January 31, 2017
It looks like you’re putting on some weight. A snack here, a snack there. It’s starting to show. But, I’m not talking about your physical appearance. There’s a new form of obesity -- one caused by digital junk food. We’re online all the time. We fragment our attention between a million things. We work when we’re supposed to relax. We relax when we’re supposed to work. We wake up in our inbox. We spend lunch with YouTube. We go to sleep with WhatsApp. When it comes to our digital habits, most of us are badly out of shape. We’re biting off more clickbait than we can chew, and we’re dealing with emails and texts as if we’re competing for a gold medal. This is digital obesity, and what do we have to show for it?
We need a diet, so we need a plan.
Digital obesity is not so much different from its physical counterpart: instant gratification is easy, while meaningful progress is hard.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Laozi (老子)
Yet change doesn’t have to be that difficult. Start small and focus on consistency, then build onwards from there. That’s the essence of the Digital Diet Plan and it’s achieved with five simple rules:
Let’s look at these in detail.
Multitasking is a myth. Your brain can only do one thing at a time. This applies to both work and life. When you’re checking your email, just do email. When you’re with your kids, be with your kids. Attention cannot be divided into smaller chunks. A few minutes here, a few minutes there, it just doesn’t work that way. It takes at least 15 minutes to get in a state of flow, the super concentration mode you should always be striving for. Anything else and you’re just task switching, jumping from one thing to another too quickly to give it the attention it needs.
Your brain can only sustain attention for 60 - 90 minutes at a time. Work in sprints with breaks in between and you will get much more done than someone who keeps pounding away at a keyboard for hours on end.
Information is like food. What you take in affects you and shapes you. Living on a diet of Facebook updates, tweets, apps, and snaps is like eating junk food all day. It will corrupt your thinking and mental well-being. Just as in the real world, consuming healthy information is the more difficult path. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, it brings fulfillment, happiness, and wisdom.
There’s nothing wrong with a snack every now and then. Some entertainment, play, and fun is good. But strive for moderation. Too much of anything can be harmful, and so it is with your digital intake. Check in with your Twitter feed, but watch out you don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole. Watch a show on Netflix, just don’t watch 15 in one sitting.
A good way to put this point into practice is by trying out a digital fast. We've created and overview of the most common fast types, as well as a step-by-step getting started list.
The fifth and last rule empowers all the others: disconnect from the internet daily for extended periods of time. When you’re not living at the mercy of your notifications, everything else becomes easier: attention, rest, healthy reading, and moderation.
The digital diet plan is straightforward and simple, but it only works if you translate the above rules to concrete actions.
Start by formulating one small step you can take that corresponds with each rule. For example, you can apply rule one by resolving to only do one thing at a time at work. But you could also resolve to not check your phone while you’re having dinner with a friend. Both those things train your attention.
Similarly, for rule number three you could keep a log of what you read throughout a day and then determine where you want to spend a bit less time, and where more. The rules are merely building blocks for you to apply to your own, unique situation. The key to success is to approach your digital diet with small steps and consistency.
Whatever you commit to, do it every day. If you miss a day, get back on the horse the very next day. Once healthy new habits become easy, try something a bit harder or incorporate a new diet plan rule. A healthier digital life is in your reach -- all you need to do is take that first step!
If you want a specific approach