If you spend time on the internet, the information super-highway has an off-ramp that dumps directly into your brain. Even when you aren’t actively consuming information your brain is processing …
- Facebook updates
- Blog recommendations
- Special offers
- Pinterest images
- Breaking news
And the list goes on and on and on. None of these things are harmful on their own, but combined, the information that could serve us in a meaningful way adds more distraction and lack of focus. It disrupts our sleep, conversations, and creative flow.
The following quote by Peter Drucker in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less says it all:
“In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition . For the first time— literally— substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”
We really are unprepared and if you doubt that, ask this question. Even if you don’t think you are using the internet to the detriment of your work, joy, and health, are you using it to benefit them? And, if it’s a wash, why bother?
Ask these questions too:
- How many times a day do you “check in” to email or social networks without responding?
- Are you taking action with the information you cultivate?
- If your phone or iPad is in the same room, how many times do you think about it when you are eating dinner, or doing another activity?
- Do you go online when you are bored or lonely?
- Do people have to repeat themselves because you are distracted by your device?
- If you are writing or working online on a specific project, how long before you click out for a little escape?
I’m not judging here. In fact, I’m asking these questions myself.
While there are many little things we can do to ease the pain of information overload, and use the power of unlimited information to better serve us, these 3 steps are vital for radical improvement.
1. Limit the input.
Take a digital break, or try a 10 day social media fast. The first two days may feel uncomfortable, but it gets better. When it does, pay attention to how it feels not to have any digital distractions. What is it like to fall asleep without checking your phone first, or wake up and drink a glass of water and enjoy the morning before you open your laptop or check Facebook updates or work email? How do you feel without the validation of online social connections? What’s it like to navigate the grocery store, wait in line, or sit at a stoplight without screen time.
During your digital break, use the quiet time to understand your actions and set limits so you can thoughtfully engage when your break is over. Before you come back to the wild wild web, set limits like no wi-fi in the house before or after a certain time, or only 20 minute per day on your favorite social media platform. Assign 2 days a week to read your favorite blogs or websites instead of skimming and scanning all week long.
If the following quote from Mindy Kaling is funny to you, that’s because it’s familiar. You can relate. I can relate too.
“The Internet also makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to focus. One small break to look up exactly how almond milk is made, and four hours later I’m reading about the Donner Party and texting all my friends: Did you guys know about the Donner Party and how messed up that was? Text me back so we can talk about it!”
Have a plan before you jump into the abyss. What do you need from Google? Why are you opening Facebook? Are looking for something or trying to avoid something?
2. Create time to process.
A 10 day digital break and smaller daily breaks will do wonders for your mindspace, but consistently creating time and space to process the information you consume along with your thoughts and reactions is even more important. A mindfulness or meditation practice will help.
- Ease in with guided meditation. Try Oprah & Deepak’s free meditation series. Sign up and register for free right here.
- Jump right in with 5 minutes a day using Headspace.
- Learn the hows and whys first. This free 5 part video series from Kristoffer Carter explains the difference between a mindfulness practice and meditation practice, answers other questions, and challenges you to 30 days of practice.
Without dedicated time and space in your day, it’s impossible to prioritize or even know what the priority really is.
3. Limit the output.
Share less. Cut your email, and social activity in half and lighten up the information overload, not only for you, but for everyone connected to you. Spend less time sharing and you can spend more time with the people around you; the people who are spending time with you while you check your phone.
If you work online and are tempted to schedule auto updates to social networks during your digital break, resist. If you are on vacation, don’t constantly email your co-workers or employees to keep them busy. Let everyone benefit from your break by giving them a break too.
Instead of reacting to email all day long, schedule 20 minute sessions to respond to all time sensitive requests, and move the other messages to another folder. Respond to them in batches once or twice a week. Thanks for the tip Shannon.