How To Drink From a Firehose

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 4 min read

Over the weekend and into today I’ve been at NSA Influence 2022.

This is an association conference comprised of professional speakers spending time together to share their best advice and showcase their impeccable speaking skills.

Because of my ADHD, along with nearly two years of minimal, in-person, human interaction, I find events like this a little bit overwhelming. There’s a lot of activity, motion, music, lights, and distraction. This can cause a little bit of a tornado of chaos in my mind.

All of this overwhelm is compounded by the sheer volume of information that is being shared. Some of the information is new and novel, but a lot of it can best be described as a unique presentation of things I’ve heard before.

I’m also catching up with people I know, and meeting new people.

The combination of all of these factors makes the entire experience akin to drinking from a firehouse. Everything, everywhere, all at once (which is the best movie I’ve ever seen, btw).

So today, I thought I’d give you some quick tips on how to drink from the firehose. Anytime you’re in a circumstance where there are more stimuli firing at you than you can comfortably process these tips can be useful.

1. Capture what strikes you, not just what was said

yellow and red fire illustration
hey, this flame looks like an ear!

Note-taking is a skill that few people spend enough time improving.

Often times people mistake transcription for note-taking. But, transcribing everything that was said is not a good way to process insights. Typically, a better approach is to refrain from copying things down verbatim, but instead rewriting what was shared in your own words or noting the ideas spurred by it. It’s fine to capture direct quotes, but you should limit this sort of note-taking to single ideas and your subsequent interpretation of those ideas.

You’re not a clipboard. Make sure your notes are primarily reserved for ideas, insights, and interpretations.

2. Rest

woman lying on grass front of sea at daytime

After consuming large quantities of information, it’s important to rest. Your brain makes sense of new information and creates new neural pathways during periods of rest rather than while your brain is in an active state.

If you push yourself too hard, and don’t give yourself a chance to rest and recuperate, your brain will not have time to make sense of what you brought in.

This can be as simple as taking a few moments for some quiet mindfulness. But it also happens when you are sleeping, so make sure to get the proper amount of sleep to ensure the investment of your time is best realized.

3. Reflect

person sitting on bench facing suspension bridge

Upon hearing new information, don’t just give it a slot inside your mental file cabinet. Take time to really think about it, reflect on how it meshes with your values, or previous ideas. The act of learning is not a simple copy and paste, but rather the ability to interpret and understand new information in the context of what you already know or believe.

This is where creativity will come from, and this is also where information is synthesized into your unique perspective, thereby coloring how you show up.

Conclusion

You don’t have to do any of these things.

You don’t even have to consume information from the firehose.

But if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed in an environment where new information and stimuli are coming at you at high speed, these tips may help.

Becoming Superhuman requires you to take an active role in your growth, and think about how to continuously improve your abilities to learn, think, communicate, lead, and take action. It’s tough to do any of these things when you’re overwhelmed and scattered. Make sure to give yourself space and take time to rest and reflect, so you can apply what you’ve learned.

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