focus” setting on my MS Word “View” tab. Presto! Your document now dominates the entire screen. Productivity software like Vitalist, Todoist or RescueTime can help in other ways.
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Today’s Top 5 Misleading Articles

To be a strong writer, you have to be a savvy reader. In many cases, the blogosphere (and mass media) have lost any semblance of journalistic integrity. For the first time in history, the burden of journalistic proof falls on the reader.

We’ve amassed five of today’s most misleading articles. You can check out screenshots but I refuse to link to the original articles. These guys don’t need any more pageviews to validate their shoddy reporting. If you’re interested in the original articles, you know where to find them.

1. Fox News waxes ironic over campaign ad.

We can always count on Fox News for slanted information masquerading as “news”. Let’s start with the nutgraph here:

Mitt Romney asked Thursday where all the “hope and change” has gone, as President Obama’s supporters pressed ahead with plans to air a misleading TV ad and a top campaign aide was accused of “lying” about her knowledge of its contents.

You should immediately recognize this as the form of sensational garbage journalism it actually is. The article goes on to call into question the organization behind this ad, calling it a “purportedly independent super PAC Priorities USA.”

Why is this so wrong? Not once does the article present evidence that the super PAC is linked the Obama campaign. Furthermore, it uses subversive language to plant ideas in the head of the reader that have no factual basis.

2. TechCrunch thinks views automatically translate to popular opinion.

Listen, I think SOPA and related legislation are disgraces to lawmakers everywhere. But TechCrunch seems to think that “10 million views” means 10 million people agree with the video in question.

It also makes the assertion that the video accurately “shows” readers what’s up. Look no further than the concluding statement for “proof” that TechCrunch advocates shitty journalism.

Perhaps the most interesting lesson in all of this is that the popularity of the video is in large part due to hitting the front page of the Pirate Bay, a prominent website for downloading illegal copies of music and movies. It goes to show how popular websites can have the force of major media companies when they turn their front pages into billboards for political causes.

The fact that the video garnered 10 million views doesn’t prove anything about public opinion or what “popular websites” are capable of, beyond the fact that it’s been seen 10 million times.

3. Gawker assumes we should care about new trashy show.

I really couldn’t read more than a couple of paragraphs in this one. How in the name of Christ almighty is this worthy of the front page?

First of all, don’t tell me what I should care about, Gawker. In regards to you, the only thing I care about is the fact that people actually read your horrifying publication.

Do the writers at Gawker understand the pop culture implications of what they do? Did you really just spend hours culling together a “story” on a “reality” television show that only serves to reinforce stereotypes? And if you don’t believe me, watch the absolutely terrifying trailer for the show. Then, never, ever watch or read anything about this destroyer of art and intellectualism again.

4. HuffPo spoke to everyone in the entire world for a story.

When you’re done laughing, please remember to stop visiting this website, a beacon for the worst of the worst in journalism.

5. HotAir blows smoke up everyone’s asses. 

So what you’re telling me is that a traditionally conservative publication put together a video to discredit liberals? And you’re also telling me that every single contraception supporter that they interviewed couldn’t explain themselves?

Or are you just showing one side of the argument? Great journalism. Fantastic morals and ethics from a group of people who run on a platform of morals and ethics.

Find any gems lately? Share them with us in the replies.

 

Embrace Awkwardness — Your Comfort Zone is Too Small

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

You want stuff to happen for you, right? Let down your guard. Pop that bubble around you. Emerge from your cocoon.

Get uncomfortable.

I’m uncomfortable just knowing Pitbull can leave his home state of Florida.

People are drawn magnetically to their comfort zones. We’re resistant to change and surprises. Your comfort zone is a magical place where nothing happens unless you expect it to. It’s the place where you dwell when you’re happy with the way things are. It’s also the place you sometimes retreat to when you’re unhappy.

When we go to our comfort zones, we wait for something to happen. And as we established before, nothing happens in a vacuum.

Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone is one of the most enriching experiences life has to offer. It’s why we travel — to explore places that don’t offer the familiar comforts of home. New experiences excite and inspire. For writers, nothing is more important than finding that inspiration.

Pick your ass up off the couch and put yourself into an uncomfortable situation. The new ideas will electrify your writing.

Below are a couple of simple ways to leave your comfort zone.

  • Ride public transportation. You can lose yourself in your own thoughts while surrounded by a whole new world of people and inspiration. Back in Chicago, I took the el and buses all the time. I was harassed, coughed on, preached to, glared at, propositioned, rubbed against — and when action didn’t affect me directly, I got to observe a whole world of new awkwardness and discomfort. I consider myself the better for these experience.
  • Write standing up. Both Hemingway and Nabokov preferred to write standing up. And they weren’t the only ones. We could conjecture for hours on why this strategy is effective and probably still never reach a fully comfortable conclusion. But I’m okay with that, because this post isn’t about comfort. One of the positives here is definitely that you can avoid fatigue by standing up. Your brain is much more likely to shut down on you while your body is in a comfortable position.
  • Say yes more often. It can be hard to say yes to certain social activities that don’t gel with your idea of a good time. Maybe you aren’t particularly fond of the people involved. Or you just don’t dig baseball. If your first impulse is to say no, flip that impulse on its head. Say yes. You may find out you enjoy the experience. Or you’ll find some inspiration. At the very least, you’ll be a better person for riding out your discomfort.

