Recently some readers told me that they have been feeling overwhelmed by the huge flood of information online these days.
I feel the same. This was why I deleted my Facebook page (though I just got back on Facebook to give it another try). It’s also why I unsubscribed from almost every newsletter, deleted various social media accounts, and simplified my entire site design last year.
If you use the internet a lot like I do, you probably feel digitally burnt out at times. Digital burnout is fatigue and stress caused by prolonged use of technology. As technology makes it easier to transmit information; as businesses adopt addictive web design elements to keep users on their site past the point of optimal use; and as the internet becomes more click-bait rather than quality-driven (a natural occurrence when something reaches mass adoption), we need to be more conscious about how we use it.
Here are 6 tips to deal with digital burnout and navigate our increasingly digitized world.
1) Opt out of information you don’t need
The web has made it incredibly easy for information to travel. Within a span of minutes, we are flooded with information from 10 different websites as we click from one news feed link to another. At any point in time, we receive a flood of stimuli from consumer goods companies eager to market their latest products and services as the web is increasingly commercialized.
Be choiceful about what you let into your news feed and consciousness. I recommend to
- Do a newsletter audit. Unsubscribe from sites you don’t read. This includes email lists and RSS feeds.
- Do a social media audit. Unfollow pages you don’t visit anymore on your Facebook, YouTube, and other social media accounts. This helps you control the information that appears on your news feed.
- Create a filter to delete emails you can’t unsubscribe from. Interestingly, there are still businesses that don’t let you opt out of their newsletters in this day and age. In such cases I create a filter to delete their emails. Learn about email filters here.
- Connect consciously. Have a selection of high quality sites that you read regularly to educate yourself and raise your consciousness. Read: Feeling Disconnected in Today’s Online World (How to Consciously Connect)
2) Spend less time online
Unlike physical stores, the internet is open 24/7. No matter how long you’ve been online, there will always be emails to reply to, messages to check, and updates to read. As such it’s easy to get sucked into the online world as you refresh your social media news feed for the next update and follow a never-ending trial of content on YouTube and Facebook.
Set limits for your digital usage. For example:
- Limit email to only twice a day, unless you are free or your work is email-based like customer support. I only check my email twice every day, in the morning and toward the end of the day.
- Don’t visit social media sites unless you’ve completed your to-dos. I find that social media greatly diverges my attention and drains my productivity, after which I need to compensate by working late, which burns me out in the long run.
- Set aside 1-2 hours per day where you do something away from the computer, like watching a movie, reading a book, meditating, or talking to someone. I recently watched Ghost in the Shell — it’s a decent movie despite the reviews, though it could have gone a lot deeper given the compelling backstory.
- Disconnect after 10pm each day (or at least stop using the computer for work). Having a cutoff helps promote healthier sleep patterns.
The above are just examples. The point is to set boundaries between the digital world and your life. This will help you regain control over your life instead of being sucked into the online world every hour of the day.
3) Get a life outside of the internet
Because there’s so much going on online all the time, sometimes we can feel that being online is our life. That there’s nothing else we need to do because we have the internet. With so many videos to watch, stories to click, and Instagram pictures to see, what else do we need?
But don’t confuse “the internet” and “life.” The internet is not your life; it’s a tool that enhances your life. Your life is your life; it’s bigger than what you do online. When you spend excessive amounts of time online, you will feel deprived, unhappy, even if you are connecting with many people like I do each day. That’s because the internet, while it facilitates connection, can never give you things that you can only get in real life, such as physical touch, face-to-face interaction, the ability to see and feel things in person, and contact with nature.
Not to mention, the act of staring at a digital monitor continuously while sitting in a fixed posture for hours on end is actually very draining. The human body, while adaptable, is not built to be holed up in a cubicle and held in a fixed position for such a long time. Our eyes need to rest and we need to stretch our bodies and engage in physical movement.
Consider this: If you can’t use the computer today, what would you do instead? Spend a few hours each week doing these instead. The goal isn’t to deny our digitally-connected world, but to explore our interests outside of the web and to get in touch with the physical world. For example:
- Is there anywhere you want to go? The beach perhaps? A neighboring town? Schedule a trip there.
- Any friend you’ve been meaning to meet? Text him/her and plan for a meetup.
- Any task you’ve been putting off? Work on this instead.
- How can you meet new people? Even though you can meet loads of people online, it’s different from meeting people in person and having real life friends to turn to. Use the internet to facilitate friendships, not to replace real life contact with others. Read my guide to make new friends. More ideas here: Cooped Up Indoors? Get a Life with These 7 Tips
4) Opt out of social tools that don’t add value
How many social media networks are you a part of today? Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Linkedin? Snapchat? Whatsapp? Line? WeChat? There are so many social networks today that it gets overwhelming. But just because everyone is using a tool doesn’t mean you have to use it. Decide what’s best for you and opt out of those that don’t matter.
