Every year as I survey my goals I realize that my ToDo list is as cluttered as my garage and my desk. The fact is that my life is too complicated to add more stuff to it. So I need to adopt a minimalist philosophy as I set my goals. I need to remove one thing, for every new thing I wish to add.
Before I finalize my goals for the upcoming year, I must take time to assess where I have excess baggage. I must identify the major distractions in my life. You know, the things that are impeding one’s ability to think and function effectively and efficiently.
As I am going into the year 2014, I can summarize my excess baggage in a single word: Overwhelm! My biggest frustration in recent months has been an incredible sense of overwhelm. What do I mean by overwhelm? Well, there are times when I seem to be bombarded with a never-ending torrent of information, much of it trivial. Some of it is beneficial, but the fact is that most of it is useless nonsense, and it consumes a great deal of time to sort out. I long for relevant information, to help me grow and prosper in my goals.
The rest of this essay (no, it is not a Rant! Really.) will deal with particular areas where I must build fortifications to protect myself from this onslaught of trivia. I share this not for the sake of venting, but because I believe that you likely experience similar frustration.
1. E-mail: – One of my biggest sources of overwhelm is email. I have attempted to compartmentalize my life as best I can, by having several email accounts targeted towards specific disciplines in my life. I have a work email account, a personal email account, an email account for a board that a sit on in my community. I have email accounts related to my blog properties.
Having separate mailboxes has helped me manage my time and my mental focus, in that I’m not tripping up various aspects of my life where they do not need to be. However, many of these accounts are filled with junk mail and spam. My challenge is to fix this issue, to set aside several hours to set up appropriate filters, to unsubscribe from email newsletters, etc., to reduce the proliferation of digital debris in my inboxes.
2. FaceBook: I’m new to Facebook. I’ve only been using it for about six months, I’m late to the party. The only reason I signed up for Facebook, was because my local CrossFit gym uses it as its primary communications tool. Until I subscribed to the Facebook page, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t know half of what was going on within the organization. So is an essential part of that community.
But once I created a Facebook account I was amazed by the proliferation of requests to be “friended” from colleagues at work, people in the community, friends, family, neighbors, church and civic organizations, etc.. Being new to Facebook, I did not really understand the nuances of the dashboard, of Facebook etiquette, and within weeks I was overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the volume of news feeds.
Another frustration with my exposure to Facebook has been “liking” sponsored feeds. Being a fan of CrossFit and paleo-style nutrition, I mistakenly “liked” every freaking product I came upon, CrossFit affiliates, whole foods, supplements and gym clothing and equipment companies. My Facebook news feed has become one long lifestyle infomercial.
My second challenge in regards to information overload (a.k.a. overwhelm), is to thin out my news feed, and to “unlike” many product FB pages. My goal is to eliminate “commercials”. I also must “hide” or “unfriend” people who keep doing the same stupid stuff, expecting different results, yet expect sympathy. Hello! This is the internet, we’re not discussing the intimate details of your life in private over coffee! Let’s keep private stuff private. Yeah, I know I sound insensitive. Get over it, because many of you have the same frustration with this medium.
3. The Internet Time Suck: – Another source of overwhelm for me has been the Internet. There are times when I cannot get to sleep because I haven’t read everything on the Internet. Yeah, I know it sounds foolish but there times I actually think I can read everything on the Internet but people keep publishing more content.
And why am a spending all this time Internet? Well, because I got links in my email messages that suggested I would be interested in this topic. Perhaps it was a new product, a political commentary, a news story, weather updates. And that’s just from email. The same thing holds true for Facebook links. The next thing you know five minutes on the Internet has morphed into another lost evening, and I’m an hour late for bed.
4. Glass Screens: – My fourth source of overwhelm is “screen time”. Yes, I already addressed some screen time in the context of email, Facebook, and Internet, but it is even more pervasive, creeping into online video, such as YouTube, which I use for weightlifting tutorials, work tutorials, software tutorials, blogging software and blogging platform tutorials, and various mastermind groups.
I carry screen in my pocket, I carry a screen in my backpack, I work at a screen at my desk. I often sit at a screen on my desk at home, I am typing this on a screen at Starbucks. I avoid network television, adapting programming to my schedule and reducing the number of commercials. Instead I view web-based TV programs and Netflix, either directly on my MacBook, or I link it to the big-screen TV. If I’m at the TV, I also have access to Roku. So it seems that my life is totally consumed with a glass screen inches from my face.
In addition to online video, I have introduced far too much of my reading consumption to the small screen. I must schedule more time for actual reading. Now one could argue that being online is reading, but I’ll disagree. Reading on the Internet is analogous to reading a magazine. Reading a magazine is nothing like reading a book. A magazine has a short attention span. Articles deal with things on a cursory level, there is little depth, there is little commitment required to read a magazine, while reading a book requires a commitment of time and attention.
It is worth noting that I have many books that I have downloaded digitally, and though I love the convenience of having the same book on my iPad, MacBook and iPhone, synced to the same page so that I can pick them up at any location, the convenience is negated by the perversion of the experience.
There is comfort in sitting in a chair on a cold winter night, with a blanket on my lap, with a glass of red wine and a hard cover book in my hand. With a hard copy book, it is a sensory experience that I will never have with a digital copy. I also detect a difference in my human physiology reading on a glass screen versus reading a book, even sitting in the same chair, with the same glass of red wine and the same blanket on my lap. A book brings me comfort, and a screen brings me a level of anxiety.
Paper: – My fifth source of overwhelm is paper. My desk is covered with paper. More specifically my desks, plural, are covered with paper. And each piece of paper represents an action item, which must be undertaken at some time in the future. In my mind, each piece of paper represents a demand for my attention. Being overwhelmed with paper sets me up for procrastination and increased frustration.
So what is the big plan for these five sources of stress in my life?
It is time to re-introduce some of my time management tools into my daily or weekly routine. I have had a fair amount of success with various elements of Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen. I have also found order to my life’s tasks using Omni-Focus for tracking all my projects and milestones, thus reducing the amount of paper that I leave in my wake. Scanning a lot of these papers and filing them electronically has also helped in the past.
I am also fond of the Pomodaro Technique. Just commit a short block of time, set a kitchen timer and get to work.
Simply stated, I need to systematically re-introduce my favorite old planning tools into my daily routine. They must be either the last thing I do before I leave the office in the evening, or the first thing I do when I plan my morning. Otherwise I’m just a pinball in a machine, banging off the walls senselessly, and accomplishing nothing.