5 Lessons Walter White Can Teach You About Becoming A Freelance Badass

Through four seasons (and change), Breaking Bad has convinced me of one thing: Walter White is the ultimate freelancer. If you’re ready to get in touch with your truly badass side as a freelancer, there’s a lot you can learn from the King.

Think about it. You’re talking about a guy who struck out on his own, became the best at what he does, made a ton of money doing it and answers to no one. Isn’t that the freelance dream?

Like any good freelancer, he understands that pants are optional.

Of course, Walt’s also faced with an ethical dilemma every step he takes. Freelancing shouldn’t be as melodramatic as all that. Still, there’s plenty you can learn from the King about how to become a sultry freelance badass.

Here are five lessons you can learn from Heisenberg himself.

1. Doing things differently helps you stand out. Sure, Heisenberg cooks the best damn meth on the market. But more importantly, that meth is blue. It attracts attention from potential partners like Gus Fring, sells like crazy, spawns copycats and gets the authorities on his case. (In your situation, the authorities you’ll attract will hopefully be after you for positive reasons.)

You want to create an addictive service offering? Do things a little differently than the competition. It’s one of the main things that drives successful business.

2. Discipline pays off. Walt is an incredibly disciplined cook who pays attention to the smallest details of his craft. As a result, he creates the purest product on the market. His success stems from pride in his work.

To become a freelance badass, keep a disciplined structure to your business. Stay organized. Work 9-5 at least. And when you need to, put in that extra effort to ensure you’re pushing out a consistently high-quality product.

3. Taking a chance is the best way to succeed. The entire storyline of Breaking Bad starts with the fact that Walt has nothing to lose. As a result, he takes chances that are dangerous but end up paying off in big ways.

Of course, taking chances with your business has smaller stakes than the life-or-death choices of Walter White. His choices tend to be selfish, leading to some negative consequences. Keep your audience at the front of your mind when you take chances (instead of your own desires), and you’ll make great waves with your business.

4. Confidence is crucial. Cockiness puts you in the line of fire. In the first few seasons, we get to see Walt make confident decisions that advance his efforts to become a leader. More recently, we’ve seen Walt’s cockiness lead to a distorted, risky chain of events.

Business walks a fine line between confident and cocky. Walk that line, but err on the side of confidence every time. A confident approach inspires clients and readers with respect for your work. A cocky approach may turn clients and readers off.

5. Disloyalty can be your undoing. Alright, so Walt hasn’t taken the fall yet. But all signs point to his eventual demise. The build-up starts with Walt’s first serious transgression with Jesse — the death of Jane. Walt continues to pile more transgressions on top of that. Last season’s conclusion saw Walt slipping poisonous berries to a child, building up an even bigger case for Jesse to take him out.

Unlike Walter White, you’re not catapulting yourself towards an untimely end. To keep yourself out of the crosshairs, stay loyal to your clients. Loyalty gets you a lot in business. It helps you keep an ethical line and builds trust between you and people who may become contacts for life.

Does Listening to Music Make You More or Less Productive?

Four out of 5 scientists agree that music sounds better when you play in the nude.

I’m a music fanatic. I bet a few of you out there share my passion. These days, we’re so obsessed with multi-tasking that I’m not sure anyone ever stops just to listen.

Seriously: people used to just listen. They used to sit down, put a record on and listen. Who does that?

Like many of my friends, I’m usually spinning something on Spotify during the workday. Not everyone can enjoy a harmonious workday. But writing is a job of isolation, and I’ve met plenty of us who like to type in time to the beat.

But is it good for productivity? I’ve heard different opinions on whether they consider music a distraction or a complement to work. According to the science, it’s actually that complicated: some people can function with music in the background, and some can’t. And the “why” is pretty surprising.

Words vs. Words

Writers who listen to music place their brain in the crossfire. It’s a battle of words.

Clearly, words in their own right are good things for writers. Reading the written word has a powerful effect on how strong of a writer you are. But in a medium like music, they can be disastrous if consumed while you try to put original words on the page.

You require all of your faculties when it’s time to create. A lyrical onslaught buzzing insistently in your ear can hinder that. And it isn’t just writers.

According to studies in Taiwan, “listening to music with lyrics was linked to lower scores on tests of concentration in a study of 102 college students.” It isn’t the music competing for that brain-space. It’s your brain subconsciously attempting to decode the words it’s absorbing. And your prefrontal cortex is fighting an uphill battle where it attempts to block out stimuli unrelated to the task at hand.

