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How to set up a Ulysses contract to slim down your content diet

I’m going to show you how to create a Ulysses contract for your information consumption.

Simply put, it’s a set of rules that shield you from getting tempted by distractions in all the environments you frequent.

Ulysses was a greek warrior. On his journey home from the Trojan war he managed to pass by the island of Sirens who would spellbound any sailor with their singing, causing them to crash their ships and die. Ulysses anticipated the distraction, asked his men to tie him to the mast, directed them not to take any orders from him while they’re passing by the island, and filled their ears with beeswax so they won’t hear the songs of the Sirens.

There is an endless ocean of content flooding towards us every single minute. Books, newspapers, blogs, podcasts, courses, Tweets, posts, videos, newsletters... you name it. Not to mention the cute dog TikToks and viral memes. All desperately and sometimes quite aggressively fighting for our attention. If anyone wants to put a tap on it, they must perform a ruthless selection, possibly before entering the ‘arena’.

The benefits of curating content before consumption are: cleaner inbox, higher quality inputs, more efficient time management, enhanced productivity, high quality outputs.

Unfortunately, so many people don’t come prepared and find themselves endlessly scrolling, or with an inbox full of dozens of unread newsletters, or an ever growing wish list of articles, books, posts, videos...

The main reason - I found - is that they don’t want to miss out on anything.

Other explanations can be:

  • lack of vision for their future self (and lack of clarity thereof for what to focus on in the present),

  • no inventory of all the pieces on their as-is information consumption,

  • poor time management,

  • or simply lack of awareness of the problem itself.

But the truth is: every time you say Yes to one thing, you immediately say No to many other things.

Defining and setting up a Ulysses contact is no rocket science. Put the blinders on, ignore and shut out the noise. Get rid of the distractions.

Here's how, step by step:

Step 1: Create an inventory of ALL you consume

It is the baseline for all the steps to follow.

Get a piece of empty sheet and start to list down all the sources you consume, signed up for, or have a list running about. Don’t miss out on anything. Be thorough and specific.

The most common sources are: articles, books (physical, audio and ebooks), videos, podcasts, newsletters, ongoing subscriptions, topics, hashtags and accounts you follow on every social platform.

Step 2: Identify the items that don’t bring you any joy or value anymore and get rid of those first

Is that article you saved 3 months ago still relevant? Why are you subscribed to 7 newsletters when you only read 3? Why do you still follow Twitter topics or LinkedIN hashtags that aren’t interesting to you anymore?

There is an unsubscribe button. There is a way to unfollow a topic or an account. It is natural that our goals, interests and projects evolve over time. So dump everything that doesn’t serve a purpose anymore and you’re immediately half-way there.

Step 3: Set up a rule for each item how to stay valuable, impactful and relevant

Think in terms of simple, easy and measurable with your rules.

Want to make sure that newsletter subscriptions are still relevant? Establish a maximum limit. I.e. it’s 5 subscriptions max that you can have that you will actually read, too. In order to sign up to a 6th one, you must unsubscribe from one existing.

Want to read more of the articles you saved for later? Set an expiration date to the task of actually reading the article. If you don’t read it within X days, delete it from your list. It’s probably not relevant for you.

You can also periodically curate the list of podcasts you listen to.

You can identify a ‘Read in progress’ limit to the number of books you want to read in parallel (for me it’s 1 nonfiction and 1 fiction at all times).

You can select the most significant accounts on any social platform, put those on a list and collaborate with their content only.

It really is quite simple, and your future self will be forever grateful for the wisdom of your present self.


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