Info overload? Learn to unplug.
Remember when technology was supposed to make our lives better and less complicated? I think that was back in ’94. First it was email overload, then it was internet overload. Today it’s social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Vine, Instagram…all these ways to keep connected can leave us feeling anxious an distracted, always feeling the need to be available and to respond. I recently took a vacation with my family on a cruise ship. On the way to the ship I was constantly getting IM’s and notifications from work. Most of them had nothing to do with me, but with every “bing” I felt I had to check to see what was going on. As our boat pulled away from the dock, I watched the bars drop to none. It felt so good to not just ignore those messages, but to not get them at all! Once we got back, iMessage went off fairly continuously for about 15 minutes as it caught up with all those messages.
There are lots of reasons we don’t want to unplug. One reason is the fear of being left behind or left out. As social media has become pervasive in our culture, news and items can go from unknown to viral and back to “old news” within the matter of a day or so. It’s natural to want to keep up with things, especially the latest funny or amazing video that everyone is about. For those of us who use our phones and tablets for work, it’s easy to feel like we work 24/7 as messages push themselves through at all hours of the day. In today’s competitive marketplace, its the ones who are “always on” that seem to get ahead. So when social media and work demands converge into a perfect info overload storm it’s easy to easy to get overwhelmed.
So how do you stay connected without having every second of the day ruled by your mobile devices?
A good place to start is with email, adding filters and folders to separate your important stuff from your not-so-important stuff. Gmail has already gone ahead and done this for its users, adding tabs for social media notifications and offers so you can have a little more control over your inbox from the start.
Another thing smart users do is learn the ins and outs of the social media services they use. Afraid of ticking someone off by unfriending them on Facebook? You can choose to limit the posts your receive or simply block them. That way you’re still connected but on your terms. Other services offer similar features. And if you have a service that just ends up annoying you or wasting your time more than connecting you, ditch it.
The last line of defense is your mobile device itself. Select the services which you want to get notifications from, and then turn down the volume on them by turning off badges, alerts and alarms. You can then check those tweets and so on when you want, rather than when they want you to. If you can’t do that, then at least designate times and activites where you will not be available: driving, eating, showering. Don’t sleep with your phone by the bed.
If you feel that you absolutely can’t unplug – for example, if you’re a corporate manager – then prioritize your notifications. Make a unique notification tone for employees or staff members that usually require immediate attention and put off the rest. It might also be a good idea to discuss info overload with your boss or IT manager. Being connected does not necessarily mean you’re more productive. It’s quite the opposite actually – being always available means that tasks will always be interrupted by something. It’s even estimated that in 2012 companies wasted $650 billion due to information overload. Perhaps new policies or ideas need to be put in place regarding how people communicate with each other at work, such as using technology like instant messaging only as a last resort in favor of actually talking with someone face-to-face.