Fighting information obesity

Hi. My name’s Sam, I’m addicted to information and suffer from information obesity. I’ve always been a big fan of information, but I’d say I only started to gorge myself in the last year or so.  My brain is overweight with the volume of information I’m putting in it. I don’t even enjoy it anymore but I couldn’t stop.  However just recently I’ve been kicking the habit, and you can too!

Firstly, you need to know the symptoms of Information Obesity so you can self diagnose. Do you

  • Wake up in the morning, turn your alarm off, and read your email/facebook/twitter straight away?
  • Spend all of your public transport journeys immersed reading social networks/feedly feeds/the interwebz?
  • Open your email/social push notifications AS SOON AS YOU SEE THEM
  • Constantly check your phone so you can open your notifications AS SOON AS YOU SEE THEM
  • Feel like your brain is constantly slightly fuzzy?

Chances are you’re suffering from Information Obesity.  I too was suffering this, but don’t worry. You too can be cured.

I highly recommend reading this Gizmodo article on turning your smartphone into a dumbphone; it was the inspiration for my experiment.  I genuinely just found that at any given moment I already had my phone out checking for facebook updates or twitter posts or emails. God forbid I let an email go unread for several minutes!  So I decided to try out a dumbphone diet, although not quite as extreme as Gizmodo.

  • All push notifications were switched off, except for messaging apps (whatsapp etc)
  • All social type apps (fb, twitter, email) moved to the last screen on my iPhone
  • No checking any of those things on the phone; only on proper laptops

I set off with the goal of managing a week, and I’m now punching over 2 weeks.  And it’s such a relief! I encourage you to give it a go.  Things I have discovered

  • On the first day I really, really struggled to not check my email.  Addiction level difficult (ex smoker preaching here).  This went through the roof when I saw I had over 20 or so emails on the little red notification on the mail app (by accident).  I managed to make it till 5PM at which point I gave in.  And my biggest discovery was that not a single one of those emails was of importance.  I’d been lucky enough to have been retweeted by Scott Hanselman after promoting his email list (which is epic, btw), hence the massive (for me) dump of emails.  
  • And so with that, I realised that life goes on without me.  No email needs answering desperately within 6 hours. It became easier. I moved email off to another screen to reduce the chance of accidentally looking at it, and it makes for fairly smooth sailing
  • I assigned time in the morning before work to sit and read/reply to emails.  This was really cathartic, and meant I actually responded to emails as opposed to letting them hang around for a week and started the day clean.  Pro Tip! I read somewhere on twitter about starting the day with a glass of cold water (supposedly better than coffee).  Can highly recommend it. 
  • I’d also sit down after work to go through what’s going on.  Confining my email and socials to these period allowed my brain to breath
  • Commuting is really interesting without being locked into a smartphone.  It allowed me to think.  As cheesy as it sounds, I’d gotten to the point where I was so busy reading the entire internet, I didn’t get chance to think about the day ahead, and to just let my brain go free for a bit. It’s brilliant!

I have to admit after the end of week 1 I’ve not been as stringent on these rules, but things are definitely better now.  I miss a lot of twitter reading, but it’s nothing I can’t live without.

So, if you think your brain is fat and overweight with the volume of information you’re taking in, why not put it on a diet?  Try it for a week!