Is This Useful?

“Is this useful?” That was a question posed by Joseph Goldstein in one of the meditations offered on 10% Happier.

While he was referring to the thoughts and feelings that constantly tug at our focus and divert us from being present in our own lives, I would extend that question to the multitude of digital distractions at our fingertips.

Dozens of times a day I pick up my phone and fall headlong into a compulsive search for the tiniest hit of digital dopamine while neglecting everything right on front of me. It’s an addiction. Even now as I write the faint glow of my phone is tantalizing me into grabbing it just in case anything monumental has occurred in the last five minutes.

For several years I often wondered what I had done all day. I couldn’t remember, yet I felt so overwhelmed and busy. What was I so busy doing? I was buried in my phone. My time evaporated with each bit I shaved off for social media, games, apps and email. All those slivers add up into hours, days, weeks…

Click by click I was serving time in a self-imposed digital prison. I could have used that time growing or making or living or building or reading or loving or talking or walking or writing. Instead I was fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming the Foursquare Mayor of the Ralph Kramden Statue.

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I can’t stop using my phone. Complete abstention is impossible. But I can modify my behavior and change the relationship. I can set limits and curtail the empty minutes and hours wasted.

Below are just a few things I do to limit my time online and on my phone. Rigorous pruning of my daily digital commitment has yielded powerful results. Sometimes it means tough choices, but I guarantee the time and freedom gained make up for the low-calorie enjoyment lost.

  • Unsubscribe from email lists.
  • Delete unnecessary apps.
  • Turn off all sounds and notifications.
  • Don’t take phone to meetings or the bathroom.
  • Close time wasting browser windows.
  • Drop RSS feeds.
  • At home, leave the phone in another room.

So what is useful in my life? You may notice I write frequently about six daily habits or practices that I have instituted over the last few years. All of these require putting down the phone and reclaiming my day.

Meditation. I take ten to fifteen minutes to sit and do nothing. The sense of calm and well being I feel most days is a direct result of meditation. It stops the negative chattering in my head and reinforces the good things.

Exercise. I lose weight, tension and stress. I gain strength, confidence and calm. With regular exercise, I feel sharper, more focused, and better prepared to handle the challenges of the day. It can be as easy as a short walk or as hard as I want to make it.

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Weekly Roundup: Get Social With Job Search, Part 2

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How to build a powerful online brand that will get you noticed, grow your network, drive conversations and lead to opportunities. I wrote about social media and job search at AOL Jobs.

Weekly Roundup: Get Social With Job Search

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One of the most powerful tools in your job search arsenal is your social media presence. Sure, you’re probably on LinkedIn as well as Facebook, but what about Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and more? While not every social platform may be right for you, it is important to understand the basics of how each one works and how they can impact your job search, positively and negatively. I wrote about how social media can make or break your job search (and even your career) over at AOL Jobs. 

What’s New In What Color Is Your Parachute?

What Color is Your Parachute 2014

Still Looking Good After 44 Years

Is the definitive book on job search still relevant in 2014? I wrote about Richard N. Bolles’ iconic book on job search and career change for AOL Jobs

Fighting the Unemployment Blues

Keep moving and follow these steps on your jobseeking journey. Here’s something I wrote for AOL jobs.

Apps To Supercharge Your Job Search

Conduct an expert job search from your smartphone. Here’s something I wrote for AOL Jobs about making your job search mobile first.

How To Crush That Networking Event

You say you hate to network? So did I. Not anymore. Here’s something I wrote for AOL Jobs about maximizing the networking experience.

What My 10 Year Old Teaches Me Every Day About Technology & Social Media

Bill Hartnett: What a 10-Year-Old Teaches Me Every Day about Technology and Social Media

Here’s something I wrote a few weeks back for David Berkowitz’s Marketers Studio marketing blog. If you are not already familiar with him or his work, he is an all-around awesome guy with an insatiable curiosity for gadgets, innovation and desserts.

Swallowing the Ocean – The Case for Information Overload

One of my favorite books as a kid was The Five Chinese Brothers. I loved the story of five identical siblings who escaped a wrongful conviction and death sentence through smarts and special skills. However, my favorite part and the bit forever burned in my memory was the first brother who could swallow the sea. The thought of uncovering hidden treasure, pirate skeletons, shipwrecks, exotic fish and the unknown, unseen bottom of the sea was irresistible to a curious kid.

Today I am just as curious if not more. I want new information, hidden knowledge, the practical and the ephemeral. Every day I want to swallow not just the sea, but the ocean. Scouring websites, twitter, email newsletters, rss feeds and countless other sources, I strip mine for the remarkable, the random and the wonderful. Deploying apps and search engines, I connect the infinite dot-to-dot of our world. My desktop, iPhone and iPad are gateways to the curated and serendipitous discovery of knowledge, both useful and useless.

Ten Steps to a Successful Brand Portfolio Strategy. Read it. Peter Saville’s inspiration for the cover art on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Watched it. A new book about the Mars Attacks trading cards. Ordered it.

My meme driven life can be a daunting task. There is so much ocean and I can only devour so much. When I finally end my day and reluctanly put my phone on the bedside table for the last time, I recount what I learned and try to synthesize and make connections. Like the first brother I must release the ocean and start again the next day.

Last week I heard a terrific Creative Mornings lecture from designer Simon Collison who advised us all to clear away the distractions. Ignore the endless twitter stream, avoid email, turn off your devices and focus on the task at hand. Be productive. Design. Build. Make. If the information is important enough, it will find you.

I agree that we need to step away from distraction to focus and finish the job, but there is too much to learn, see and experience. Too many great ideas. Too much remarkable brilliance to fit into such a short day. I am on information overload and it’s a good thing. The hunting and gathering energizes and drives me forward. It’s what I do. Excuse me, but the tide is rising and I’ve got an ocean to swallow.

Belonging – Past, Present and Future

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Today I visited the Hoboken Historical Museum for their excellent new exhibit I Belong: A History of Civic and Social Clubs in Hoboken. What was truly remarkable was how strong the need to belong to a group has been throughout the history of Hoboken.

More than 250 groups have bonded together in the Mile Square City going back to The Turtle Club, an organization dating back to 1796 initially dedicated to eating all the turtles on the west side of the Hudson. Freemasons, Elks, Oddfellows, theater groups, singing organizations and the ubiquitous social clubs all followed. Today, the Elks and many of the social clubs are still around as well as new groups dedicated to running, motorcycles, parenting, skiing, theater and more.

I had an interesting conversation with the curator, Bob Foster, about the impact of social media on Hoboken’s groups and organizations and on the museum itself. I introduced him to Fourstalgia and solved the mystery that had brought me to the museum in the first place.

Fourstalgia kept surfacing a vintage picture of the Quartett-Club whenever I checked in on Foursquare in uptown Hoboken. Where was this striking building and what was this club? It turns out that the club was a German American singing organization formed in the latter half of the 19th century and their hall was right next to the present day Elks Club on Washington between 10th and 11th. It became the Gayety Theater early in the 20th century and was unfortunately torn down in the twenties.

Throughout the exhibit the photos, stories, programs and memorabilia told a fascinating narrative of proud people uniting around common interests and fulfilling that strong basic need of belonging. We marvel at the power Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to attract millions of users, but sometimes forget how people have always come together to share stories, laughter, causes, passions and fellowship. Maybe we just have better tools today.

I love the power of social media and the ability to find my people, but wonder if gathering online adds or subtracts from our capacity to come together in the real world. What do you think?