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.
- Endless – Judith 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.