I’m doing a course at the moment at curatr.com about content curation on the internet. The main problem people on the course report with internet content is overload – there’s just too much of it! We’re all familiar with this and the course aims to help you find strategies first of all to manage your own information flow and then to offer a service for others in helping them make sense of information glut.
These are information curation strategies but I’ve found a couple of techniques to manage the mental effects of information overload at the time you feel them. You know the sort of thing – you start out following a link in an email which references something else that you think may be interesting; there you follow a debate in the comments below it, which refers to another debate so you follow that link, and one of the people posting sounds interesting so you follow a link to her website and … and… and… Before you know it half an hour has gone. Trouble is, while some of it was interesting you may not be sure you actually learned anything you needed to know, and you may not even remember half the pages you went through. You may feel eventually like you’ve just woken up from a kind of trance. In fact the word ‘interesting’ probably no longer has the meaning it did in pre-web days; in the world of the browser, it can come to mean that trance-like chain of greedy clicks, and a growing sense of unease that maybe you should be doing something else. “After I read this.”
If you want to break the spell – or to offer your spellbound self a way to have the spell broken – one thing to do is to set up a random interruption. I use an app on my phone called Mindfulness Bell (Android and IOS) – because the single bell sound is gentle and has pleasant connotations for me. But there’s no reason you can’t use a rude buzzer or a phone ringtone. It just has to intrude and break the spell for just that second or two for you to decide if you really want to be following this trail of breadcrumbs or if it’s time to get off the path. Try setting it to go off once an hour, a short sound, perhaps 1 second is enough – sometimes it’ll wake you up, sometimes you’ll decide it’s OK to continue, but at least you get a look in.
A more radical solution is to use the bell to trigger the Three Step Breathing Space technique from the MBSR course – focus on how your body and mind feel right now, then on your breathing for three or four breaths, then bring in the sounds and sights around you. It only takes a few moments but it gives you a deeper refreshment than just hearing the bell, and will leave you happier and with more choices about what to do next.