What is “infobesity” and how can it be fought?
Microsoft UK has announced its findings from a recent study labeled ‘Defying Digital Distraction.’ Employees are experiencing ‘infobesity,’ and it’s costing all of us.
– 40% of employees check their mobile devices constantly just in case something important comes in from work.
– 45% of workers feel that they should reply to work email instantly – no matter where they are or what they’re doing.
– 55% often experience information overload, 43% are stressed as a result, and 34% are just plain overwhelmed.
– 52% check their mobile device for work within 15 minutes of going to bed
In other late breaking news, my extensive research has found that the results of this study has surprised exactly no one. We all know it. So what can we do about it? As a soon to be father, I find myself thinking often of the lessons from my childhood, and I find that they apply quite well to the current situation.
1. No toys in the bed
My parents wouldn’t allow me to have my GI-Joes in bed for a simple reason: it kept me from falling asleep. Today, we are guilty of the same crime. When we use our phones on work while in bed, we mentally shift back to the problems of the day. Nothing wrecks sleep quicker and slowly erodes our capacity for focus.
Overcoming the endless available digital distractions requires significant mental executive control (powered by glucose). If you aren’t sleeping well, you will not have what you need to be excellent at your job. It’s time to keep the toys out of our beds (and start dreaming of fantasy baseball trades).
2. Keep the Sabbath holy
I stole this advice from my elementary Sunday School teacher. He stole it from God. Which makes sense because more and more research is coming out about our human need to take intentional breaks from work.
Throughout most of history, separating work from the rest of life was far simpler. Your environment dictated your task. If I’m in the field, I’m working. If I’m in the house, I’m playing with my kids. That’s how our brain likes it. Habits are developed in environmentally specific settings.
The problem- multi-use devices wreck these environmentally distinct roles we play. I work anywhere. Play anywhere. Deposit checks anywhere.
Sabbath is simply an intentional time set apart from work to replenish our energy. My wife and I will not use our phones between 7pm and 9pm. Set the times that work for you and stick to them. Keep your Sabbath holy. Because God said so.
3. Spread out on the soccer field
If you want to watch an exercise in wasted energy, go to a Kindergartener’s soccer game. They spend the entire game sprinting after the ball. Eventually, you learn that by spreading out and ‘kicking said ball to person who is relaxing with a mai tai’ you can both save energy and score more goals.
Many of us do the kindergarten equivalent in our email responses. ‘Where do you want to eat.’ ‘I don’t care, you?’ ‘Mexican?’ ‘sure. when?’ ’11:45?’ ‘works for me.’ ‘so what is convenient for you?’… 17 emails later, you have arrived at a decision. This is just one of the 37 ways that we feel productive, but waste our time.
How to stop wasting time and energy
It’s time to stop wasting energy and time. A few ways to do this:
- Eliminate the expectation of immediate response time. The quicker you respond, typically the less useful your response.
- Quit with the cc’ing everyone on everything phenomenon. Just stop it. Bosses- stop asking for it. Please.
- Change the cultural expectations by actually talking about what you expect. It’s time to meet together and discuss when people should be expected to respond. I actually get work done at 8pm while my family watches TV. I don’t need you to respond at 8:35PM. You don’t know that unless I tell you.
- Ask yourself, ‘what’s the goal of this communication, and how can I eliminate steps to reach that goal?’ (ie. first email: lunch at 11:45 at Mi Cocina on Commerce?”).
Good thing we all learned these lessons in third grade. Now, let’s put them back into practice.