Tim Ferris 1: The Low-Information Diet

If you're reading a history book and 20% of it is wrong then you should stop reading it because the purpose of a history book is to present you with correct information. If you're reading a book titled Easy Ways to Greatly Improve Your Life and 95% of it's wrong then then book is a steal because you can just try out all of its ideas and then keep the good ones.

Tim Ferris' book The 4-Hour Workweek is of the latter category. I don't think the entire book is 100% correct for many people, but that doesn't matter. The ideas Tim Ferris suggests have tremendous upside if they work and most (but not all) of them have little downside if they don't work.

For me, Tim Ferris' most important suggestion is the Low-Information Diet: For one week, you eliminate all of your media intake. No news. No YouTube videos. No TikTok. No videogames. No reading other peoples' blogs. No online forums. No web surfing. Maximum one[1] nonfiction book at a time.

Music is allowed. So is one hour of fiction reading before bed, as a sedative. There are common-sense exceptions like "unless it is necessary to complete a work task for that day" but "[n]necessary means necessary, not nice to have." Direct messaging (SMS) is always allowed.

I tweak the details each time I try a Low-Information Diet. Sometimes I allow books, audiobooks, podcasts, webcomics and/or friends' blogs. Sometimes I disallow all of them. What rules you should use depend on the time place and person. For example, I think younger people should be more conservative in what media they cut than older people. I'd be hesitant place any limits on what a teenager reads. Teenager MrBeast spending all day on YouTube appears to have turned out well. (I actually watched too little YouTube and spent too little time websurfing as a teenager.)

But that has changed. The first week I tried a no media diet, I went to the gym, cooked food, got lots of extra sleep, read multiple Harry Potter books and got a date. It was one of the best weeks of my life, even though I was working full-time in an office at a job I disliked. The Low-Information Diet lasted through the end of Saturday. On Sunday, I played Civilization V for several hours. Videogames felt awful by comparison. I resolved to find a way to keep my information intake low.

The exact effects of Low-Information Diets depend on my circumstances, but there are a few commonalities. Every time I do a Low-Information Diet the first few days involving catching up on sleep. After that I quickly become happier and more productive.

At first Low-Information Diets were hard and boring too. But the more successful Low-Information Diets I completed the easier it got. The qualifier "succesful" is important. I suspect unsuccessful attempts to break an addiction might make breaking the addiction even harder. If so, then it's very important to keep your withdrawl plans achievable. It took years, but I eventually I got to the place where I could cut junk media with no effort at all, as long as I'm feeling well (not sick, stressed, overworked, etcetera).

When I first started doing Low-Information Diets it was like fighting an addiction. I had to resist an urge. But now that I've broken the addictive aspect, I notice that I'm actually using junk media to kill time and attention, two of the most valuable and unrenewable resources there are.


Is Information Immediate and Important?

At first I thought Tim Ferris was overreacting. After all, isn't it sufficient for information to be immediate or important? Nope. The best time to learn information is right before you use it. If information doesn't have an immediate use then you should wait until right before you use the information to learn it. There are two advantages to this. ① You're less likely to forget the information. ② It things change unexpectedly and it turns out you didn't need the information then you save time by not learning it.

That said, there are a couple exceptions.

  1. The first exception is that if you love learning about different kinds of birds then learn about different kinds of birds. Just don't pretend that you're learning the information because it's useful.
  2. The second exception is that certain areas of knowledge take a long time to accumulate. But becoming proficient in fields like this are usually a deliberate choice, requiring a long-term plan.

[1] Including The 4-Hour Workweek itself, so if you're reading that then no other nonfiction books are allowed.