Headline seem like a bit much? What does the internet have to do with dreams (besides all the nightmares you have freshman year because you stayed up too late reading about serial killers…please tell me I’m not alone in this)?
I think addiction has everything to do with mediocrity. And one of the things I’m addicted to knowledge. In some ways, this can be good. I’m informed about world events, I’m full of fun facts about serial killers (see above) and women in ancient Rome. The problem is I spend way more time consuming useless information than I do making the things I want to make.
So I decided to Rumplestiltskin* myself for the month of October.
Some of you have been asking about my Information Diet and since I’m drowning in extra time now that I’m no longer perusing the internet (oh, the horror!) I figured I’d share more details with you.
What’s the Goal?
Someone asked me what the point was in giving up information. They phrased it in a nicer way, but that was the gist. It’s such a valid question.
When I gave up other substances for a month, it was not with the goal of cutting them out of my life completely. I had no plans to become sugar or coffee free (I’m not INSANE).
This challenge is different because my goal is to permanently reduce the amount of time I spend mindlessly consuming information.
I’m starting with a month of cold turkey informationless-ness** so I can determine what resources I miss and how much time I should devote to information consumption.
Cutting out information is far harder for me than cutting out alcohol or coffee. I didn’t even let myself think about it until October 1 because I didn’t want to face the reality of what my world would look like without news. That’s exactly why I knew it needed to be done. If I’m afraid to go without something, it probably means I’m addicted to it.
A few others have asked me what I’m actually doing and if I have any tips for doing your own Information Diet. I’ve written before about how I use tricks and manipulation to force myself to grow. Here a few tricks I’m using I’m using to make myself mindful of the information I consume.
Info Diet Tips & Tricks
1. Track your time
I am firm believer that knowledge is power. One of the most powerful tools we can give ourselves is knowing how and where we spend our time.
At various phases in life I’ve used apps, physical worksheets, and calendars to keep track of how I spent every hour of every day. This is a bit extreme for most people, but if you suspect you have a problem with the amount of time you spend online (or watching TV, staring blankly into space, whatever floats your boat) forcing yourself to account for it is a great way to motivate yourself to make a change.
You can use sheets with slots for every hour (like so) or use good old fashioned pen and paper. This is a super useful exercise for life in general, even if you’re not particularly interested in how much information you consume.
2. Change your triggers
Deciding not to do something is easy. Setting yourself up to succeed in ditching your bad habit for a better one is the difficult part.
Humans are creatures of routine and habit. External triggers cue these habits. For example, my mind is trained to automatically open my email account when I get to work and to scroll through Instagram every night before bed. Even though I’ve decided not to do those things this month my brain is still going to want to do them automatically. To succeed I have to take action to replace these triggers.
Here’s a few practical ways I’m doing that:
- Changing the home screen on my internet browser. It used to open to Bing, which displays the top news stories of the day. Whoever writes those headlines is a genius who should make millions of dollars because I would click on the stories every single time. If I don’t see that when I open the internet browser (which I’m not really supposed to be doing anyway) I can’t get sucked in by those stories.
- Delete apps from your phone. I’ve never kept Facebook on my phone, but this is a great way to reprogram what you do when you automatically try to fill time by scrolling through social media. You can’t do it if they’re not there.
- Sign out of social media accounts. This way when your brain types in F for Facebook without you being consciously aware of it, you will be locked out. Forcing yourself to log in every time you want to check social media is an easy way to be purposeful about how much time you spend on it. I’d also unclick “stay logged in” on anything you don’t really need to be logged into.
- Use Instapaper to save articles you want to read (shout out to Adrian for telling me about this app!) I get inspiration from everywhere and appreciate a good Longform article like nobody’s business. This app lets me save links people send me or that I stumble across so I can come back to them later if needed. If you’re like me, you also constantly stumble across names and events that you want to look up. Instead of looking these up immediately and tumbling into the tunnel that is Wikipedia I started a Note on my phone to list all of them. If I’m still interested after a month*** they will be there.
3. Set Time Limits
Maybe a complete Information Fast is not your thing, but you want to be more mindful about how you consume information. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes of browsing time and when it dings, go back to work.
4. Use a Break To Do Sheet
Second shout out to Adrian for sending me this awesome PDF from Lifehacker. I live and die by To Do Lists. Seriously I have lists for everything (I think I’ve mentioned about five in this post alone). Probably the one thing in my life I don’t have a list for is taking breaks.
Resting is difficult. Resting well is nearly impossible–if you’re not prepared. If you know you want to unwind by watching the newest SNL Digital Short, reading that New Yorker article, or scrolling through Instagram, plan for it! This makes taking the break purposeful instead of mindless. Also, you will get the unparalleled joy of checking something off of a list. You’re welcome.
5. Know how you want to spend your excess time
The point of consuming less is to create more. I’m challenging myself to fill the time I used to spend surfing the web with creative output—outlining a story, editing pages, or doing story research. Keeping in mind the big picture why of my Information Diet helps me focus on what I’m gaining instead of what I’m giving up.
What about you? Do you have any hacks you use to trick yourself into spending less time online? I need all the help I can get!
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*Is this a verb? No. Do I care? Also no.
**Another word I made up. Really rolls right off the tongue doesn’t it?
***I won’t be
I really think I needed to read this today. I need to stop spending so much time on Instagram and spend more time writing and working on creative projects! I love the idea of scheduling in media time and setting a timer for scrolling minutes. I often find that I end up scrolling through articles or Wikipedia or instagram for an hour without even noticing how long it’s been. A timer would greatly help. Thanks for this article!
Hi Mary! I’m so guilty of spending too much time on Instagram. I don’t think it’s Instagram that’s the problem–it’s how mindlessly I revert to consuming other people’s pictures and lives instead of working on my own projects. Let me know how setting a timer works out for you!