One Thing At A Time
I recently came across WNYC's Infomagical Challenge - an offshoot of Note to Self, a podcast about being human in the digital age. The premise of Infomagical is simple: we live in an age of information overload and we feel pressured to take it all in, lest we come across as un-hip or worse, ignorant. Unfortunately, there's simply no way our brains can digest this glut of information meaningfully and use it effectively. The long-term effect of "Infomania" (excessive, mindless information consumption) is basically brain burnout: we are constantly psychologically stimulated, but emotionally burned out. I have a feeling this is something we all know (and experience) on some level.
Infomagical is straightforward. Choose from a short list of a goals, whether it's connecting with family more, being more in tune with yourself, or being more creative, etc. Then, you receive a daily exercise to perform (generally about thoughtful information consumption) with the intention of achieving your goal.
My favorite exercise is the first: No Multitasking. Do only one thing, and give each task your full focus. Sounds simple, right? But be honest - when was the last time you actually did things serially, without switching wildly between tasks? Unfortunately, multitasking is a myth. We cannot actually do two things simultaneously; rather, we switch rapidly between tasks. That constant switching is what exhausts our brains. Even worse, efficiency drops and errors increase when people are asked to perform rapid task switching.
Admittedly, it felt strange to single task. For example, I forced myself to eat lunch at my desk - and to just eat lunch. I itched to check my email or my phone, but I didn't. If I wanted to take a break, I would go for a short stroll, simply walking and observing. At the end of the day, I did feel slightly less harried. I also felt more creative, probably because I freed up a bunch of mental space. But did I eliminate Infomania from my life by the end of the week? Of course not. In plain terms, information consumption is an addiction. The high? That little hit we get when we get a new text, email, or notification. We're all digital junkies in some form, and while addictions cannot be healed overnight, we can certainly manage them. I fully recognize that single-tasking may be easier for some people rather than others, depending on individual attention span, work, children, etc. I still think it's worthwhile to practice it whenever and wherever you can, and also to be forgiving of yourself when you try and fail. Just keep trying...I know I am!
I'm curious: How do you deal with information overload? Do you limit your access to news or social media? What works better for you, single-tasking or multitasking? Let me know in the comments below.