Does your brain hurt at the end of the day? Mine sure does. Constantly consuming information takes a lot out of you. The human brain wasn’t meant to digest so much in such small windows of time.
Just how much are we consuming on a daily basis? According to Robby Walker of Cue, we consume some 63,000 words on an average day. That means you finished a short novel today. Go pat yourself on the back, have a beer and brag to your friends.
Don’t have the sense of accomplishment you thought you would, eh? That’s because it’s very difficult to pull the thread of a narrative or progressive case-building out of that mess of words. Each block of content we consume is related to a different area of interest, stimulating a different portion of your brain, causing a new wave of dysphoria and, in some cases, shutting your thought process down completely.
Where does it all come from?
Imagine that your daily routine is an intricate spiderweb shimmering across two tree branches. Now try to follow the path of a single thread from the center to the edge.
This is especially difficult because the lines run so close together. The spider followed a linear path to create the web, just as your day followed a somewhat linear path of its own. But digging up the tiny details that contributed to each new thread of information is damn hard.
We simply aren’t always aware of where the internet will lead us. You start off reading a scholarly article about inner city sociology and end up perusing pictures of Channing Tatum’s new haircut. Unlike the detail-oriented spider, we weave tangled webs.
How did you get from point A to point B? Ask yourself these questions to become consciously aware of how you process information.
- What are the sites I visit the moment I lose focus? For many of us, the primary answers may be Facebook, Deadspin, Pinterest or Twitter.
- How much time do I spend on useless information? The best way to measure this is to focus on how much time you spend processing and creating useful information. The rest of the time is most likely spent screwing around.
- How organized are my social media channels? If you have a Twitter account, for instance, do you split the accounts you follow into lists? This can be an effective approach to focus your browsing.
Focus on focusing.
I usually lose focus when I haven’t organized or structured my day. Here are a couple of strategies I use to stay focused.
- Create a to-do list and cross off items as you finish them. Closure on each little task is more satisfying than hours spent on “happy information”, or information your brain is magnetically attracted to.
- Set short and long term goals. This tactic is intrinsically tied to the to-do list. Longer term goals (weekly, monthly) help you get a bird’s eye view of your productivity.
- Use software features to stay in the zone. I recently discovered the “focus” setting on my MS Word “View” tab. Presto! Your document now dominates the entire screen. Productivity software like Vitalist, Todoist or RescueTime can help in other ways.