About once a year, I unplug from all of my electronic devices and go on vacation. I usually head for a warm, tropical place where I can enjoy the slower pace of life and tranquility of the ocean waves. I put away my cell phone and only check it for emergencies. I don’t bring a computer with me, don’t look at email, and only use an iPad (sparingly) if I really need to look up something vacation-related on the Internet.
After a week of being away from the constant stream of emails, blog posts, news stories and other online content, I always feel a sense of calm that I didn’t feel before my vacation. Like last year, I didn’t miss the information overload on my recent vacation. It turns out that I don’t care about the daily news cycle, endless Twitter chatter, and most of what I read on Facebook. I didn’t miss being connected all of the time.
Yet this runs contrary to how most entrepreneurs operate. Most of us are plugged in all day, voraciously consuming information from the time we wake up to the last minutes before we go to bed. Some of us (like me) spend hours in front of email, others are addicted to Twitter, and many read countless blog posts about the industry. For what? How does it help us in our day to day entrepreneurial life?
I think that most entrepreneurs have an information overload problem. We’re sucked into the vortex of the endless amounts of information and it can be crippling. We worry about what everyone else is doing and use it as a measuring stick. We follow, read, and watch everything about our competitors to see if we can glean some insight into their plans.
Here’s the thing about information overload: it stifles creativity. It wears you out. It fills your brain with mostly useless information and leaves you no room to process the bits that truly matter. It doesn’t allow you quiet space to dream up new ideas and connect the dots of problems you’ve been trying to solve. It muddles your brain and prevents clarity.
Since my vacation, I’ve been actively trying to reduce my information overload problem. Here are some specific things that I’ve done over the past week:
1) I’m actively ‘unsubscribing’ from as many email lists as possible. Out of 680 emails I received in a 7 day period, only about 30 of them were actually something that needed a response. So I’m trying to dramatically reduce the number of emails I get everyday.
2) No electronics after 11:11pm. My wife and I have enacted a new rule in our house — no electronic devices after 11:11pm. Why 11:11? Mostly because it’s easy to remember and it’s about the right time at night (yeah, 11 on the dot would be too early)
3) Leaving my phone behind: Several times a day, I’m leaving my phone in my office and not bringing it with me. I’ve done this for certain meetings, and I’ve also left my phone behind when I take a walk with my dog. It’s freeing to walk in the fresh air with nothing but my thoughts (hope my wife isn’t trying to reach me!)
4) Email-free hours: I’m still figuring this one out, but I’m trying to have some email-free hours during the workday so I can focus on more creative tasks. I’m still experimenting to see if this makes more sense in the morning or in the afternoon.
5) Limit idle reading: The smartphone is one of the greatest inventions in my lifetime. But it also is a big time suck. I’m trying to catch myself when I find myself wasting time reading Facebook, Reddit, or ESPN — especially on the weekend. It’s only a few minutes, but those minutes add up.
6) Do not disturb feature: I’m now using the “Do not disturb” feature on my iPhone between the hours of 11pm and 6am. When I see the moon icon on my phone it reminds me that I shouldn’t be looking at my phone. It’s a small change, but helps a little.
Are you suffering from information overload? THEN STOP READING THIS POST. Don’t you get it? Yeah, that’s the point. While I hope you learned something, you have other more creative tasks that need your attention.