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« Distractions, Wonderful Conversations, and Driving on Empty | What Are Today's Interesting Finds? - v12 »
Tuesday
Nov012016

9 Digital Overwhelm Challenges and Helpful Human Solutions

“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.” 

Lori Deschene, Tiny Buddha founder

We're humans living in a digital world. Having 24/7 access to our technology can make us feel overwhelmed, stressed, challenged to prioritize what’s most important, and un-motivated to move forward.

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, motivation, and focus. Some of the overwhelm sources include our digital devices like our smartphones, laptops, and desktops. The addictive nature of those devices lure us with their unlimited access to emails, texts, Internet surfing, social media communities like TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube. There’s no shortage of digital accessibility vying for our time and attention.

 

Common digital overwhelm challenges include:

  • Interruptions - We can be working productively and suddenly get interrupted by our phone vibrating, an email alert dinging, or a new text message buzzing. We find it difficult to ignore these distractions. 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 barrage of continual digital input and 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, writes about the concept of “endless” in her book, Getting Organized in the Era 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. Judith suggests placing parameters around endless so that we can prioritize and make better decisions.
  • Addiction & Reward – 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.

Are these challenges familiar? If so, experiment with strategies that will reduce your overwhelm and re-focus your energy.

 

Solutions for managing digital overwhelm include:

  • Establish Boundaries – Information and demands to engage are coming faster and in larger quantities than ever before. Be clear and selective about what you will and won’t do. Align your "yeses" with your values and priorities. Have 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 sounds, alerts and pop-ups that we’re wired to respond to and find extremely hard to resist. When you need to focus, turn off your alerts. I’ve opted to turn them off permanently. There are also apps and programs like FreedomFocus, and Self Control that enable you to lock yourself out temporarily of "rewarding" programs like email and social media sites. Here's a recent review of Self Control to give you an idea of how these types of programs work.
  • Digital Blackouts – Getting "unplugged" has become a cottage industry with detox retreatsdigital diets, and unplugging-themed conferences. I've noticed that more people are taking personal digital blackouts on certain hours or days. They get a mental break to unplug and focus 100% of their energy on their friends, family, or non-tech activities. If the thought of unplugging makes you anxious, try it 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.
  • Green Breaks - Ever-present technology is designed to constantly pull our attention that can lead to mental exhaustion, overwhelm and burnout. Scientists, like cognitive psychologist David Strayer, Ph.D., agree that nature restores mental fatigue and increases creativity. Take a walk in the woods, sit under a tree, or dip your feet in the river. Unplug from your devices, go outside, and feel the positive affects on your well-being.
  • Slow Down – Don’t buy into the 24/7 busyness and access. Decide to slow down and enjoy human, 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.

I’d love to hear about your digital overwhelm challenges and solutions. What have your noticed? If you're curious, ask me my "ding management" experiment. Come join the conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (21)

You are so right, Linda, Digital Overwhelm is a HUGE problem. Setting boundaries, taking green breaks and unplugging are the strategies I use to keep the digital world from totally invading my space. I have set some rules for myself surrounding cell phone use and computer time. These rules allow me to focus on the priorities I have set for that time. I find that I get more done and am more at peace with my day now that I am not so rules by my digital devices. I now rule them.

November 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

@Diane- It sounds like you've done an amazing job at setting boundaries. I know that one of your hobbies/loves keeps you well grounded in non-tech time...(ballroom dancing.) Do you ever find yourself renegotiating with your "rules?"

November 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

I was just reading yesterday that there seems to be evidence that cell phones in the bedroom disrupt sleep, even if they are off! My small, but delicious, habit is to leave my cell phone plugged in downstairs in the kitchen. The bedroom has no tv, no computer, no phone. Once I head up, I'm "off"... and I can count on that. (I do have a landline in the bedroom, in case of emergencies.)

November 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

@Seana- I'm with you 100% on that one. Like you, the only "device" in our bedroom is a landline phone for emergencies.The only time my cell phone (or my husband's) makes it into the bedroom is when we're traveling and in a hotel. I can attest to the sleep disruption even if the sounds are off and the phones are face down.

November 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Digital distractions are everywhere. The first step for me is boundaries. Online access, auditory reminders, texts at any hour, can all be distractions. Know what works for you. If you want to limit, be clear with yourself and stick to it. It's worth your time to focus on how to limit your connections.

November 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

@Ellen- Boundaries are key...for digital distractions and so much more. When I think about how much these distractions have increased in such a short time, it's amazing. I'm aware of them when working with clients too...not just my distractions, but theirs.

November 3, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Ironically, your post caught my eye just as I was about to get down to work, but I stopped to read it first.

I have put some limits in place. I don't check my work email after 5PM, and I've turned off all sound notifications on all my devices except text messages on my phone. However, I've noticed that on Facebook I have a tendency to check my notifications right away, even if I've logged in for a specific purpose, and I want to stop that. Look at them, okay, but not click on them unless it's something that needs my immediate attention (which is rare).

