Your Attention is a Fortress
Every modern individual has imagined this scenario at some point: a vacation on a sandy white beach somewhere in the Caribbean with a mojito in hand, disconnected completely from society. Or the more extreme version, a trip to the Far East to “find oneself” in nature and pursue isolation, letting everyone know on social media that they're “going off the grid for a while.”
Why do we need such extreme measures? What led us oscillate so haphazardly that we stop our lives dead in their tracks?
It’s our technology.
As tech has burrowed itself deeper into our world, as we carry around more unnecessary devices, and as we say “yes” to more things, we often become less thoughtful about what we allow into our world in turn allow our tools to master us. And the answer isn’t just to “take a break.” It’s about reconfiguring our digital lives so we can function as balanced and effective humans.
Every small nuisance that we allow into our digital life grinds us down, paving the way for the gradual collapse of our sanity.
It's as if the our attention was a castle, guarded on all sides by a moat and armed forces, yet invaders are marching in at an ever-increasing pace. We can't keep up the defense, and more enemies break through. Next thing we know, our backs are against the wall and we are being held hostage.
The trick is to build a fortress that is strong against the many forces that attack on all sides.
Here are 3 main areas where we can make changes that will have an immediate impact:
Despite being around the longest, it’s become the greatest liability for our attention since becoming the de facto hub for professional correspondence.
Simply put, we allow too many messages into our inbox. Many people don’t realize that newsletters, marketing blasts, and mass correspondence account for the majority of their daily influx. Yet somehow most people feel more empowered by skipping or deleting messages than actually removing them from our inboxes. We need to take out the general, not the infantry. There's a beautiful button called UNSUBSCRIBE. Use it. Or if your attention span is already gone, use a service like Unroll.me and hope that they can help.
This trend has been on the rise in both personal and corporate email and it honestly blows my mind. People literally don’t read all of their emails. They scan the day’s incoming messages and open a few, leaving the rest to sit forever, racking the unread count higher and higher until you hit that dreaded 5 figure number and you just give up. Your unread count should be an indication of the work you have left to do, not a constant source of dread. One way to start is to find an email client that allows you to quickly read messages in a list instead of opening a new window for each message, so you can move quickly through your emails.
There’s nothing worse than getting endless back and forth emails from your team that you didn’t need to read, but may review later. How about a label rule that moves those emails into a team folder and marks them as read before you ever see them? Don’t worry, they’ll still be there when you need them.
Everyone knows that annoying “ping” sound that comes in every time you get an email. While this is often a matter of personal choice, choosing how and when your device makes noise has a HUGE impact on your well-being. You should turn off all noises except for emails from special people, which can be configured with a VIP Inbox.
Lines are blurring between SMS texting and what now is a bloated mass of apps that all facilitate immediate correspondence. Facebook Messenger, Slack, and more have all snuck their way into this category, which keeps you on beckon call at any given moment. Here are some ways to scale back your addiction to the noise:
How many times do you pull your phone out of your pocket in an hour? And how important are these messages, really? Here’s a concept: prioritize your communication by service. Is this someone I need to be in close contact with? Give them your number. Is it business related? Keep it on Slack. Are we exchanging cat GIFs? Keep it on Snapchat. Then, you can disable notifications per app so nothing superfluous alerts you — only important things.
Along the same lines, why should an app beep at you 6 times an hour? You’re probably checking your phone constantly anyway. Disable repeat alerts, disable sound and vibration, or even block all alerts from non-essential messages.
Despite being around for years, few people use the Do Not Disturb feature to it’s fullest extent. Think of this as being done for the day, closing the office door, and going home. Schedule your "Do Not Disturb" to kick in around dinner time and to turn off when you wake up. Or even set it to earlier in the evening if you like. You can always still pick up your phone and see what came in — you just won’t be inundated with noise while you’re trying to live your life.
When was the last time you truly needed to know that GILT is offering a flash sale for the next 72 HOURS?Letting your app notifications run amok and control your life is the equivalent of inviting dozens of strangers into your fortress and letting them steal your posessions.
This may seem a tedious chore, but it could help prevent a mental breakdown: go through your entire app list under Notifications and turn off any notifications you don’t need. You can also pare things down by only allowing them to show up in a daily summary but not alert you in the moment. Be ruthless and thank me later.
Trim the Fat
This may scare some people: Delete apps you don’t use. They’ll still be there for you to re-download if you have second thoughts. In the process you’ll figure out what’s important and what you can live without. Treat each app on your phone like a new occupant in your fortress. You’ll be fine.
Build a Home Screen
While interfaces may change, there will always be a central hub for your device. Think about what you use most and put your favorite apps on display. Organize the rest of the apps into folders or in a way that makes sense. This intentional step can prevent mindless scrolling through your phone, wasting time looking for things to do (you know you’ve done it).
Why This Matters
The birth of the smartphone unleashed great power into the hands of the everyday consumer. Yet with great power comes great responsibility. We’ve got a world full of users who are being constantly bombarded with new technologies yet have no support system to find balance or peace of mind. However, with attention to detail and a willingness to put in the effort, you can actually trust your technology and sleep peacefully, knowing your fortress is safe and sound.