In his latest book, Digital Minimalism, technology and productivity expert Cal Newport offers advice on how to free yourself from the tyranny of email, social media, and other digital services.
Cal Newport is a Computer Science professor at Georgetown University who has written two books about how to Focus in an ever-increasingly noise-filled world; Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and Digital Minimalism – Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.
According to Nielsen, the average American spends three hours a day staring into a phone or tablet. Factor in TVs and computers, and it’s up to about nine hours in the glow of a screen.
That’s a lot of time that could be better used for professional (or personal) gain.
Here are six actions from his latest book that you can take now:
1. Schedule Uninterrupted Work Blocks
- Chart your workday in two-hour periods and quarantine tasks that don’t necessarily boost productivity—including meetings and phone calls—to some scheduled breaks between the blocks.
- “If you take a two-hour block and do literally no quick checks, your mind is operating at full capacity,” Newport says. It’s like having a cognitive superpower.
2. Hang Out With Yourself
- By pulling out our phones at the first hint of boredom, most of us suffer from what Newport calls “solitude deficit,” which could be partly responsible for a 5 percent jump in anxiety-related disorders from 2017 to 2018.
- One way to work in alone time and harness it for creative gain is to practice productive meditation.
- Do something physical, like jogging, to focus your full attention on a single problem.
- Two or three such sessions a week will tame your screen-check impulse, he says, and improve your concentration.
3. Send Fewer, More Thoughtful Emails
- The typical office worker sends or receives roughly 125 emails per day, according to analytics firm the Radicati Group.
- That’s potentially many hours wasted on low-quality communication.
- Newport’s solution: Ignore every email that doesn’t require a response, and for those that do, write one that minimizes the number of subsequent emails—instead of “Let me know when you want to meet up,” try “Let’s meet at Rocko’s Coffee at noon or 12:30.”
4. Phone a Friend
- Digital interaction isn’t a substitute for real-time conversation.
- “Our brains don’t really understand a ‘like’ or a ‘happy birthday’ on Facebook,” Newport says, adding that such gestures don’t add a sense of connection or belonging.
- If your schedule doesn’t allow you to meet friends face-to-face, give them a call. You’ll feel better.
5. Clean Out Your Toolbox
- Newport recommends taking a 30-day break from any digital tool that isn’t essential to your work, including social media and video games.
- You can also probably do without chat services and attention-guzzling websites such as Reddit.
- When the detox is complete, set clear productivity and relationship goals, then reintroduce only those services that help you achieve them.
- Set some boundaries, too—for instance, check Twitter only on your desktop computer.
6. Get Crafty
- As you scale back on your digital compulsions, make time for a hobby, whether it’s painting, playing an instrument, or even whittling.
- Use your hands productively, and you’ll create something you’re proud of. That’ll help you forget about whatever’s happening on your phone.
What do you think of his recommendations?
We all know that there is a HUGE amount of data being created and put online, but many of us fail to grasp the true size, scale and scope of the amount of data that is being created. Here are some numbers to try to put things in perspective…
Currently, there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace.
What is a “quintillion” you may ask? (I know that I did!)
- Well, a million is a 1 followed by 7 zeros..
- A billion is a 1 followed by 9 zeros
- A trillion is a 1 followed by 12 zeros.
- A quadrillion is a 1 followed by 15 zeros.
- And a quintillion is a 1 followed by 18 zeros…
And in the last two years alone, 90 percent of the data in the world was generated.
Let’s say that once again in case you missed that.
90 Percent of the online data has been created in the past two years!
Here is some more incredible data statistics to try to grapple with:
- More then 3.7 billion people use the internet.. almost half of the entire world’s population.
- Half of our web searches are conducted from mobile devices.
- Google processes 3.5 billion Searches a day, or almost 40,000 searches EVERY SECOND.
- There are 5 billion Searches performed a day across all the various Search Engines (although Google is the biggest search engine, it isn’t the only one!)
Here is how that breaks down by some of the key “online categories”..
Social Media numbers for things happening EVERY MINUTE of the day:
- 527,760 photos shared via Snapchat
- 120 professionals join LinkedIn
- 4,146,600 users watch YouTube videos (yes, that is over 4 million videos watched every minute!)
- 456,000 tweets sent via Twitter
- 46,740 photos posted by InstaGram users
Some amazing Facebook statistics:
- Facebook has just over 2 billion active users, or more than a quarter of the world’s 7 billion population!
- 1.5 billion people are active on Facebook daily
- Five new Facebook profiles are created every second
- More than 300 million photos get uploaded to Facebook every day
- Every minute there are 510,000 comments posted and 293,000 statuses updated
Some equally impressive Instagram Statistics:
- Instagram has a very solid 600 million users.
