Simplifying Your Digital Life
Are you struggling to remember things like your email passwords and your PIN number? Do you have trouble tuning out the endless stream of notifications on your smartphone? Are you finding it difficult to concentrate at work, but you can’t shutdown at home either?
Well, chances are you’ve got a nasty case of digital clutter. Just like a living space that has been overrun with knick-knacks and whatchamacallits, the overconsumption of digital information in your mind can drive you crazy.
The Psychology of Social Media and Smartphone Addiction
Social media is unavoidable these days and research trends show that smartphone addiction is leading to anxiety, attention deficit disorder, depression and even suicide among young Americans. In 2017, there were 209 million social media users in America.
According to data from Statista, that’s 77 percent of the country. The average smartphone user checks their device 47 times a day.
Social media platforms sell your attention and data to advertisers. That’s why they’re free for you to use. Have you ever jumped on a website and been so bombarded by ads that you couldn’t even find the information you were looking for? The internet is like an overcrowded, open air market with hawkers competing every second for your attention.
One of the most alluring aspects of social media is the promise of intermittent rewards. You get a small rush of dopamine every time you get a new “like” or “follower”.
It’s the same principle as a slot machine in Vegas. You see those cherries swirl around and every now and then you win big. Catherine Price, the author of How to Break Up With Your Phone noted that “Instagram has created code that deliberately holds back on showing users new ‘likes’ so that it can deliver a bunch of them in a sudden rush at the most effective moment possible—meaning the moment at which seeing new likes will discourage you from closing the app.”
The constant barrage of notifications, comments, pings, and emails is taking its toll on our ability to focus and complete tasks. The random bits of data are wreaking havoc on our short-term memory.
Cal Newport, associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, thinks that there are serious implications for future generations. “It is almost certainly true that young people are suffering a rapid decline in their ability to concentrate.
Related: 7 smartphone boundaries to live by
Given the increasing share of the economy dedicated to knowledge work, in which concentrated thought is the primary driver of value production, this decline might start to impact large scale economic metrics, if it hasn’t already”.
How to Manage Your Digital Clutter
There’s no need to panic or get drastic. Smartphones are helpful and social media serves a purpose. So, you just need to regain control. If you feel that your mind could use a bit of a Spring cleaning, then try these targeted techniques.
1. The Low Info Diet
Smartphones are a transformative technology that have integrated into nearly every aspect of our lives. From calendars and calculators to navigation and gaming, smartphones can assist our cognitive abilities in unprecedented ways.
So, unplugging completely is almost completely impossible and certainly impractical. Yet, that’s exactly what Timothy Ferriss prescribes in his book “The 4-Hour Workweek”. In the book, Ferriss suggests that you can relieve mental clutter by going on a weeklong digital detox.
However, the low information diet could produce severe symptoms of depression and anxiety as the FOMO (fear of missing out) mounts to near-toxic levels. Moderation is the best pathway to success. So, try to limit certain types of information such as gossip news, spam, and status updates.
2. Disable Your Notifications
One way to reduce the amount of time you spend looking at your digital device is to disable your notifications. Most of them aren’t critical and only serve as a gateway for scrolling. You can do this several different ways.
On your mobile device, you can go into Settings>Do Not Disturb. This will have the largest effect for screening your digital life because absolutely nothing will get through. You can get more specific though by blocking notifications from specific applications. Just go into Settings>Applications>Block for Android devices or for iOS you can go into Settings>Notifications and then toggle the Allow Notifications function to the OFF position.
3. Set a Low Info Day
Going on a full digital detox might prove too much of a challenge for most people. Even a week without the internet can seem like a punishment that you don’t deserve. Instead, try to set a low-info day. This can be a Sunday when you’re off from work or mid-week when you’re feeling the greatest strain on your mental well-being.
On your low-info day it helps to schedule other activities that help to keep your attention away from your smartphone. This might be a good time to work on DIY projects around the house or go out for an adventure in the city. Above all, try to limit your screen time when you’re in the presence of another person. Be in the moment and enjoy your present company rather than looking down at your smartphone when you think they’re not looking.
4. Rank Your Emails
Your inbox is a mess. There are tabs, categories, promotions, and newsletters and it’s all stacking up. Not only do you have thousands of unread messages, your inbox sends you alerts every time you receive a new one.
So, a good way to cut down on all that digital clutter is to rank your emails according to importance. Star the emails that come from your important contacts and file away the emails that you’re sure to ignore. Try to keep your top layer inbox as clean as possible. You can also set aside an hour a week just to sort through the backlog.
Unsubscribe to newsletters that you don’t read and inform your friends and colleagues when they’re correspondence level is just too much for your liking. If you use Gmail and your smartphone is your main hub for emails, then here’s a helpful trick to help cut down on the number of alerts you receive. It’s called Priority Inbox. Go into Gmail, tap Settings>Inbox Type>Priority Inbox.
5. Selective Following
When it comes to social media, people tend to place a high value on the number of followers they have. Gary Vaynerchuk, of Vaynerchuck Media, calls it “vanity metrics”. It’s the likes, followers, and comments that we unnecessarily link to our perceived popularity, progress, and happiness.
The problem is that as you stack up more followers and follow more users, you get inundated with information. Your timeline becomes a bulletin board for lunch photos, baby pics, and inspirational quotes.
Then, you miss out on some of the valuable information that you could be gleaning from social media. Take the time to go through the list of users that you follow and do some auditing. You’re sure to find that some of these accounts are either irrelevant or unimportant to your life. Following fewer users means having fewer notifications and fewer random bits of information to clog up your short-term memory.
6. Put Your Phone Away
Perhaps the easiest way to declutter your mind is simply to put the phone away. That doesn’t mean you need to lock it in a box or smash it against the wall. Just keep it out of reach. Our smartphones are too easily accessible. They stay in our hands and constantly present the opportunity to put our thumbs to work for the sake of curing our boredom.
When you go to bed at night, try putting your phone on a table across the room, so when you wake up, you have to get out of bed to reach it. When you’re at work, put your phone in your bag or in a desk drawer so you don’t see it light up when a random ad comes through. When you get home, try taking your phone out of your pocket and placing it down so you can spend more time focusing on your family and friends.
7. Place Phone Out of Site
The final tip is one that may help you resist the urge to check your phone. It’s simple. Place your phone in another room, away from your field of vision. Doing so will minimize the visual or auditory triggers associated with your wireless device.
The old saying, “Out of sight – out of mind” really is true when it comes to cellphones. Imagine spending a few moments in mindful meditation before getting out of bed in the morning as opposed to automatically reaching for your phone to see the latest on social media?
Living in the information age has its drawbacks. Digital bits of information have substance and they take up space in our minds. Data research from DOMO estimated that in 2017, Americans consumed 2,657,700 gigabytes of data every single day.
Luckily, the mind can flush out most of the random information that it receives, but technology has presented a new challenge in the form of addictive social media platforms and handheld, internet-enabled devices.
The combination can be toxic. To maintain your focus, you should limit the amount of time you spend absent-mindedly scrolling through your smartphone. You can also take digital detoxes to reconnect with the physical world and the people in it that matter to you the most.
While research on the long-lasting effects of data consumption are still emerging, the effects are evident in our daily lives. Not all data is created equal. Seek out the information that is useful and filter out the junk that isn’t.