…noise, in Western society, is considered a symptom of healthy economic activity. . . The opposite is the case. Noise kills, excessive input does real damage. Information overload clogs our ability to function effectively.
~ George Michelson Foy
Listening to the cacophony of financial gurus and experts is sometimes like watching a tennis match, with your head turning one way and then the other. I often find myself agreeing with both sides of a debate, feeling overwhelmed with facts, and unsure how to use the information at hand.
Noise Can Be Unhealthy
The author of the Psychology Today article points out that “chronic, even low-level noise boosts stress levels, which in turn triggers health problems such as hypertension.” This seems to be the case in the personal finance world as well. There’s so much information out there on everything from saving and budgeting to investing and economics. How’s the average person supposed to cope?
Since I can’t advocate ignoring information, and too much of it at once is counterproductive, I guess the answer must lie (as always) in the balance. The key to learning and effective information management can be found in classic psychology studies on short-term memory. If you’ve ever taken an introductory psych course, you might remember reading that people can retain about 7 chunks of information at a time in short-term memory.
So what? How is that going to help you manage your finances or invest wisely? The key is to balance your time between information acquisition, which can be pretty noisy, and information processing, which is best done in silence.
5 Steps to Profitable Information Management
1. Choose a Topic
Decide what you want to learn more about. If it’s a broad topic like personal finance, break it down into smaller categories like spending, saving, budgeting, or investing. If you’re new to the area, start with the most basic concepts first.
2. Gather Information
This is the noisy part. Read books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers, or watch videos and T.V. programs that cover the topic you’re interested in. If you feel like your chosen topic is still looking too big, break it down further into smaller categories. Keep a list of the categories as you encounter them so that you’ll know where to head next once you’ve covered a category to your satisfaction.
3. Organize the Information
Once you feel like you have enough information on budgeting, for example, organize it into different piles or categories. You might end up with articles that use different budgeting approaches, or different budget samples. By the time you’ve finished this step, you may feel a little overwhelmed. You can see positives and negatives in each approach.
It can be pretty confusing and this is probably the step where a lot folks just give up on active financial management altogether. But by this time, you’ve really already done the most tedious part of the work. Why not take it to the next step and embrace the profitability of silence?
4. Golden Silence
You’ve probably got a pretty good grasp on the basics of your topic at this point. Now it’s time for quiet. That doesn’t mean that you completely stop thinking about your topic of interest, but you think about it less actively. You try to process what you’ve already learned without taking in new information. Take some quiet time to mull over the positives and negatives of each side of the debate. Sometimes your gut will speak up and tell you which way is right for you.
But if your gut is like mine, it might change its mind a few times. My solution for this is usually to give it some more quiet time. Take a walk, listen to music, let your mind wander as you make dinner, do the laundry, etc.. Do whatever works best for you. But do it in silence – no computer, T.V., Blackberry, Twitter, Facebook, etc.. Many people say that their best epiphanies come to them in the shower, or just as they’re about to fall asleep – quiet times.
If you’ve given it some more time and you still aren’t 100% sure which strategy you want to try first, you might try to sketch out some risk vs. reward scenarios on paper. If you’re really stuck, choose one option and keep the next one (or two) as backup plans. Some quiet mulling is productive. Endless mulling will get you nowhere fast. I know. I’ve been to nowhere, and it’s just as frustrating as making the wrong decision.
5. Plan & Act
Once you’ve made a decision, go back to the information you gathered on that subject or category and formulate a plan. Next, put your plan into action. Give it some time and re-evaluate it as you go along.
Make Silence a Habit
The key to learning about and implementing prudent financial planning techniques is to make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. That may only lead to an embarrassing scene requiring the Heimlich Maneuver. Take your time between trips to the noise buffet and you’ll find that you’ll get a lot more out of the experience. 😉
Budgeting in some silent time is a great way to arrive at wise financial decisions, but it’s also important to all of the other areas of your life balance sheet as well. I’m sure you’re well aware that finding 30 minutes or more of quiet time is much easier said than done. But like all good habits, practice makes perfect. And like Winnie the Pooh, we all need a thoughtful spot.
How do you enjoy silence? Do you find it helps you make better decisions?