Sometimes I feel like I have too much information coming into my life. I’m especially aware of information that is not helpful and does not meaningfully contribute to a fulfilled life. In the modern age we are constantly bombarded with news, options, advertisement, requests, and astutely crafted marketing plans. Often, it is simply too much.
I’m not a big fan of negativity. I certainly appreciate (but dislike) constructive criticism but still I struggle with negative things that impact my mindset- especially in areas where I have little actual control. I still spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter and I find myself reading about ‘news’ as a way to procrastinate when important things are on the line. I’m always striving for contentment and I’m pretty sure there is a relationship between the input steams that enter my life and the level of satisfaction I feel.
I need to be intentional about the stream of information that comes into my brain. I need to constantly monitor the positive ones and discourage the negative ones. I need to remove the unproductive ones and concentrate on the ones that bring actual fulfillment. I need to slow down my input stream.
It Begins Here
My cell phone and my internet connection. I’m pretty sure the bulk of my unproductive (and also my productive) inputs come from two simple sources: My cell phone and the Internet. I’m to the point where I rarely watch unplanned television and most of my friends are healthy inputs. When I make the time to read for fun it is often relaxing and productive. But, I do find myself guilty of many of the things productivity gurus restrict. I know I shouldn’t look at my cellphone right when I get up or check my email before I do important things- but I find myself doing them anyway. I know that I rarely workout after 7am but sometimes I still hit the snooze button and skip my morning workout. I know I need to spend more time doing “x” but I waste time doing this or that. Social media, deals, and news. These are my time wasters. When I’m feeling extra unproductive I can spend plenty of time reading about my favorite sports teams and fantasy football. Assessing my input streams really begins with understanding how to control my phone and the time I spend online.
Stopping the Flow
It’s pretty much impossible for me to stop to flow of inputs and distractions from my life at this point. I sustain and entertainment myself through the world wide portal known as the internet. But, I can certainly slow the inputs down. One thing I have consciously done over the past few years is to remove or limit explicit forms of advertising and marketing from my stream. It started with getting rid of cable and adding in the old Ad-blocker. This is actually a great place to begin. However, I’ve noticed that the ‘unwanted content stream’ has crept up in places like user content (Facebook, twitter) and even places I like to visit around town. I try and practice selective ignorance but I’m drawn to the little highs that come with new bits of information. I even know I should single task but I sit here typing with browser tabs galore and several competing items on my to-do-list.
The other big source of my input stream comes from my obligations and commitments. In the past, I’ve had a difficult time saying No to opportunities that sounded fun or seemed exciting at the time. I’m consistently reminded that I need to guard my time and fully evaluate any new commitments that come my way before I decide to proceed. I need to think about my family and my big rocks before I spread myself too thinly trying to do too many things. So, for now, stopping the flow means minimizing distractions on the Internet, controlling the use of my phone, and staying no the commitments that do not contribute positively to my life.
Distraction free In-Betweens
I have a lot of in-between time. Ole lady Iphone does a pretty good job soaking it all up. I was reading an article earlier in the week from Pete over at MMM and he mentioned that he still spends close to three hours (in aggregate) a day staring at his cell phone. While I’ve yet to measure the amount of time I spend looking at the 4.5″ screen each day, I’m probably around the same number. I even noticed the other day I’ll have this itch to look something up, even when its relevance is minimal. My trivia is strong- but is it coming at the expense of relaxation? Finding productivity or relaxation in the in-between is a challenge. I think that will be my new experiment for the coming weeks. Maybe leave my phone at home. Or read a book on the bus. Maybe I’ll try talking to people I see instead of checking my fantasy football roster. When I do have a crazy new idea, maybe I’ll make notes or write about it when I have a few minutes instead of cursing the deals on craigslist or slickdeals. My sudoku record may suffer, but I think my mental health would increase due to the increase mindfulness.
The last piece is really about planning my distractions. I work an information job that is physically easy but can be mentally challenging to stay focused for hours and hours a day. Planned distractions are an important part of the way I can break up a day and have guilt free non-productivity. Although several evenings a week we often watch a television show or two, I am actually to the point in my life where I find that relaxing and strangely guilt free. I like having nice conversations during dinner with Ms. SE but I’m growing content just laying together after that to watch a non-productive travel show, stupid sitcom, or a cheesy cooking show. But it is planned. We typically like to get everything finished for the day, tidy up the house, get ready for bed then relax for a bit. I suppose I really looking for ways to control my input stream. Select the things I enjoy and remove the things that distract. How do you manage the information stream that comes your way? How to you keep the positive input streams and remove the negative ones? I’m in the process of slowing down the input stream. My mind needs it.