Distraction-Free Information Processing: The “Surf Strategically” Principle of Cognitive Productivity with macOS

The Information Cornucopia we call the web is a source of knowledge that can make us more effective. It is also a potential drain on the brain’s most precious resource, short-term awareness (which some people call “attention”).

I recently published Principle 7, “Surf Strategically”, of my new book Cognitive Productivity with macOS. The chapter explains the concept of “surfing information”. To quote from it:

Some of what we do with information is superficial, some is deep. Neither is good or bad in and of itself. And both should be done mindfully. There’s a time for each level of depth. It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time superficially processing information, which I call “surfing”. To avoid the trap we need to learn to distinguish between surfing and delving, deep information processing. Explicitly using these terms is a good first step. The second step is to classify your deep work. You can track your surfing and delving time with mySelfQuantifier, as described above.

Amongst other things, that chapter contains several screencasts that demonstrate how you can use RSS feed aggregation services and feed readers to discover helpful new information, while avoiding distractions. RSS feed readers enable you to view article headlines, so that you can quickly skim them, and not be distracted by images and additional text. That decreases the cognitive load (reducing fatigue), and helps keep you focused.

  • Feedly is my favourite newsfeed aggregator, and the app I use on iOS to surf RSS feeds (other alternatives are mentioned in the book);
  • Reeder for macOS is a great RSS reeder;
  • Readkit app is a Jack of all surfing trades for Mac. With it you can surf your RSS feeds, bookmark web pages, tag them, and read your bookmarked pages.
  • Spillo is a Pinboard client.

When you find an article worth archiving, you can bookmark it. If it seems worth reading, you can mark it as something to “read later”.

The book also demonstrates how to use the Pinboard and Pocket bookmarking services, directly on the web. My favourite of the two is Pinboard.

My goal in reviewing apps and services is not merely to acquaint you with them, but to help you apply the 7 Principles for Getting Smarter with Knowledge described in that book. Those principles are inspired by cognitive science.

Published by

Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

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