- 400 million Instagrammers are active each day
- 95 million photos and videos are shared every day on Instagram
- 100 million people use the Instagram “stories” feature each day
Communication numbers for things happening EVERY MINUTE of the day:
- We send 16 million text messages
- 156 million Emails are sent
- 15,000 GIFs are sent via Facebook messenger
- There are 130 million spam Emails sent
- There are 154,200 calls on Skype
The “Internet of Things (IOT)”
Internet Connected devices are growing in their scope and reach, from about 2 billion devices in 2006 to a predicted 200 billion devices by 2020, and many of them “collect” data as they operate. This includes things such as:
Some Internet of Things (IOT) Devices include:
- Voice Controlled Navigation Systems
- Wearable Technology (e.g: ‘fitness trackers’)
- Smart Home Control and Security Systems
- Internet-connected appliances
Just think about the amount of data that you generate each day, and all the ways that data is being collected, analyzed, and actioned.
Almost every interaction we have is being “datafied” in some way through our devices and our interactions with technology.
Some Information Overload Parting Thoughts:
- Cars tracks our locations, speeds, and driving habits…
- Social networks track our friendships and profile our personalities…
- Web browsing tracks our interests, likes, dislikes, and even our future plans…
- Credit and Debit card purchases track our financial health and our shopping habits…
What can you do about this? Probably very little..
But it is still important to be aware of how your personal information is being monitored, collected, used, and (very often) sold.
There are some avenues where you have little control, but there are others where you can assert your control, and there are many new laws being put into effect to try to increase your ability to control how your personal data is being used.
The real question will be if the laws can keep-up with the incredible growth rates of these technologies, as the data creation rates and the sheer volume of data being collected each second of every day is truly astounding.
Note: The above data is from from an article posted on Forbes.com last year, but I just came across it and wanted to share the information since the size and scope of these data rates and growth is just unbelievable.
According to the latest Nielsen Survey, the average American adult spends close to 3 hours a day looking at their smartphone or tablet computer.
According to the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report, nearly half of an adult’s day is spent viewing some sort of “online media content, with close to 3 hours a day spent looking at smartphones and tablet devices.
And if you add in the amount of time that people spend interacting with other types of “online media” in some manner, that number grows to an incredible 11 hours a day, or nearly half of our entire day, and a significant portion of our “waking hours”.
For the average American Adult (18+ years age), here is the rough break-downs of how time is being spent:
- 4.5 Hours/Day – Watching “live” or “Time-Shifted” (recorded) television
- 2.5 Hours/Day – Interacting on a “smartphone” device
- 1.5 Hours/Day – Interacting on an internet-based device or tablet
- 1.5 Hours/Day – Listening to Radio and/or Podcasts
- 0.5 Hours/Day – Playing a “Game Console” system (Playstation, etc.)
Read the Full Nielsen Report: The First-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report
The report includes further break-downs by various demographics, including age, gender, and race.
Overall, shows that online consumption of media continues to increase along with the greater number of media channels that are being introduced.
Interesting reading and some truly alarming time allotments being spent by people “online” as opposed to interactive with people on an interpersonal level.
We need to consider how Information Overload can help impact and drive the development of Visual Dashboards, and how cognitive and data visualization techniques can help guide their design.
As background, there are three main types of working memory:
- This refers to the complexity of the material being presented and its effect on cognitive load.
- This refers to cognitive load that add nothing to the learning experience, such as animations or graphics that are not immediately relevant.
- These are the things that assist the student in using their working memory effectively for learning.
Our Information Overload challenge is to offer valuable content for intrinsic memory with navigation helpers (germane memory) while eliminating noise in extraneous memory.
Our tendency is to squeeze into a single dashboard all the useful content for “one stop shopping.”
Stephen Few offers a concise set of dashboard development guidelines that group seven criteria into two general categories:
Criteria that address the degree to which a visualization is informative (i.e., produces understanding
Criteria that address the degree to which it is emotive (i.e., produces a useful emotional response)
Thinking beyond Few’s recommendations, today’s application development tools offer an opportunity for dashboard consumers to provide online development guidance for each of their requested dashboards.
Here are some areas to consider in dashboard development:
- Data item
- Types of visualizations.
- Navigation/selection helpers (such as a small clickable (i) above a data item or header to explain what are the choices for viewing and what other dashboard elements will change concurrently–region or time period).
Certainly, dashboard consumers will learn how to custom change the displayed dashboard content (if previously defined as a requested need).
Yet is “trial and error” experimentation the best approach for learning?
Isn’t the consumer’s “time to insight” an important dashboard design criterion?
We already know that Information Overload can lead to lower productivity and greater stress.
Here are some ideas to improve Dashboard Development:
- Dashboard developers should complete a short course on ways to decrease/avoid dashboard Information Overload.
- An organization (if sufficiently large) should include an Information Overload champion position that can advise developers how to reduce IO threats among other responsibilities to improve judgment and decision processes.
Information Overload (IO) is typically associated with processing input from external sources, such as Email and Search Engine results. However, Information Overload can also occur when retrieving information from our memory.
The “cue” used for information retrieval may be associated with multiple items in our long-term memory.
Specificity of encoding information to be stored will reduce this risk.
