Consuming Content – A Personal Take

I consume content in a variety of ways. However, I think about consuming content in a way that is much different from most people I know.

What content don’t I consume?

For anything that could broadly be called “news”, I spend exactly 0 seconds per day actively seeking it out. I trust that when something big happens, it’s going to bleed over into the other places where I am actively looking. If someone at work tells me something big happened, I check the uk.reuters website (note, I’m in America) and see if it made the front page. If it didn’t, I usually ignore it.

Where am I looking?

I primarily consume content through reading, same as your grandpa. However, unlike grandpa, I don’t thumb through the Wall Street Journal and the Times every morning. I have subscriptions to those places so that when I see a link I can get through the paywall, but papers are throwing a broad net and I want a specific subset of their content.

Okay, so how do I know what to read? Easy. I follow the blogs and websites of smart people. I read their posts, and as luck (just kidding) would have it, they are paying attention to the same kinds of things that I want to know about. I kill two birds with one stone, I get a take on the hot issues, and I get a link to the original source material, which I can decide to read (or not).

How do I know what to read?

Building my repository of smart websites is an ongoing process, and has certainly taken time and thought. I started with a list from someone I respected (the list was absolutely enormous) and after a few weeks started cutting the fat and adding my own flavor. I’m sure the list would be totally unrecognizable to the person who gave it to me now, but having a starting point was really nice. As a sidenote – there is a great trend of good bloggers (especially in economics) banding together under one website, making the process even easier.

I break my list into categories: financial planning, economics, investing, tax, miscellaneous, and a temporary area for blogs on probation before they get promoted to the big leagues (or sadly, as is usually the case, deleted). I also have a section for people I know in real life and (shoutout) Benedict Evans has his own category called ‘tech’ which will hopefully someday not be so lonely.

I keep the lists small enough that about half of the time I can read everything that looks interesting within a week of it being posted. Sometimes if life gets in the way I end up behind, in which case I read all of the posts from my favorite authors then mark everything else as read and start fresh. I do that at least once a month. Having a huge backlog is daunting.

So, I read a lot. I have no idea how to quantify it, but I probably spend an hour or two per day (~630AM and 930PM are pretty typical times) reading plus whatever I end up reading that’s related to my work. I’m a fast reader (400-500 wpm?) so I purposefully consume a lot of written word because it’s efficient for me.

Okay, where else?

My other major time commitment for taking in content is through podcasts (see bottom half of this post). Podcasts have been great resources for a long time, I think we’re really hitting a critical mass where there’s not enough time in the day to listen to all the podcasts for a given topic.

I recently (to my embarrassment) learned that I can listen to podcasts at 2x speed. I’m pretty sure I’m not losing much comprehension, but I guess we’ll see.

I listen to podcasts in basically the same areas as I read, but given the increased time commitment (one post takes 30s-10 minutes to read while a podcast always takes 30-60 minutes [half now, I guess]), I keep my rotation tight, 5-10 podcasts at any given time. Virtually all of the podcasts I listen to are of the ‘host interviews guest’ variety. If the guest is interesting enough, I’ll add their website to my reading rotation or look for other podcasts that they’ve been on.

Anywhere else?

I also follow most of the people I read (and some others) on twitter. Regardless of what a person normally tweets about, if something big happens (e.g., Prince dies, RIP) I’m going to see it. However, I just think it’s pretty fun to reply at people who are talking about things where I consider myself to have a pretty informed opinion. It’s a great outlet for opinions that my friends on facebook certainly couldn’t care less about.

I watch television mainly for sports and specific shows, but certainly don’t consider it a primary source. I have watched shows like Jon Stewart’s, Colbert’s, and Oliver’s, but typically find that they are just another funny take on things that the blogs/pods/twitter have been talking about for a week already.

What else is different?

  • I read a lot.
  • If it’s important, I will always try to find the source material.
  • If it doesn’t have available source material (say, a study an article is based on is behind a $35 paywall [hilarious, by the way]), I give it close to 0 weight in my own personal Bayesian math.
  • My bar for somebody who I want to follow is extremely high. Like 30 people in the world, and most people haven’t heard of more than 2 of them.
  • The people I do follow, I read almost everything they put out.
  • I skim a few ‘linkfest’ type posts, but only click about 10% and then close another 50% of those after the first paragraph.
  • I read a lot.
  • Most of the people I follow are deep into their specialty. I don’t follow a lot of expert-turned-commentators whose only recent contributions to thought are op-eds and often venture into areas where their expertise is outweighed by the fact that they are out of their depth.

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Jack’s Links

Weak links this week, not sure if that’s on me for not reading or the rest of the world for not giving me good content. Anyway, I did drag up a couple of good links and brought back an updated list of what podcasts I’m listening to.

Ben Carlson on Alternative Alpha: this is a really big one, especially the first — tax alpha is something that often hurts an investment manager’s returns (think using munis instead of CDs), but big gains can accrue to the client.

Danielle Morrill gives us her experience on switching from a maker’s schedule to a manager’s schedule. Danielle is a great follow on twitter and is hugely candid and interesting to keep up with.

Podcasts I’m listening to:

Always Listen:

The Bill Simmons podcast is my #1 — I skip many of the pop culture podcasts, but I listen to a few of them too, which says a lot. Obviously the sports and general interviews are crazy interesting.

XYPN Radio podcast is a steady favorite. They do a good job of balancing content from people that want the listeners as clients and actual useful information/good interviews. Must listen for financial advisors.

Occasional Listen:

a16z podcast used to be a stalwart. I’m sure it will return at some point, they just put out so much content it’s hard to keep up.

EconTalk podcast: I’m more choosey about who I listen to on economics these days, but listening to a hugely broad array of people has been extremely useful the past few years.

Masters in Business: I’m going to try to make an effort to listen to more of these. I’m always pleasantly surprised.

New Podcast I’m Excited About:

Macro Musings is a brand new economics podcast from David Beckworth. I haven’t listened yet, but I’m going to give the first 5 or 10 a listen no matter what.


What I’m Listening To (Podcasts)

I walk a lot of places. Sometimes I want to listen to music, but sometimes I want to learn something. When I want to learn something, I turn to my trusty podcasts. I’ve got about 5 that I listen to pretty much every podcast from during the week.

When it comes to podcasts, I’m a firm believer that diversity is king, only one of the podcasts I regularly listen to is related to what I do day to day, and none of them are related to each other. They do have a few things in common, notably; high quality content, smart guests (only one doesn’t regularly have guests), and most of all, they all have a clear identity.

In no particular order:

a16z – Tech/start-up podcast that casts a pretty wide net – Thanks Andreessen Horowitz

Econtalk – An absolutely incredible amount of content out of Russ Roberts – top notch guests

The Tim Ferriss Show – Tim’s stated goal is to interview top performers and find out ‘how they do it’. He’s a hugely talented interviewer

Fireside Markets – I couldn’t actually find a link to the podcast area of the website, anyway… James Osborne, a financial planner, hosts this podcast mostly focused on the planning industry. He’s just starting out (maybe 8 episodes), lots of interesting content, hope it keeps going.

Jalen & Jacoby – Basketball podcast, they give the people what they want.

Honorable mention to the two fivethirtyeight podcasts, hot takedown and what’s the point (I think the latter is brand new), which I’ve enjoyed in the few listens I’ve given them.

I’m sure in time the podcasts will fall victim to the same cycle as the blogs I read — I’ll add more and more that I like until I can’t read them as much as I want, then the reckoning will come and I’ll unfollow 80%. For now, <10 feels like the sweet spot.