Information, Magic Brains, and Lessons Learned


Last week, G sent me an NPR link to a piece he heard on his way to school.  It was about information overload – and how we all suffer from it – and it affects us in unexpected ways.  The conclusion of the piece was that starting on 2/1, they were running a 5-day challenge to help you “get a grip on information” called Infomagical.  When you sign up, you choose from their list of goals – something you want to improve in your life.  Then each day, with the goal in mind, you do the challenge.

Because I have been stuck creatively in my photography, I chose “to be more creative” as my goal.  I need something to help spark the creativity as not being inspired to shoot is driving me nutty.

Day 1: Single-tasking.


I listened to the short recording about the day 1 challenge which also contained some great information about how studies have shown that people cannot truly multi-task (exclude the fact that while I’m typing this that I am still breathing – they are talking about maintaining progress on two things at once – think work-wise).  They even talked about how when people are interrupting us that we will actually interrupt ourselves.  It was quite an interesting thing.

And what did I learn? I suck at single-tasking.  Part of it is because in my work, I am flipping between email, my project software, skype, and the internet.  All in an effort to complete a task.  I cannot help but see another email in the inbox and think, “it’ll be a quick response so I don’t have to do it later”.  Same with Skype.  I think what I did take away from it all is how many times I catch myself distracting myself.  Even running downstairs to get some lunch at the deli requires I take my phone and check things on it while riding in the elevator.  I realized that I rarely did something as single task but instead was constantly doing two things at once.  I hit a point during the day that when something would pop in my head as I was doing something else, I would pause, write it down, then go back to what I was doing.  I told myself I would do that when I was done with this task.

Day 2: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Phone
aka: Holy shit did I need to dump, uhm, shit!

There is a very popular book right now called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo.  The gist of her technique for tidying up is to take things you own, hold them,  and ask “does this thing bring me joy?”  If it doesn’t, you thank it and get rid of it.  The idea is to only be left with things in your life that truly bring you joy.

I have heard of this method before – and the idea intrigues the hell out of me.  The idea of de-cluttering your life by getting rid of things that are joyless is a lovely idea.  But in all of the parts of my day, I have been left with this on the to-do list.

This was the basis of yesterday’s task.  Except it wasn’t your closet but your smart device (aka phone).  The goal? Get down to only a couple of folders on the navigation screen by deleting apps that “don’t bring you joy”, turning off notifications where those notifications do not bring you joy, and getting it so that when you look at the screen, you can see something that does bring you joy (the background pic).

I went through and deleted a lot of apps that either I did not use anymore or that I really did’t use because my initial joy turned to “eh”.  Then I organized them differently. I even moved things around so that the main bar at the bottom only contains music, phone, messages and my calendar.  The rest of the items are in one of three folders.  The point one of the commentators made was that search is everywhere on these devices now. Need it fast, click search, type a few letters and you have it.  This exercise was freeing in unexpected ways.  I got rid of a lot of things.  And when I accidentally deleted an app that I use a lot? I realized that I felt relief that I would no longer see it there begging me to check it – it was gone.   And after I shut off all of the alerts that bug me more than bring me joy? I felt lighter.  I think that is the only way to describe it.  My background picture on my phone is my dog’s nose while she is smiling at me.  It always makes me smile. I like seeing it clearly now because it brings me joy.  The “stuff” was just weighing me down and distracting me.

The commentator also comment that the same technique can be used on other technology areas too where information lies and causes overload.  She suggested bookmarks or email lists or icons on your desktop or all of those documents we save because we just do.  But I ended up applying it differently last night.

I was on Facebook looking through the feed when a person had a multi-paragraph rant on his status about the Iowa caucus.  His comments and others were pretty much centered around the fact they thought it was dumb and why don’t Iowans just do what we do here – do a proper primary?  I grew up in Iowa – so for me, the caucus speaks about the Iowa culture, if you will.  It may seem backwards and hick-like, but it’s Iowan if you have lived there long enough, you understand that.  I started writing a response – I was annoyed at the fact that this process is interesting to watch but is not about how Oregonians feel about it – but how Iowans feel about it.  Then I paused.

