I am continuously in awe of what this online life has provided me these past 6 years. I’ve made the most wonderful friends. I’ve found some incredible new business opportunities. I’ve been able to teach and speak professionally about a topic that I love (communication and storytelling). I’m blessed and I’m grateful.

But I’m also tired.

Tired of the continuous flow of information. Tired of my brain being pulled in multiple directions at once. Tired of not having time or energy to work on the things I really want to work on.

Sound familiar?

As much as this digital world has opened up an entirely new and fascinating way to communicate, share, collaborate and build relationships, it also has come along with some down sides. If you’re like me, you probably don’t go anywhere without your phone nowadays. It’s the first thing you reach for when you have a moment to spare, standing in line at the grocery checkout, waiting for a friend at a restaurant, or even when your friend leaves the table to use the restroom. It’s become a habit, this “checking in” thing we do. See what’s happening, see who’s doing what, see what we’re missing.

Most of us are spending too much time in the stream and we don’t even realize it. We’re worried that if we don’t check in frequently, that we’ll miss out, or an important message will be sent that we won’t receive. We’re worried that the next time we open our emails there will be 100 urgent things staring us in the face.

We’re in the habit now of allowing other peoples’ priorities dictate our every move. Like my page! Follow my feed! Donate to my cause! Respond to my message! Do this. Do that. Now. Now. NOW!

All of this checking in and responding and immediacy? It causes stress, and lots of it. And stress tires us out, makes us unable to function at the top of our game. We lose energy, we have no time. We no longer see what’s important. We only see the stream, and what other people want us to do.

So how do you step back? How do you break the bad habits and regain control of your digital world?

Shut it all down.

My friend Mitch told me years ago that he doesn’t use any notifications on his devices. His phone rings once when a phone call comes in. That’s it. Mostly it’s on silent. When people tweet him, send him a Facebook message, or text, or send him an email, he doesn’t see it the instant it pops up. He checks it when HE wants to check it. Does this mean that he sometimes doesn’t get back to people right away? Yep. But he always does, in time.

That’s not really the behaviour most of us have when it comes to our technology, eh? We set notifications for everything – tweets, Facebook messages, emails flash on our screen continuously. If we do put our phones in our pockets for a while, when we open them again we have sometimes a dozen new notifications on the screen.

How many times have you gone to make a phone call or send an important text and gotten distracted by all the new notifications, then forgot completely who you were calling or messaging? (Guilty!)

Turn off notifications. And if you can’t turn them off entirely, at least reduce the number you get flashing on your home screen. And for Pete’s sake, if you’re using your phone or tablet or laptop to receive notifications, at least turn off those email notifications! Most smart phones nowadays have a Do Not Disturb feature. I highly encourage you to use it. Set it on a timer so your phone shuts down at a certain time at night and doesn’t turn back on till morning. Or, (gasp), just turn the darn thing off once in a while!

As for email, that’s the worst culprit, at least for me. The other day I moved my email icon to the 2nd screen on my phone and tablet. It’s been a refreshing few days, not having it stare me in the face. And guess, what, the world hasn’t ended just because I’m not checking my email every 10 minutes. Food for thought, eh?

Dip in the stream.

The digital world is like a river. The river flows continuously, even when you’re not there. When you arrive at the riverbank, you can choose to dip your foot into it. You can even choose to get carried downstream for a bit, see where you end up. But you get to choose when you dip into the stream and out of the stream.

Think of all of your digital life like a stream. The information continues to flow, even in your absence, and that’s okay. Give yourself permission to not be in the stream all the time. Then deliberately, intentionally go to the riverbank and dip your foot in. You’ll first find that you’ve not missed as much as you think. You’ll then find something amazing. The most important stuff will be the first thing you see when you dip in. Maybe it’s serendipity, and maybe it’s just because you’re focused on the most important stuff, rather than everything.

Oh, and that time when you’re not in the stream? Use that, to get some real work done, or play with your dog, or have a nap. Or finally get working on that book. Or do some yoga, or meditate. The stream will still be there when you come back to take a dip.

I think the only way we are going to continue to get value out of social media is to do this. Take a step back. Stop being impacted by everyone else’s priorities. Make the choice to remove the flood of messages, to control the flow. And step out of the stream once in a while. Let the river flow without you.

Then, and only then, will you be able to wake up to the real potential of the digital world.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Suze. Great post on a subject that I have been thinking about for some time. I switched off notifications on everything a while ago as I was becoming so distracted I couldn’t actually get anything done!

    I must admit that I am still guilty of checking my emails to much though. My phone still has push email settings on it at the moment, but your post has made me decide to switch that off too. I have found that the familiar email chime drags away my concentration – even if I do not immediately open the phone to check.

    Thanks for the post – very insightful.

  2. Thank you for this. You call it “fatigue” I’ve referred to it as “a head trip” because I’m thinking too darned hard all the time: my tweet is too long; Yoast says I didn’t mention my keyphrase enough in my blogpost; one more blogger is posting about “10 Ways You’re Doing Something Wrong And My Blogpost Is Going To Save Your Dirty Soul.” OMG!
    Suze, you and Chris Penn are 2 folks who help keep perspective. The “Being Ordinary” piece was wonderful. The past couple of weeks I’ve been relaxed and wrote my blogposts as I wanted to write them–without the head trips or fatigue.

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