Focus has been a key goal and resolution for me in 2015. For years I danced on the deadly edge of complete digital distraction. It became increasingly clear I needed to take a few steps back. My meme driven life was destroying my concentration and preventing me from getting things done.
A couple of years back i wrote about the absolute joy I took in information overload. I dove into the internet every day and would barely come up for air. Likening the experience to “swallowing the ocean” I extolled the virtues of infinite choice and endless possibility. There was just too much great stuff to ignore. My insatiable curiosity combined with some serious FOMO had me staring at screens from the moment I woke up until just before I closed my eyes at night.
But then something happened.
With 30 tabs open, music playing on my laptop while I watched video on my phone, simultaneously looking through notes on my iPad, I realized maybe I had a problem. No focus. No focus whatsoever. Distraction was king and my waking life was ruled by beeps, buzzes and alerts leading me from one app to another, from website to video, from game to text to Twitter to Instagram to Facebook. My focus was fractured, my productivity likely suffering and my enjoyment of the real things in life had diminished.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with newsletters, blogs, apps, social, games and never ending clickbait. My goal wasn’t to go cold turkey, but to spend more time doing and less time consuming. Multitasking to one task at a time. I simply wanted (and needed) to draw the line somewhere. I needed to go on a information diet. But how?
First of all, I hit unsubscribe on dozens of daily and weekly email newsletters. I expunged as many apps from my phone as I could bear. I cut my RSS feeds in half. I stopped saving countless articles to read later. I’ve limited myself to only five tabs open at a time. Delete. Delete. Delete.
Then, I made a point of putting down my phone, often leaving it in another room at home. I stopped taking it with me to meetings at work. If I have it I will always look at it. It beckons and teases me and I am no stronger than the kids in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Better for me to leave it in my bag or out of reach than tempt fate.
So what happened next?
Suddenly I had time, not oceans of time, but time. That all-consuming busyness I had used as a shield for years began to dissipate. I paid attention. I listened. Where I once filled every second of available time with checking emails, opening Facebook or ripping through my Instagram feed, I began to have wonderful moments of silence and clarity. How nice to think about nothing for a change.
And here is just a short list of other things that started happening.
– Rich, undistracted conversations
– Deeper focus at work and home
– My daily to-do list gets crushed early
– More time to read real books
– Written over 100,000 words in four and a half months
– Exercising four to five days a week
The funny thing is I don’t think I’ve missed much of anything important online. While I thought I would regret letting go of those email newsletters, apps and all the other distractions, I’ve never looked back. I’ve still got plenty of great stuff to sift through every day, plus I have much better focus and the gift of time. By doing less I actually accomplish mush more. And I keep three things in mind whenever I’m online. Unfollow, unsubscribe, delete.