How many text messages did you send and receive today? What about ads that popped up on every website you visited? And all those emails flying in and out of your inbox? Because of our tech-addicted, always-connected lifestyles, we’re arguably living in the most distracted and overly stimulated period in history. Sure, it’s convenient to be able to communicate in real time with friends, family, customers and colleagues anywhere in the world, but this immediacy comes with a hefty price.
Over the past year, I’ve started to become more mindful of just how distracted I’ve become and how technology is intruding into every area of my life. Once I’d acknowledged this, the challenge was to find practical ways to create more space and greater focus in my day-to-day life. Here are three of the things I’ve found to be effective:
1) Embrace Boredom
If you watched the BBC/PBS version of Sherlock, you likely remember Benedict Cumberbatch’s twitchy detective getting so frustrated by the lack of a challenging case that he starts shooting holes in the wall of his apartment (or flat, as my British friends would say). When John Watson walks in and asks his friend what the heck he’s doing, Sherlock shouts, “Bored!”
We might not go to this extreme to alleviate our boredom, but we sure try to cram more and more into each day to avoid even a moment of true downtime, don’t we? Last weekend, I decided to slow down and finish a book. It took me quite a while to quiet the urge to look at my laptop or check the texts on my phone. So now, I’m more determined than ever to make breaks for focusing on just one thing or even (gulp!) doing nothing at all and just being.
2) Find Some Things To Take Away
When I realized that this constant arms race of wanting to do more was actually making me achieve less, I recognized that I needed to go the other way and remove some things. The first stop? My phone apps.
When I looked at how I was spending short downtime breaks after work or on the weekend, I found that I’d start surfing my social media streams. But rather than relaxing me, this just made me more anxious. So I got rid of my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram apps. Then I remembered that I had set a goal of reading more, so I installed the Wall Street Journal app in their place.
So now I’m spending these little bits of downtime expanding my knowledge of current events rather than messing around on social media sites.
3) Create Space To Think
How often do you take time to plan, rather than just react? When do you give yourself the opportunity to consider what’s working and what isn’t, and what you can do better? Are you self-aware enough to assess how you’re prioritizing your time and resources?
When I started to ponder questions like these, I didn’t like the answers and knew I had to carve out more frequent opportunities for brainstorming, introspection and self-assessment. I’m lucky enough to have some amazing mentors who speak truth into my life, but I needed to start honestly appraising myself, too. I bet you’d benefit if you scheduled more time to just think each week.