The curse and the blessing: the numerous digital devices we need for our (working) daily lives (Image: Unsplash).
Notifications and minor “illnesses” from electronic companions plague the existence and concentrated work of many people. What can be done against digital overload?
*Ping*, glance at cell phone, eyes refocus on laptop screen, next to me someone listening to music too loud, “Laptop battery is about to die”, *ping* another glance at cell phone: “LinkedIn has a job for you positions that match your profile!”, and you look at the laptop again, *ping*. “Take it away!” I think, turn off my phone, sit in a quiet place and turn on my laptop again.
How could this happen?
Back then, it was said at school: “Pack your backpack in the evening, then you won’t have any stress in the morning.” What have I learned since then? Apparently nothing! It’s another wild morning and I still have to pack my backpack: «Laptop cable? phone cord? tablet cable? Headphones? headphone adapter? Why the hell do I have so many cables! And where is everyone anyway?” If only cables were the only problem.
When I think back to my youth, there were already some digital devices that were present here and there in everyday life: small brick mobile phones, protected and neatly wrapped in a plastic case on the belt. Back then, teenagers eagerly unwrapped them in class and then typed the current week’s report without looking at the keyboard. We used wired Gameboys (!) to swap imaginary animal monsters, digital clocks that ran endlessly, calculators with mini solar cells, digital cameras that could also take good pictures, CD players with muting to keep the music out, and much more. The list is almost endless.
Smartphone: for everything and yet for nothing
Most of today’s tasks have been focused on one device: the smartphone. Although you can do almost anything that comes up in everyday life with it, it has one unavoidable weakness: the size of the device. Getting the form factor right is extremely impractical. So we have laptops, tablets, smart watches and other devices that “support” us and “make” our lives easier. At least we think so – because everything has a price.
Like many others, I sometimes feel “digitally helpless” and would much rather throw everything in a box and bury it under the house. To prevent this from happening, there are some good ways to deal with it.
Keep your devices under control
First, the obvious: turn off your phone when you don’t need it. If that’s too radical for you, at least turn off push notifications, for example from apps you look at anyway but aren’t relevant in themselves (like some social media channels).
Create different email addresses and separate them categorically: one email address for ordering, one for social media (in case you forgot to turn off email newsletters and your inbox is full of spam), and one for everyone else. Create widgets to get information at a glance instead of repeated notifications.
Having different home screens that are also categorically separated from each other helps immensely, as you can then set up an area for private use and one for work. Close unnecessary browser tabs. Or do it like me: use multiple browsers, one for work and one for private use. So in summary: Separate subject areas and reduce *ping* frequency.
First come first served
Also important: adjust scheduling. To me, “multi-tasking” is more post-modern nonsense than a real working concept. The brain can juggle multiple tasks, but not when you have to do difficult things that require every last bit of cognitive power. Then preferably one by one. The best way to do this is to take the first tip (turn off your cell phone!) to heart.
Build in screen-free time
If you spend most of your time in front of a screen anyway, small breaks work wonders. Go for a walk in the sun, buy a Coke at the corner store, talk to your classmates about trivial things, or meditate. And maybe read a book in the evening instead of spending time with Netflix.
Or quite radically: Do nothing and be bored! Only then come creative ideas and introspection of the past. Instead of staring at your phone screen as your first action of the day, buy an analog alarm clock. And get lost, get lost and find your way back because you asked the nice old lady around the corner for directions and not the map app on your smartphone.
The all-encompassing arms of the digital octopus can only be tamed if you build spatial separation (work) and temporal separation (work) into your life. The upcoming updates for Android and iOS will offer better options to make your work easier, because then you can set different profiles (like «At work», «On the road») with one click; Depending on the profile, particularly important concerns will still be addressed.
So there is a very simple solution to the great problem of digital helplessness: simply turn off – be it your device or your head – and drift away.