Remember when getting an email was exciting? Or when seeing a particular post on Facebook was an event? It feels so long ago, but it wasn’t. In the past few years the amount of information in our various inboxes has exploded, and we all feel overwhelmed as a result.
And when I say “inboxes”, I’m not just talking about email. At this point you probably have several “inboxes” that consistently require your attention. There’s your email, but there’s also probably some combination of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and maybe an RSS reader demanding your attention.
Really, any place where you don’t want to “miss anything” is effectively another inbox – another place you need to check in order to feel “caught up”.
The reality is that a lot of what you find in these places isn’t making you more productive or happy. This surplus information is what makes the Internet suck – it creates the feeling that you’re missing something if you don’t check, but never actually gives you anything good back in return for the stress.
Get that happy Internet feeling back: cut the crap. Here’s how to start.
Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of email you get? Ask yourself: how much of the email you sort through is actually relevant? A lot of your email may be from friends and family; more is probably from work. But how much of your email is other people striving to get some of your attention, attempting to use your valuable time to tempt you to buy something or expose you to a brand’s latest message?
Ask yourself: how much of your email is about commercial entities using you, instead of you using email to keep in touch with the world?
Tools like these scan your email, then show all of your subscriptions. From here you can unsubscribe in a single click. It won’t completely solve your email problem – you’ll need to develop habits like this inbox zero workflow to really de-stress – but reducing clutter regularly is a great step toward a sane online life.
You can do something about this: cut the crap. If sites like these are going to be useful, and not slowly become useless time-guzzlers, you need to be willing to unfollow.
Take Twitter, for example. The tendency with this social network is to follow more and more people over time. This isn’t a bad thing: reading interesting and hilarious thoughts from people around the world is what this particular social network is for. And, after all, unfollowing can feel impolite.
But think about it this way: if you’ve got so many unread tweets that made you stop checking Twitter altogether, you’ve effectively “unfollowed” everyone. At once. So it’s important to keep things manageable.
Ready to act on this? Here are a few quick links for you:
Click those, then remove people who aren’t relevant. Try to do this regularly.
Tools like Twitter and RSS are just that: tools. Whether its relevant information about a topic you’re interested in, amusing posts from creative geniuses, or a friend you sincerely want to keep in touch with, allowing information you don’t need into your many inboxes only obscures information and friends you care about.
There are a lot of programs on your devices, adding visual clutter and (probably) slowing things down. Even worse: programs you rarely if ever use are constantly asking you for updates, interrupting you when you’re trying to focus.
But you don’t necessarily need another tool for the job: just go through your current applications and get rid of the ones you don’t need anymore. You’ll be happy you did.
Do you have software set up to notify you of new emails? Stop doing that. There’s nothing in your inbox you can’t handle later, and knowing now will almost certainly distract you if you’re trying to get something else done. Uninstall any programs you’ve set up specifically for notifications, then turn off notifications in programs that add them on their own.
Oh, and if you’re a Mac user with Mountain Lion or later, you can temporarily turn off all notifications by scrolling up in the Notification Center:
Finally, get offline entirely for a while. If your digital life is stressing you out constantly, you’re probably spending too much time online. Turn off your computer, put your phone on the table and walk away. I don’t care where you go, but I recommend a park – somewhere away from screens. Disconnect for a while now and your brain will be more capable of processing information later.
If you have to stay on your computer, block time wasting sites.
Use Computers – Don’t Let Them Use You
Until everyone is willing to pay for information, the Internet is going to be advertising-supported. That means every site on the web – even this one – makes more money the more time you spend with them. This is why sites like Facebook and Twitter are designed to drain your time: they literally are.
This is why it’s important to realize that your information diet is probably terrible, then start actively thinking about the time you’re spending online. If it’s not productive, and not enjoyable, something is wrong. Re-adjust.
Do you have any other tips to share? Tell us about your battles with online stress? Put them in the comments below.