Even though everyone uses Whatsapp these days, I stopped using it back in 2014. I stopped as it was becoming invasive to my personal space. Because anyone can add you on Whatsapp once they have your number (without your authorization), I was constantly flooded with work-related queries, even though my communications for work were always via email. Personal space was becoming an issue as I felt that I could never “switch off” from others’ messages, and there was this constant pressure to keep checking and replying due to the “Last seen online” and blue-tick, message-read indicators (back then you couldn’t turn these off). Whatsapp was no longer serving its purpose for me to keep in touch with just my close friends, so I just stopped using it one day.
Likewise I deleted my LinkedIn, Flickr, and emptied out my Facebook personal account. I just felt that they were adding a lot of clutter and didn’t serve much purpose for me, be it for my work or life. LinkedIn is more for corporate so it isn’t very relevant for my work. With Facebook, I still use it for its Facebook page feature (to connect with you guys) and messenger function, but I don’t use the personal profile feature. As of now I’m still not using Instagram as I don’t see a need to. I don’t use Snapchat or WeChat either.
I don’t expect you to drop these tools as Whatsapp and Facebook are important tools to stay in touch in today’s world. LinkedIn is particularly useful if you’re working in the corporate world.
But it’s good to think about the value that each tool adds to your life rather than blindly using it. What social media tools do you use? For each tool, does it serve or drain you? If it’s draining you, is it time to cut down on your usage or remove it altogether? Organize these social tools around your needs and life, not change yourself just to fit these tools.
5) Remove false urgencies
The digital world is filled with false urgencies. Every mobile app now has push notifications that pop up on our screen. Social media forces us to see updates we can’t opt out of. Messaging apps like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger are invasive in their implementation, beeping with every message and making it difficult to turn off alerts.
False urgencies are problematic as they force us to drop whatever we’re doing, when most of these alerts are never important — not unlike a Quadrant 3 (unimportant) task masquerading as a Quadrant 1 (important) task. You then go down the rabbit hole where you click the alert, read it, and give a quick reply (which creates a loop when the person replies).
Before you know it, your life has become a sum of reactions to your social media alerts while your time is at the mercy of the next person who texts you.
Your software and tools should serve you, not disable you. Restructure your relationship with digital media such that you are in control of your time and attention. For example:
- Turn off recurring software updates. Only update an app/software when you want to. This includes Google Play Store’s automatic updates.
- Turn off push notifications for apps you don’t really use.
- Turn off notifications for Whatsapp and SMS, and only check for new messages when you want to.
- Turn off alerts for email — you should only see new mail when you check your mail, not the moment it enters your inbox.
Last but not least, declutter.
As we spend more time on our devices, it’s important to organize our information in ways that’s easy for us to use. A huge benefit of digital tech is that we can easily replicate and store information with almost no consequences in terms of storage space. It’s also a con as we, after years of using our devices and accumulating lots of data, now have way more information than we can realistically manage.
Take some time to tidy up the data in your digital devices:
- Bookmarks: Remove bookmarks you don’t use anymore. Group useful bookmarks into topical folders. Use second- and third-level folders if you have to.
- Desktop icons: Keep shortcuts only to the things you often access. A clean desktop makes it easy to get to what you need.
- Apps: Uninstall apps you don’t use anymore. You can always install them if you need them next time.
- Documents: Look through your files and sort them into folders. Delete stuff you have no use for anymore or drop them into an archive. Shift unimportant information onto your external drives and keep the bare essentials on your PC. Even though this decluttering will take a while, you’ll find it easier to navigate your PC once you are done.
- Email: Delete and organize. Create labels/folders to sort your mail. Create email filters to file the same kinds of mail you often receive. Read my email management tips.
The key is to keep it simple. Simple for you to find, store, and use information.
Even though digital technology has its issues (blurring boundaries between people, including personal space), it has greatly improved our lives by making it easier to connect with others and share information.
The answer isn’t to turn our back on digital tech but to learn to use it in a conscious way, in a way that improves our lives rather than draining it. For example I deleted my Facebook page last year and it gave me a lot of clarity and space to work on my Q2 goals (it was after deleting my page that I produced the new version of 30DLBL, created the new PE layout, and made some important business shifts). Yet I really miss the personal contact with you guys, so I’m giving Facebook another go now, while changing how I use the platform to see if it can net me a better result. I may well delete it again if it doesn’t work out, but at least I’m giving it a shot.
Whether we like it or not, digital technology is here to stay. Facebook will be around for a while, and even if it disappears one day, something else will take its place. The flood of information online won’t change anytime soon and will in fact worsen as more people use the net. So let’s figure out our boundaries and learn to use technology consciously, in a way that aids us. This way we can get the best out of digital tech and use it in the way it was intended — to enhance our lives and help us grow and evolve.
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