Matthew Guyan suggests 5 ways to improve the distinctiveness of encoding cues for effective recall:
1) Present some information via the visual channel and some via the verbal channel
- If all of the content is processed visually i.e. via text, pictures or animations, the visual channel can become overloaded. Using narration transfers some of the content to the verbal channel thereby spreading the load between the channels and improving processing capacity.
2) Break content into smaller segments and allow the learner to control the pace
- If the content is complex and the pace is too fast, the learner may not have enough time to effectively process the information. Breaking complex content into smaller chunks and allowing the learner to control the speed of the learning lets them to process the information more effectively.
3) Remove non-essential content
- Background music and decorative graphics may appear to make the eLearning more interesting. However, these elements require incidental processing and increase extraneous load. If the content doesn’t support the instructional goal, it should be removed.
4) Words should be placed close as possible to the corresponding graphics
- When text is located away from the corresponding graphic, learners are forced to scan the screen in order to align the text to the graphic which requires additional cognitive processing. Placing the text close to the corresponding graphic improves the transfer of information.
5) Don’t narrate on-screen text word-for-word
- When on-screen text is narrated, the same information is presented to learners via both channels. Rather than spreading the load, learners are forced to process the same information twice which means that there is a great deal of redundancy. If using narration, the on-screen text should be a summary.
Further, McDermitt & Roediger III (Washington U.) describe the 3 stages of memory processing–a foundation for understanding the role of cues for information retrieval.
- Encoding is defined as the initial learning of information.
- Storage refers to maintaining information over time.
- Retrieval is the ability to access information when you need it.
Consider how mnemonics, acronyms, and acrostics can facilitate encoding information for targeted, not diffuse recall.
To all people that work, no matter what’s the work, we all need in massive amount to communicate.
- To understand what we do
- to talk to peers
- to share what we do
- to learn about what has to be done
- to understand from the environment how to do it
and the list could continue for several pages.
Alone we are not able to do anything and our work in itself is a sum of action to accomplish something for the benefit of others.
In this light I should assume that ensuring a good communication has top priority into each of our days. Does it?
- Do you always think before sending your messages?
- Do you always adapt to the best channel suitable to convey it?
- Do you make sure to provide feedback to your peers so they will know how to best get in touch with you next time?
- Do you make sure you have full focus anytime you communicate avoiding any possible distractions?
In the past weeks with these 3 videos I shared some of the hints how we can communicate more appropriately, thinking outside the inbox.
The list is long but the most important thing to consider are:
- The channel through with we convey our messages
- The reduction of the noise around (such as notifications) so that we can properly pay attention
- The simplicity of our content for easier transmission and understanding
All this is in direct proportion with the reduction of information overload, the more we pay attention to good communication, the less we overload and get overloaded.
In the first week (videos you can see here above) I talk about noise reduction, then I shared some hints about e-mail and how to reflect each time we need to share a message and finally one example of how one e-mail message can be easily substituted with instant messaging spending the same time in crafting it but gaining many more side benefits.
The #iorglivemonth will continue, something more about e-mail and then full focus on how to communicate in a more simple and clear way.
Stay tuned, it’s gonna be live till the end of January here bit.ly/iorglivemonth
Our search of gathered and stored content in our digital storage devices may be aided by secondary keys; yet the basic architecture is rows and columns unless you have a semantic storage system.
The advent of knowledge graphs (commercially available) can transform your storage taxonomy into a folksonomy–saving time and overload of retrieved contents. Pruning our retrieval hits from external and internal searches should help reduce our information overload.
We tend to focus or prioritize our time on URGENT tasks without necessarily considering the importance of each task.
A variety of individuals have offered suggestions to reduce this bias.
Alice Boyes in a Harvard Business Review article proposed prioritizing tasks in consideration of your longer-term goals or “big picture.”
The Eisenhower Approach provides a 4 quadrant matrix for classifying your tasks.
Martha Beck in the Oprah Magazine adds helpful steps for adopting this process.
Hopefully, a focus on important tasks will reduce the amount of information required to complete your task list.
I however, found one missing element–an unimportant, but urgent task may have a deadline set by your boss that cannot be postponed.
Nonetheless, this proposal is worth your consideration.
As shared last week, FOMO can lead to addictive checking of all your social and work media channels resulting in increased stress and decreased productivity.
Dr. Axe provides a five-step process for decreasing cell phone addiction. Could also be applicable to e-mail inbox addiction.
Real-time messaging certainly has some benefits, e.g., alerts for traffic congestion, a loved one in trouble, a client’s critical complaint.
Human bandwidth, however, is a limited resource. Thus, some combination of message prioritization and behavior modification is needed to regain control of our lives from magnetic FOMO.
IORG’s October 23, 2018 IO Day program will address this FOMO attraction-avoidance dilemma.
Stay tunes for forthcoming announcement details.
The following is an excerpt written by Yury Gubman, Knowmail’s Head of AI, from a recent IORG interview between Emanuele Terenzani (Lele), Yury, and myself about the need to use Artificial Intelligence to solve Information Overload.
The interview can be viewed below in its entirety, while the excerpt provides a few additional notes not available in the video.