Snap out of autopilot and start living your best life

There is a saying, ‘When in doubt Google it’. Wikipedia alone is said to be equivalent to over 2,900 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica (source). Then there are the academic databases, YouTube videos, TEDTalks, digital publications, blog pages... 

We have an abundance of resources at our disposal for learning and problem solving and a supply of information at our fingertips like never before.

The same can be said for tools. 
There are applications for everything from stock trading to sleep tracking to productivity. 

Our minds should be illuminated with all of these resources and information.

So why are so many of us struggling to overcome challenges or innovate? 

Imagine an aeroplane.

Once upon a time a pilot flew by hand, monitored oil, fuel and engine performance, and weathered the turbulence manually. Then came early autopilot which helped to maintain heading and altitude - a welcome break.

Nowadays modern autopilots can manage almost the entire flight from just after take off until landing.

Much in the same way our own lives have been transformed by technology. We are disassociated from the information and messaging we see each day, and are appeased with an app for everything. We, too, have autopilot activated.

But what happens when a challenge arises? Are we equipped?

The information trap

The reality is we are stifled by the plethora of both information and tools.

On the one hand these things make our life easier, but when autopilot fails or we are faced with an unforeseen challenge, how do we make sense of the dashboard with all of its flight instruments, indicators, warning lights, meters and co-ordinators?

In a world preoccupied with data harvesting, efficiency and output (mostly through technological means) we don’t even know how to operate off autopilot with presence and focus and conscious thought.

In his article for Harvard Business Review, Paul Help describes the psychologically stressful and ineffective nature of our information economy. He shares that in a study commissioned by Hewlett-Packard, it was reported that the IQ scores of knowledge workers fell by an average of 10 points when distracted by email and phone calls.

Further to this, Help states that it takes 24 minutes to return to a task after opening an email.

He goes on to quote psychiatrist Edward Hallowell and author Linda Stone who use terms “attention deficit trait” and “continuous partial attention” respectively when describing the mental states of today’s knowledge workers.

The bottom line is that the surplus of information, constant notifications and hyper connectivity is not empowering — it is impeding our ability to focus, much less learn or problem solve or ideate.

It’s like staring at the instrument panel as the plane is nose diving and having no idea what to do next.

All the gear but no idea

There appears to be an application to upgrade every facet of our personal and professional lives.

This usually entails downloading, and the sharing of our personal information and preferences. We then invest time in using the app, though after a few weeks many apps will sit untouched, cluttering and taking up space on your device.

We are then served notifications designed to get us back into the app and again subject to its algorithms… and so, the cycle of distraction continues as we are inundated with obsolete information and tools. 

Snap out of auto-pilot and curb the information trap

For all of the pitfalls of an information economy, having resources and information a click away can be empowering and enriching. It can kindle our curiosity or spark new ideas.

We just need to learn how to use that instrument panel and snap out of autopilot once and for all if we want any chance of managing the information overload.

Here are three simple steps to cut your reliance on futile information, notifications and tools:

1. Remove distraction

Author and advocate of simple living, Leo Babauta writes,

“Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.”

Applying this approach to our devices and application will allow us the space to think deeply and learn effectively in order to solve problems.

That may look like:

  • Enabling do not disturb on your devices during certain periods of the day 
  • Disabling non-essential notifications (e.g. from social media apps) and delegating set times to check in every day or week 
  • Auditing your devices and removing any applications you no longer use. Keep only those that bring real value to your life 
  • Avoid the temptation to check the news multiple times a day 
  • Explore alternative applications like myhaventime which are specifically designed to help you focus, learn and perform through a simple and calm interface, without advertising or distracting notifications

2. Give yourself permission to daydream

Research suggests that engaging in simple, external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.

The concept of daydreaming or idleness as precursors to creativity is discussed by Elle Metz for BBC Worklife, where she explores how the act of daydreaming (a habit of humankind for thousands of years) has been suppressed by time spent on smartphones and other devices.

She writes, “This may seem a small change, but its effect, on the way our minds work and on our collective creativity, could be far-reaching. In fact, it could be hindering your ability to come up with fresh, innovative ideas.”

In this article Amy Fries, author of Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers and a writer and editor for Psychology Today is quoted,

“Daydreaming is how we access our big-picture state of mind”. 

In order to solve complex problems or innovate we need to grant ourselves permission to daydream without distraction and engage in tasks that make the mind wander.

Try the following:

  • Take a walk without tuning into your phone, listening to music or a podcast. Allow yourself to be distracted by your surroundings.
  • Read a short story or article on a topic you are passionate about. After reading, sit with your thoughts.
  • Refer to a mood board, collection of images, curation of artifacts or piece of artwork or music that may inspire your mind to wander.

3. Choose your content wisely

Be intentional with the content you consume. Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Even as we passively scroll social media or watch television we are contributing to our information overload as we are subject to thousands of messages everyday.

If our intention is to learn, innovate and create, it is important to both limit the amount of information we consume and choose content that will ultimately inspire, enrich our minds or stimulate thought.

When you find content that resonates with you, ensure that you store it somewhere that is easy to revisit so you can build upon your best ideas over time. Platforms like myhaventime allow you to capture and collate the images, documents, files and links that inspire your big ideas. All common file types are accepted.

Just like autopilot, our lives have been transformed and made easier through the technology, apps and information available to us 24/7.

We can fly on autopilot for years on end, unconscious in our habits and absorbed with distraction. But when complex challenges arise both in life and the workplace, we forget how to hand-fly which can lead to catastrophic outcomes.

By introducing boundaries and forming positive habits we can focus, learn and innovate outside of autopilot and the distractions of our modern world. 

You can’t do aerobatics (all of the exciting loops, rolls and spins) in autopilot, just as we can’t live our best, fullest and most illuminated lives in autopilot either.

It’s time to regain control.

Follow myhaventime

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