An anti-chaos guide to managing the messages you consume and create

Input & Output

No matter what your bias or views, if you’re paying attention to U.S. politics, you’re probably exhausted and overwhelmed by the relentless churn of information. So many voices. So much conflict. So much activity, yet so much inertia.

Some workplaces are like that, too. Homes, too, for that matter. Not to mention our inboxes and snail mail boxes and social media feeds.

There’s just so much to take in.

What’s more, we often find our voices in the mix. People want to know—or we feel compelled to share—What do you think? What will you give? Where do you fit? How will you decide?

There’s just so much to say.

Not a huge fan of chaos, I work at managing my response and contribution to this noise. I can’t necessarily stop the avalanche of information that races toward me on any given day. Nor can I bury my head in that snow and pretend it isn’t there. What I can do is choose how to deal with it, and certainly what I add to it.

It comes down to input and output. What am I taking in, and what am I giving out?

Over the past few years, I’ve made several adjustments to the way I deal with both input and output. These habits seem to be working. Maybe they will help you, too.

Turn it off or turn it down.

According to prevailing wisdom, “everything in moderation.” But some things deserve more restrictions. I’ve unsubscribed from email campaigns, unfollowed social media accounts, and cut podcasts from my library. When traveling for business, I don’t watch TV in my hotel room. Though I’ve stayed on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I try to take my scrolls in small doses.

Limiting these inputs has reduced my exposure to toxic content, ended my guilt over not keeping up, and saved me time.

What to do with all that open time? Channel it into something else …

Replace input with output.

What if you spent less time consuming other people’s ideas and more time producing your own? Make something!

Where I used to spend evening hours taking in someone else’s stuff—usually in the form of mindless TV and social media nonsense—now I devote a good chunk of my evenings to making content of my own. My self-imposed creativity challenge this year is to draw something every day. Typically, this happens after dinner. I settle into the sofa with my iPad and Apple Pencil and see what comes.

You can choose any form of creative output: draw, write, cook, dance, color, make music, take photos, build stuff, whatever.

What to do with all that creative output? You have options …

Share it.

Maybe the stuff you produce is worth sharing. How do you know? First, look objectively at what you’ve made. Will it help, inspire, reassure, entertain, affirm, or result in some other positive outcome? Then putting it out there is probably a fine idea.

Once you’ve decided your output is worth sharing, you need to pick an audience. Who might appreciate what you’ve expressed? Maybe a single person will jump to mind. “My boss would love the colors in this photo.” “I wonder if my sister has tried this recipe.” “I’d love for my high school English teacher to read this poem.” If so, share your creation directly and personally with that individual. When was the last time you did that?

Maybe you see the potential for an even broader audience to appreciate your work—or at least to not find it offensive. That’s where I’ve landed with my daily drawings. I’ve shared every one of them publicly on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Much to my surprise, someone “likes” my illustrations every single day. And not just my family! In fact, friends, acquaintances, and strangers have reached out not only to compliment my work, but to ask if they can buyit. These connections have prompted good conversations, new connections, and an unexpected side hustle to my life. You just never know.

But what if you look at your output and cannot identify a positive use or receptive audience? You don’t have to share …

Consider it private progress.

Just because you produce output doesn’t mean you need to toss it into the mix for others to consume.

Some creations aren’t ready yet but could be … with some refinement. I am forever grateful to author Anne Lamott for giving me permission to create shitty first drafts. Her advice for writers is to get the words out however they come, then invest time in editing and revising. You don’t have to start with something good to finish with something great. This applies to other forms of expression as well. If you see even the tiniest potential, save your work and come back to it later. Chances are, you can redeem that rough start.

Other creations deserve to live on, but only for the smallest audience: you. I think of journaling this way. Tossing ideas on a page is a way to clear my head. It’s therapeutic. Maybe I’ll revisit those raw, unvarnished thoughts in the future, and hopefully I’ll see some degree of emotional or intellectual progress. But you? Don’t you dare poke into my journal entries. Write your own!

Some creations don’t need to survive at all. If you have an inkling that your expression will cause pain, anger, fear, or some other negative reaction, please think before sharing it—or even keeping it. Is that really what you want to say? Occasionally, my daily drawings are so rough that I have to wipe the slate clean and declare a do-over. I still get the benefits of practicing my skills and playing with an idea, but I avoid the embarrassment of sharing something that isn’t worthy of your time or my reputation.

Confession: I came at this blog post from two other angles before landing on this one. The first I trashed altogether (it was awful). The second I abandoned at the half-way point but saved as a draft. A day later, I revised my start, crafted the rest, and decided this output is positive enough to offer you as input. I hope you agree.

Photo by John Carlisle on Unsplash

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