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Tuesday
Jul242012

Digital Overwhelm & Motivation

On the Tiny Buddha website, Lori Deschene writes, “In our fast-paced, always on world, it’s not difficult to access information. It comes at you at breakneck speed. Articles, blog posts, status updates, tweets- there’s never a shortage of ideas to consider.” Having 24/7 access can make us feel overwhelmed, challenged to prioritize what’s most important, and un-motivated to move ahead.

By identifying some of the sources and challenges of our digital overwhelm, and by learning how to better manage them, we can increase our sense of well-being, focus, and motivation. Some of the overwhelm sources include our digital devices like our smartphones, laptops, and desktops. There’s the Internet, social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube. There’s email, texting, and voicemail. There’s no shortage of digital accessibility vying for our time and attention.

This digital overwhelm comes with challenges. Here are a few:

  • Interruptions – We can be productively working and then are interrupted by our phone vibrating, the email alert dinging, or a new text message buzzing. We find it difficult to ignore those interruptions. We check, we respond, we lose our focus, and it takes time to get back to what we were doing.
  • Difficulty Prioritizing & Focusing – In the article “Is Modern Technology Creating a Culture of Distraction?” Mathew Ingram asks the question, “Are modern devices and digital conveniences making us more distracted and less able to concentrate?” The constant bombardment of the digital world vying for our attention, along with it’s easy accessibility makes it increasingly difficult for us to prioritize and focus on what’s most important.
  • EndlessJudith Kolberg, organizer, author and industry-futurist, talks about the concept of “endless.” She says that there’s an endless quantity of information, endless availability, and endless accessibility. This is juxtaposed to a finite amount of time. Choice becomes essential. Parameters need to be placed around endless so that we can prioritize and make better decisions.
  • Addiction & Reward – In a Huffington post article, researchers from a University of Chicago study found that “tweeting or checking email may be harder to resist than alcohol,” and that “social media was ‘more addictive’ than cigarettes.” According to a post by Buttoned Up, we are rewarded with feelings of “belonging and significance” when we respond to our digital devices. Responding makes us feel good and this adds to the addictiveness.

Do any of these challenges feel familiar? If you are struggling with the constant pull towards connectivity and are interested in testing out some possible solutions for reducing your overwhelm and re-focusing your time, here are some ideas to consider:

  • Establish Boundaries – Be clear and selective about what you will and won’t do. Align your "yeses" with your values and priorities. Get your “no” statements prepared. For example, you might say-  “No, I’m not going to text while I’m having dinner with my family.”  “No, I’m not going to engage in social media until I finish my report.”  “No, I’m not going to check my email every 5 minutes.” “No, I’m not going to . . ."
  • “Ding Management” – Reduce the dings, alerts and pop-ups that we’re conditioned to respond to. These are very hard to resist. When you need to focus, turn off the alerts. I’ve opted to turn them off permanently. There are also apps and programs like Freedom, Concentrate, and Self-Control that enable you to lock yourself out of “rewarding” programs like email and social media sites on a controlled or temporary basis.
  • Digital Blackouts – More and more I’m hearing about people taking personal digital blackouts during certain hours, days, or weekends. It gives them a mental break to unplug and focus 100% of their energy on their friends, family, or activities. If the thought of doing this scares you, test it out for a short duration and build from there. In the New York Times article, “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In,” one mom blogger who decided to establish a personal daily email and Internet ban between 4-8pm said, “If I’m at all connected, it’s too tempting. I need to make a distinct choice.” Her kids were thrilled.
  • Slow Down – Don’t buy into the 24/7 busyness and access. Decide to slow down and enjoy real face-to-face people interaction, outdoor activities or, leisurely meals with your family or friends. Take time to renew, recharge, and shift your pace. One of my favorite posts, "The Elegance of Slow" by DeeAnne White is a wonderful reflection about the benefits of indulging in non-tech, leisurely time.

There are so many more sources, challenges and possible solutions. What’s missing from these lists? I’d love to hear about your challenges and successes. If you're curious, ask me about my "ding management" experiment. Come join the conversation.

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Reader Comments (12)

Linda, this post hits home for me. I find email to be a particular distraction even though I depend on it, particularly for work. Aside from the interruptions caused by new messages, I have anxiety about the responses I'm waiting for, checking to see if they've arrived or thinking about them when I'm trying to do something else. Our expectation for response time has gotten so unreasonable, and yet I'm a part of it.

