We live in a connected age where it seems that, despite all of the technologies available to help us, people have less and less time available. Digital overload is a more common complaint now; RSS feeds, email, social media and mobile phones mean that we are often constantly bombarded with information. What to do with all of this information? Well, much of it serves as a distraction from the tasks we need to be doing to ensure our essential work is done and that we are getting a reasonable amount of leisure time. Ever got caught up in social media feeds and watching the latest ‘must see’ video? Distracted from your primary task by the interruption of ‘urgent’ emails? It’s time we took control back of our time and put technology where it should be; as a useful tool not as a time-hogging distraction.
According to study conducted by the University of California, San Diego, the average person today is consuming almost three times as much information as a typical person from 1960. This onslaught of information triggered New York Times technology journalist Matt Richtel to conduct the series ‘Your Brain on Computers’ in which he explores the science available on the effects of constantly being ‘plugged in’. One of the interesting and somewhat disturbing facts brought to light is that studies show that when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could help them to come up with ideas, remember information and learn better. This is more and more common, how many times do you see people on the train or bus, iPod headphones in and scrolling on a tablet or laptop? Traditional downtime is being filled with activities to alleviate ‘boredom’, meaning that brains are continuously being stimulated and lacking in rest periods.
As far as technology’s impact on time management goes, scientists say that juggling email, social media, phone calls and other incoming information is not only changing how we think and behave, but it is altering our ability to focus. Our brains have a primitive impulse to respond immediately to stimulus and threats, which the ever-presence of technological gadgetry is playing to. Technology ‘junkies’ are often seeing a price paid in terms of interruption to work and family life and a sense of having no time available. According to scientists, heavy multi-taskers have more trouble than others at shutting out irrelevant information to focus on the task at hand, and this scattered thinking is becoming the new ‘normal’ for their brains, even when away from gadgets.
So what strategies are suggested to break the ‘digital overload’ plague?
- Practice ‘mindful awareness’ – this means being still and focusing your attention, not operating technology devices on ‘autopilot’.
- Turn off distractions while working. If you are working on an important piece, turn off phones, Skype, Social Media, Instant Messaging and anything else that could ‘ping’ you from your task.
- Check email at set times of day. It can be very tempting to respond immediately as messages come in but this is again distracting you from that task you should be doing. Set certain times of day where you will check and respond to email – this means do not have it open in a browser where you can see the numbers ticking up as they come in!
- Get out in nature. Studies have shown that we learn more and have more productive time when we shut off all other stimulus and get out in nature as opposed to a walk through an urban setting. Scientists believe that our brains are too stimulated in the urban setting and we really need the calm that a nature walk can bring.
What do you do to switch off?