This person’s status posts typically annoy me.  Does this person’s information – the content they choose to post publicly and onto my feed bring me joy?  Nope.  To unfriend or unfollow was my next question.  Is this person a real friend who would notice if I disappeared? Nope.  Unfriend it is.

I rarely unfriend people.  I simply unfollow to prevent any issues that may ensue if someone notices they got unfriended.  Usually its family who has a fit but not always.  Unfollow is the path of least resistance.  But when I applied yesterday’s challenge to the “friend” situation? Why just take that person, keep them around, but hide them in the closet, if you will?  Just get rid of them from the situation entirely.  And doing that made me feel good.  Not like I was making a knee jerk decision out of annoyance either.

How does this allow me to focus on creativity?  I’m not wasting my energy on distraction – wasting my emotions on writing responses to people who don’t matter – wasting my time digging electronically to what I really want.  It’s kind of nice.

Day 3: Avoid a meme / trend / thing everyone’s talking about that doesn’t fit into your goal

Purpose of today’s challenge is to focus only on information that we need – that fits into our goal – and stay away from other things.  The idea is to not waste time and brain power on things that do not fit directly into our lives.  I am thinking of this one as a combination of day 1 and day 2.  Why? Because of the focus element of day 1 — and the joy element of day 2.  There are some online magazine type sites that I like visiting because it’s mindless – TV but with words.  Nothing to do with creativity or my work or my family or my lifestyle in general.  So why am I doing that instead of reading things on a site I also love about photography?  And if I am reading about photography, why am I trying to do that while doing something else too?  Why am I allowing my self to not fully focus on it?

So today each time a meme has popped up on Facebook, I have asked Facebook to hide them in the future.  When a Fetlife fight continues to explode on my Fetlife feed, I started gagging all of those who were talking exclusively about it — and instead looked at the photos that people had liked and commented on as a way of seeing if anything inspired.  When I would see things analyzing the Iowa Caucus, I would move past it.  I know who won – I don’t need to know all of the analysis as it isn’t going to improve my life or anything.  And when I’m noticing trends of topics on Facebook or Twitter or anything where I can influence the content, I’m looking for how to minimize that content of those things.  Unliking pages, unfollowing people or sites.  Instead of looking at google news and reading it mindlessly, I popped open Flipboard as one of my boards is all about art and photography.

One point a commentator made in today’s challenge podcast was that if you read something that is directly connected to your life – your goals – your family  – your work – that you remember it.  You can quote back parts that struck a nerve.  You may even find yourself jotting down a note or two as you read the article.  This was the other thing I noticed about myself.  I do that when I’m reading something that truly resonates with me.  I’ve even been known to listen to an audiobook and take notes on my computer in a word document because I want to go back and get it right when I am talking to someone about it later.  I will mark up the book – or bend the pages to mark what resonates with me.  Even this morning, I was drawn to a post someone wrote called “Remember, Thou Art Muggle“.  I loved it and shared it on Twitter because of one main take away — “be wary of magical solutions as we are all muggles.”  It seemed to fit well what I’m doing this week.

And on that note, I know that none of what I’m doing is magic – and it isn’t easy.  But it is eye-opening.

I know no miracles will happen this week.  But to feel lighter.  To feel more joy in things I’m doing.

Hell, I’m writing a real blog post for the first time in weeks.  Coincidence? I don’t think so.  Because I am reminded of something my tantra teacher used to say – “energy flows where your attention goes”.  If my attention is going everywhere like a drunk squirrel on meth, then my energy is depleted for when I want to give something like photography my attention.  My creativity is not there – I’m mentally tired.

We shall if what the rest of the week brings with this exercise.  But so far, very interesting.

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