It can help, too.

Sure, listening to music while you work can be productive, too. But the benefits are just in your head.

In reality, most of the studies attempting to link music and concentration have proven quite the opposite. The biggest question is whether listening to music helps you block out other sounds. Some argue that wearing noise-cancellation helps block out the noise of the office.

If you’re working from home, outside noise is probably less of a factor. What becomes a major factor is how much you enjoy music. Another study in Taiwan showed subjects with strong feelings about the music they were listening to affected concentration negatively. Indifferent listeners tuned it out.

Here are a couple of tips I find useful in my daily writing experience:

  • Listen to songs you’ve heard a lot. It’s easier to use the tried-and-true songs to as a complement to your writing because it’s easier to block out the lyrics.
  • Try to listen to classical music and other songs without lyrics.
  • Turn the volume down so the tunes aren’t overwhelming your brain.

Hey, you! Check out my article over at the Content Marketing Institute today, Should You Curate Content? The Essentials Every Content Marketer Needs to Consider.

The Kiss of Death: Losing Clients and How to Deal with It

As a freelancer, you avoid much of the day-to-day corporate BS. But freelancing comes with its ups and downs. Some clients won’t be happy with your work, even if you consider yourself a rock star of the writing world.

It’s hard to deal with rejection. But rejection is what makes you a better writer and a stronger businessperson. So when that client comes to you with a verbal pink-slip, the best thing you can do is to dwell on how to improve your craft and your business, instead of dwelling on the fact that no one loves you.

I knew it was you, Fredo. Even though you tried to blame it on the dog.

The kiss of death comes in many forms. It may be a lack of new projects or weekly communication from a nervous point-person. Some clients will come to you explaining that they lack the resources or the projects to continue the relationship. Perhaps you’ve been replaced with a less expensive writer or someone who knows the industry better.

Whatever the cause, consider losing a client a minor setback. I used to work for a PR agency that literally hemorrhaged clients every month. As soon as it was clear a client had one foot out the door, the CEO sent his new business people after the competition. Granted, losing clients was often tied to low quality of work. The head of the company was just a really, really strong salesman.

Regardless, he did everything in his power to keep clients, but he never freaked out when they walked. I had problems with many facets of my employer’s mindset, but I always stood in awe of his ability to shake off rejection. Perhaps it was because he knew we’d performed low quality work and didn’t care. But the message was clear: in the world of business, how you deal with rejection defines how quickly you get back on your feet.

When you lose a client, focus on the positives. Get your bearings and plan your next steps.

  • First, take a deep breath.
  • Realize that you have an opportunity to replace that client with a higher-paying one or more interesting work.
  • Try to pinpoint the reasons the relationship went sour — but don’t obsess over it.
  • Reaffirm the relationships with your existing clients and work extra hard to continually prove yourself.
  • If you lost a high-volume client, ask existing clients for more work.
  • The next time you wake up, make sure you start your day early. Grab breakfast & coffee, take a shower and get to work.

7 Unmissable Blogs for Writers and Marketers

The key to strong writing is plenty of reading. Plan to waste some time on the internets today? Make that time productive by checking out some blogs that’ll help you improve your craft.

Copyblogger

Copyblogger is THE go-to blog for copywriting tips, tricks and best practices. Rooted in WordPress, the company features a slew of different tools for content marketing. But the content on the blog features some of the best stuff for writers. It goes beyond copywriting to cover content marketing, blogging, SEO and general communications.

Content Marketing Institute

The brainchild of content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, the Content Marketing Institute is one of the web’s premiere resources for up-to-date how-to content. Beyond knowing their craft, it’s important for writers to understand the vehicle they’re driving with their writing. CMI does exactly that. BONUS: You may see some of my own writing popping up here in the near future. Stay tuned.

Problogger

Everything you need to know about blogging, organized in one place. Copyblogger is an extremely popular resource for bloggers of all shapes and sizes. It’s all about visibility and making money at Copyblogger, where you’ll find tons of resources on how to do both effectively.

Cracked

Where to start with Cracked. If you need an intellectual, fact-based and hilarious break from work, Cracked never fails to deliver. It doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the resources on this list simply because it doesn’t offer tips for writers. I think it’s a strong study for writers looking for applicable examples of strong publishing on the web. It’s a great place to find some inspiration and get a good laugh.

Make a Living Writing

Carol Tice is a successful freelance writer who shares tons of great insights on freelancing through Make a Living Writing. Another great feature of this blog is her guest-blogging policy; submissions that get published earn $50 for their work. That’s a breath of fresh air in a world where your guest posts will get you squat.

Men with Pens

Men with Pens is a great resource for freelancers and copywriters alike. It contains similar material to blogs already mentioned on this list, but you’ll find a unique flair here.

The Rant

The Rant is entertaining writing laced with informative content. Not your typical writing blog, John Carlton’s personal vehicle for sharing insights is still a great place to learn from the best.