In my office email I have "send/receive" set to 15 minute intervals, which helps shield me from the incessant dinging. However, the Blackberry still buzzes which doesn't help matters. After talking with you about this I have tried shutting the phone down altogether and that has been somewhat effective- as long as I don't allow thinking about the messages I might be missing infiltrate my brain too much!

Thanks for the great ideas,

Steve

July 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Samuels

Hey Steve-

Congratulations on figuring out how to set some boundaries around the email interruptions. You're taking control of your technology by limiting how often emails filter in and turning off your Blackberry so that you aren't distracted by the buzzing. You've figured out how to better manage that part.

You bring up another issue, though...managing the thoughts in your brain. Using the out of the box thinking that you are particularly talented at doing, what can you imagine as a possible solution to help with that part? Looking forward to hearing more.

July 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

Very good insights, Linda! I also enjoyed all the other references to other sources. I work in educational technology and we are often chained to our email and even our cell phones during our workday just to stay on top of tasks and our work load. That transfers even when I'm at home. That's where I would like to set clear boundaries to disconnect. I like the suggestion of no connection from 4-8. My kids will sure appreciate it.

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachelle Wooten

Rachelle- So wonderful to hear that some of the ideas in this post resonated with you. Last night I gave a workshop on this topic and several of the attendees also spoke about the need to be connected to email and cell phones throughout the workday and how it carried over into personal time. We spoke about implementing boundaries. Love to hear how your boundary setting and disconnecting goes. Keep me posted.

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

In The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, Clay Johnson says, "With all the inputs available to us today - all the various places where notifications come about: our email boxes, our text messages, our various social network feeds, and blogs to read - our brains throw us into a runaway loop in which we're not able to focus on a given task at hand. Rather, we keep pursuing new dopamine reinforcement from the deluge of notifications headed our way." In other words, it's like an addiction, where we need more and more to maintain that "high" which is why we keep hitting "send/receive" even though we have more important things to attend to. It's an excellent read - I highly recommend it!

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

Janet- Thank you for the great resource. I will check out Johnson's book. A recent Newsweek article by Tony Dokoupil supports what you said. Dokoupil wrote, "We may be choosing to use this technology but in fact we are being dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards. Every ping could be a social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell." Interesting stuff for sure!

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

Setting boundaries can be the hardest part of getting your technology under control. I love the idea of starting with small steps, like just not answering email more than 3 times a day just to get started with one small way of making this change happen. Thanks for sharing!

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

Ellen- Boundaries are huge. And the research suggests that we are being trained by our technology to respond constantly because of the reward/dopamine factor. So the more we can do to set some boundaries, the better chance we have of being more purposeful with our time. Appreciate you sharing with us. I like the concept of putting a boundary around the number of times we check our email during a day. Impressive that you only check email 3 times a day. I have one friend that only checks her email once a week. The key is to figure out what works for you.

October 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

Your friend only checks email once a week? Obviously, she doesn't have a business...

October 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

She is in business, but for her own sanity and needs has drawn very strict boundaries around her use of technology. She still prefers face to face, voice to voice, phone to phone vs. the digital layer. And obviously if I need to get in touch with her quickly, I DON'T email her, but instead pick up the phone. It's kind of interesting...this is what life was like not that long ago. She's chosen not to do what the rest of us are doing. And it's working for her. It's all about choices and options. We opted in with the technology (BIG TIME,) and she has opted out.

October 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I have (and allow) far fewer distractions than my clients do, yet I still experience digital overwhelm at times. If only my colleagues and Facebook friends weren't so darned interesting and prolific! I have to constantly remind myself "Don't Swallow The River" (a tip from this Martha Beck article: http://bit.ly/dtwCuT), but I also might try one of the controlled program blockers you recommended.

April 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHazel Thornton

Hazel- When trying to focus and work, it helps to minimize the distractions be it digital overwhelm or other more traditional distractions like pets, kids, or phone calls. Distractions can become so common that we don't realize that we can do something about them. Let me know if you end up trying the control program blockers and if you find them useful. Would love to hear more.

April 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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