Paul McGrath

Keeping up to Date Without Feeling Overwhelmed

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Keeping up to date as a developer is tough.

As a creative community, our collective output of tutorials, libraries, side projects, and blog-posts is enormous, and trying to keep on top of it can often feel like drinking from a fire-hose.

Sorting relevant content from a steady stream can quickly become tricky in this world full of noise, so having an effective strategy for consuming this information is vital, so we don’t miss out on what’s most important to us.

Signal v. Noise

I used to use Twitter and an RSS feed reader daily, spending much of my downtime just scrolling for new, exciting, or relevant content.

A unintended by-product of this approach was the Fear Of Missing Out, which made me feel a bit anxious about checking and scrolling at all times of the day. This, I call, passive consumption without focus, and gives the poorest return for your time.

Scrolling on Twitter or your favourite aggregator may be entertaining, but it is low-value as you’re engaged in an unfiltered communal sorting process, where we collectively decide what is good, and what isn’t.

While beneficial for the community, as an individual your attention is being pulled in many different directions at once, and it’s extremely hard to focus intently on the topics that you care exclusively about.

In order to optimise this approach a bit, the trick is to have some type of filter to pre-sort high quality content for us, so that we may save time and energy for other activities.

Slow Information

Like slow-cooking or percolating coffee, the good stuff is worth waiting for.

Daily content usually has the lure of being fresh content, but is often deceptively shallow, as its goal is to drive increased traffic to sites that need advertising revenue.

Weekly newsletters and Twitter round-ups are where the real value is, and can be considered active consumption with focus, as you invest a small amount of time, once a week — Saturday morning with coffee, perhaps — catching up on the best material you intentionally selected.

Weekly content is so valuable because after following this approach for a while you begin to see trends and patterns, and realise that the good stuff will bubble up to the top if you give it time.

Having a focused and slow approach to your content consumption can be further improved by using a tagging system like Pocket to organise your interests, and offload links that you want to read later, without worrying that you’ll lose them.

If you find that this works for you, and want to push back on the daily scroll even more, recent well-reviewed books, conferences, and your discipline’s fundamentals (CS algorithms and data structures, for example) are your gold standard, and you can safely let all the other stuff go.

In essence, what I’m advocating for is very simple: reconsider your content consumption, and you may end up with a far greater return for your valuable time.

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