The message of Mark Hurst’s new book, Bit Literacy: In an age of infinite bits, time and attention are the scarce resources. The solution is to constantly manage your bits with the goal of reaching an “empty” state.
When bits are infinite, the only way to thrive is to pick up the eraser. This is letting the bits go: always looking for reasons to delete, defer, or filter bits that come our way. Anything else allow the bits to pile up…Bit literacy is the constant attempt, in a world of bits, to achieve emptiness.
Emptiness is at the heart of bit literacy, and that may be an unsettling idea. Emptiness often has negative connotations…We prefer to have something. We live in a culture, after all, where more is better. The symbol of success is abundance…Things are different in the bit world, where size and quantity don’t mean much. Bits are abundantly available to anyone with Internet access…The challenge isn’t getting more; it’s making sense of it all, in spite of the glut. The scarce resource is not the bits but our time and attention to deal with them.
Hurst offers practical, opinionated advice on how to get to zero. Just like in his Uncle Mark’s shopping guides, he doesn’t shy away from taking a stand. It’s nice to read someone who says “do it this way” instead of being wishy-washy.
Get email to zero
For starters, empty your e-mail inbox – get it to a message count of zero – at least once a day. I’ve started doing this and it really is a breath of fresh air each time you get to this screen:
Use a bit lit to do list
Hurst advises using Gootodo for your bit-literate to do list but I can’t get enough of the conveyor belt time-sequencing of Highrise’s Tasks list. Either way, a to do list that gets “hibernated” tasks out of your way until you actually need to deal with them is a real game changer.
Prune sources ruthlessly
You have to prune your RSS feeds and other sources ruthlessly. (Hurst cites Richard Saul Wurman who wrote, “One of the most anxiety-inducing side effects of the information era is the feeling that you have to know it all. Realizing your own limitations becomes essential to surveying an information avalanche; you cannot or should not absorb or even pay attention to everything.”) So question everything.
Maintaining a healthy media diet requires vigilance about what you’re consuming. Thus it’s important to constantly ask the question, “Is this worth my time?” at every level: the source (“Is this source worth my time?”), a particular issue of the source, an article, even down to the paragraph or section of an article you’re in. If the answer is “no” to any of these, skip it. Move to the next article, or trash the entire issue; and if it happens too often with one source, consider removing it from the lineup altogether.
Get faster on the keyboard
Speed is also a priority. Use a typing time-saver app like TextExpander or typeit4me to make typing faster. Hurst has over a thousand abbreviation-expansion pairs. One piece of advice I had never considered: Create shortcuts for common misspellings, so “teh” becomes “the” or “taht” becomes “that”. He also advises a code like “ahr” to yield <a href=””></a>.
Avoiding the mouse whenever possible is also key. One solution: Set up keystrokes for one-touch access (e.g. F6: word processor, F7: web browser, F8: email, F9: text editor, F10: calendar).
“Bit Literacy” is a healthy motivational tool for anyone having a hard time keeping up with their personal digital avalanche. Even if you already use some of these techniques, chances are some of Hurst’s advice will give you ideas on how to change your daily practices. And the succint tone and clear advice (it’s like a “Don’t Make Me Think!” version of “Getting Things Done”) make it all easy to swallow.