This article originally appeared on Law.com
Ever struggle with distraction and procrastination? Yeah, I know, rhetorical question. Of course you do. We all do.
As a lawyer, it’s axiomatic that your time is your most valuable asset—one that is non-renewable. You can’t afford to get sucked into rabbit holes of distraction. Accordingly, we all must strike the right balance between consumption and creation. There’s room for the former, but one’s time and energy must be biased toward action. It’s through action that we gain experience and wisdom.
How did we get by before the internet? We used to be so imperfect. You can’t help but excel at all aspects of human endeavor with so much information at your fingertips, right? Just surf around a bit. You’ll see that the secrets to success and high achievement are one click away.
The problem, of course, is that a great deal of advice found in the vast expanse of the internet is—how shall I put it mildly—junk. It’s the equivalent of the modern day infomercial. Just as the infomercial pitchman leads us to believe that a newfangled vegetable slicer can drastically improve our culinary skills, a great deal of online content, punctuated by “click-bait” headlines, suggests that there are work and life hacks that, if implemented, can lead to massive increases in productivity and contentment.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with reading that “7 Things That Will Make You Fabulous, Wealthy and Happy” article. Perhaps it contains a nugget of advice that it will add some value to your life.
But be careful. There are downsides to too much content consumption.
1. The Heavy Baggage of Information Overload
The first is mental and emotional overload. Like waves crashing on a shore, our inboxes and social media feeds are relentlessly bombarded with advice, strategies and tactics for self- and professional-improvement. We end up consuming so much advice that we never get around to implementing any of it effectively. One day we’re told to compile our daily to-do list first thing in the morning, the next day we’re advised to do so at night. And so on. We end up changing our routine so frequently that it never becomes habitual. It’s overwhelming..
Much like a skilled curator carefully and thoughtfully manages an art collection, successful people manage what information they take in, from whom, and when. When it comes to your content consumption, try to adopt a minimalist approach to learning that emphasizes quality over quantity.
2. Comparing and Contrasting
The second potential downside is the urge to compare ourselves to others. This is an impulse we all face and must fight on a daily basis in all parts of our lives, personal and professional. We look at what others are doing and it makes us feel inadequate. Or we judge others to make ourselves feel better.
Seriously, why wouldn’t you feel inadequate when you read that the “4 Things High Performers Do Before 6 a.m.” includes writing 1,000 words, doing CrossFit, meditating, and eating steel cut oats with flax seed. I mean, come on—aren’t there successful people that guzzle coffee and check out Instagram first thing in the morning?
The danger in looking to outliers among us for best practices is that what we find leads us to conclude that we can never keep up, so we never try at all.
3. Searching for Answers Can Lead to Paralysis
The third and perhaps most important—and potentially harmful—side effect of all this information is that it impedes action. Knowledge may be power, but too much is dangerous, especially if it comes at the expense of action. Just as too much stuff in your garage prevents you from pulling your car in, too much stuff in your head can prevent you from moving forward in your life and career.
Let’s say you want to start your own law firm. There’s a foundational amount of knowledge you need to know before implementing your plan. So you start doing research online. There are millions of articles that address the many facets of entrepreneurship. You read, and read, and read, hurtling down rabbit hole after rabbit hole.
Some advice inspires you. Then something else contradicts it. Next thing you know six months have passed and you’re right where you started. Frustrated by your lack of progress, and twisted into knots by everything you’ve read and learned, you give up, vowing to start anew in six months. And by that time there’s a mountain of new information to digest. It’s paralyzing.
Consuming content, in and of itself, is not particularly helpful, except as an intellectual exercise or for purposes of cocktail hour fodder. Selective learning, followed by relentless implementation of what you’ve learned, is the path to progress.
The pursuit of knowledge can be a crutch as well. It feels like action, but it’s not. It’s a noble obstacle. It feels good to be inspired while learning about a great new kettlebell routine, but it’s not going to get you the toned body you desire. That only comes (so I’ve heard) from cranking out reps at the gym.
Trial and error in the real world is the best method of learning. But learning is not “trial.” And while you’ll avoid “error” if all you ever do is learn, you’ll never get where you want to go.
4. Learn but Remain Skeptical
It’s also important to keep in mind that all the advice you read online is written by people, fallible and imperfect just like you and me. Some are experts worthy of your attention. Others simply self-identify as “expert.” Regardless, what has worked for them may not work for you.
(Yes, I appreciate the irony of telling you to scrutinize advice while doling it out myself!)
So take what you learn with a big grain of salt. By all means, take a tip, adopt a tactic, but don’t try to model your methods solely after those of others. You’re unique, and your path to achievement is, too.
5. Fight the Fails and Move Forward
There’s no textbook that is going to teach you how to become an outstanding lawyer. You don’t need an MBA degree to start a business. You can’t research your way to a successful New Year’s resolution. There’s no secret recipe to becoming a great chef. Listening to a podcast won’t make you excel at parenting.
Don’t let your perceived lack of knowledge hold you back. Learn, then take action, however imperfect. Sure, you’ll fail at some point. That’s inevitable. But failing doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you normal. It’s part of the process. The trajectory of success is not linear. There are lots of peaks and valleys. It’s important to fight back from failures, rather than giving up altogether. That’s where the real learning takes place.
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