November 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

Love the thought by Judith Kolberg about an endless quantity of information juxtaposed with a finite amount of time. As a parent, not only do I have to create digital boundaries for myself, I have to create them for my kids as well. They have a certain amount of 'screen time' and are usually begging for more. My husband and I sometimes have to remind them that there are books, toys, games, puzzles in the house that can be played with, too. On the flip side of that, this weekend I helped them create videos on my phone and this week we'll import them into iMovie and make a little movie out of the scenes we shot over the weekend.Boundaries and Blackouts--so necessary!

November 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Agin Murray

@Janet- That's so funny. It sounds like for the most part you've been very strategic and purposful with your "digital" boundaries. But as you so clearly shared, even the best laid plans can be messed with even if we've set limits. While I'm sorry that my post pulled you off task, I sure am happy that you joined us. I always appreciate the time you take to respond and share.

@Stacey- Judith is so smart. She always comes up with a new twist on something...as in her era of endless ideas. It's interesting that you mentioned about creating digital boundaries not just for yourself, but also for your kids. At the NERCPO conference this past weekend, that issue came up. This also extends to partners. Even if we have good boundaries with our own tech useage, our partners' boundaries might negatively effect ours. Lots to consider!

November 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great solutions for this very real challenge. I love the idea of a detox retreat. I am going to be checking this out. I hope they have ones for entire families. That would be great for a summer activity.

November 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina Quairoli

It's funny Linda, i am just reading your post now, and for most of the day i have been organizing my digital business world. As my days get more booked with clients i have been streamlining to make it easier to keep track of where everything is. As i came later to technology ( the last 4 years) i find just the sheer amount of things i DON"T know is overwhelming for me. I love it, i just don;t understand it as deep as i should.
I gave a presentation at my sons High School Careers day and as i looked out at the sea of faces, faces that have never known a world without technology i know organizing digital clutter is going to be huge in the future.

November 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

@Seana, i am with you, we only have a landline phone in our bedroom as well.

November 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

@Sabrina- Keep me posted about your "detox retreat" research. I'd love to hear more about what you discover.

@Jill- What a coincidence that you were focused on your digital organizing yesterday. I get what you mean about not understanding things. Technology is constantly changing, so just when you think you know what's going on, systems change. It's an interesting observation about realizing that there are generations of kids growing up in a technology-rich culture. They don't have the history of understanding the world pre-digital era.

November 8, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

It gets even funnier... my sister is very interested in this topic (she blogged about it here) so I paused while I was reading to send her the link - and forgot to insert the link in the email!

November 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

@Janet- Thank you for sharing your sister's post...and in her post there was a link to an excellent NY Times article which so well describes the distraction and addition of our digital age. I appreciate you sharing...and the humor too of neglecting to insert the link in the email. Love the irony.

November 9, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I agree with everything you said. I always just give myself; just a 1/2 hour in the morning and 1/2 hour in the evening after my organizing sessions to check e-mail and Facebook, since that is my main communication with new potential clients. Texts I check when I awake in the morning ( it's kept in my office) during my lunch time and just before I leave the clients home. We don't allow any electronics in our kitchen. As a Certified Feng Shui Consultant too, the EMF''s radiated from these devises will cause you to sleep less. I tell this all to my clients this and when they remove them they get more sleep and have more energy in the morning!

Thanks for writing this article. Everyone knows it but just needs to be reminded from time to time especially the Millennials.

November 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia Braun, CPO and CFSC

@Cynthia- What amazing boundaries you have! You're inspiring. It's interesting that you've banned electronics from the kitchen too. Thank you too for adding the piece about EMF's and the effect that has on sleep. When I'm traveling, my cell phone is usually next to my bed, but that's the only time that it's near where I sleep. And there's no question that it interrupts my sleep, even if all sounds are off.

November 10, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Self Control for Mac helps me to block sites I get distracted by. I have the compulsion to check my Instagram feed every five minutes on my iPhone. Haven’t yet found an app for that.
 After hearing you at the conference I decided to use one trick I heard of recently. I just pushed away Instagram from the home screen to make it less visible and less accessible.
So far it is working!

November 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIsabelle Dervaux

@Isabelle- It was great seeing you last weekend! I'm so glad you've had success using the Self Control self lock-out program to minimize distractions from certain sites.

Being someone that specializes in photo organizing, I can understand your "compulsion" to frequently view your Instagram feed. There are so many interesting visuals to look at. I LOVE your very creative "trick" about moving the Instagram icon off of your home screen. What a simple and clever idea! Even better to discover that by doing so, you're checking your feed less. Way to go Isabelle!

November 10, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I'm glad you enjoyed the NY Times article too.

November 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

@Janet- Thanks again. You're so wonderful with sourcing all kinds of relevant and useful information and topics. So grateful for you.

November 14, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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