Let’s set the stage. Every morning, the alarm goes off. You hit snooze, roll out of bed, and if you’re like most humans, you check your phone first. Before you say good morning, have coffee, stretch, or take two seconds to come into the day, you are absorbing info. And all that information starts our day—every day—on a very split trajectory.
How Did We Get Here?
Our world moves fast, and if we aren’t willing to keep up, then too bad. But, that doesn’t mean our brains were ever meant to constantly work at warped speed, multitasking even the most banal actions (hello, driving and talking on the phone). Every single day, we are bombarded with news, social media updates, texts, phone calls, meetings, endless web browsing, work emails, chores, errands, etc. The problem isn’t with us, necessarily, it’s with the information.
Information is available wherever we look, and while it’s good to be informed, too much of anything can lead to overwhelm. When we tune in to everything around us, it forces us to constantly be in a state of “absorbing” and sorting instead of focusing—and completing—one task at a time.
How can you ever figure out what you want out of life, your relationship, or even your job if you can’t figure out what you want for breakfast? There are just too many choices.
The New Normal
When we constantly seek info, we waste time. If we work 9 to 5, we will fill those hours—but not necessarily with work. It’s important to assess what our time wasters are, because we all have them. Do you obsessively: web browse; check texts; check emails; talk to co-workers while working on a project; call people when alone; interrupt tasks to just “check one thing”; have endless errands; own more than one social media account; subscribe to podcasts, blogs, or magazines; constantly say “I’m busy”?
If so, chances are you are distracted, especially when it comes to completing tasks start to finish, distraction-free. Are we staying productive, or just active? Does it really take 8 hours to get your work done? What would happen if we only checked our email twice a day? If we ditched our phones at night? If we took a break from the news?
What would happen is that you would realize you have all the time in the world, and most of the things you fill your days with have nothing to do with productivity or happiness. The richest people in the world do the absolute least amount of work, because they have outsourced their lives in a way where businesses can run without them. How do you get there? You have to be consistent.
Anyone can do a social media detox for kicks. Ta-da! I didn’t check Facebook for an entire day, and I feel so much better! Until tomorrow. Clock how many times you hop onto any social media account, your phone, Chrome, etc., and then calculate how much time you spend on work, family, running errands, chores, laughing, and doing absolutely nothing. You might get a very clear picture at how skewed your priorities actually are.
Stay in Your Lane
Learning to cleanse ourselves of too much information can make us happier, allow us more time for healthy activities (cooking, taking a walk with family, stretching, listening to music, thinking) and will produce less feelings of doom, gloom, overwhelm, jealousy, and despair. It’s hard to keep your eye on the prize, when everyone else’s is shiny and dangling inches from your face.
If you want more productivity and more time in your day, then you have to change. Period. You have to do less and absorb less to do more. Being busy is no longer an excuse, because busyness is actually a form of laziness. (Yes, you read that right.) When you’re “constantly busy,” you’re filling the time you have—probably with things you don’t want to do. You can outsource the errands, stop the obsessive mind wandering, texting, email checking, etc., and rearrange your life to put the important tasks first. Every single day.
6 Tips for a Low Info Diet
1. Check your email just twice per day. Here’s the kicker: Email was never set up to be a “chat” system. All of the back and forth and open-ended emails waste time. Stop checking your email first thing in the morning. Nothing is that critical. If you do one thing, do this. Check your email at 10 and 4 or 12 and 5. Try it for one week and see how much more free time you have. When you sit down and answer emails in a cluster, you can knock it out in half an hour versus spread out over the entire day.
2. No news. It’s important to be informed, but there’s a fine line between informed and obsessed. If you want to know what’s happening, ask someone who is informed to get a daily or weekly recap. If it doesn’t affect you on a personal level, leave the mental headspace for something else.
3. Mind your texts. Once you get your email under control, you’ll realize the most distracting culprit in today’s tech savvy world is texting. We are so conditioned to respond, respond, respond, no matter what we’re doing. Designate just a few times per day to respond to texts and put the phone away at night. Talk to your family—you know, the one that’s under your roof. Remember them?
4. Get to the finish line. How many times do you sit down at your desk, only to check email, which then has you logging onto Facebook, which takes you to a photo, which makes you think of IG, which takes you to YouTube or any other various site. We’ve gotten into a very familiar pattern of letting our minds wander—even when we have deadlines or tasks ahead of us. Use disabling software if you have to, but do not check emails, texts, or do anything other than what you sat down to do. You will be astounded at how quickly you can complete tasks when they are uninterrupted.
5. Stop taking unnecessary phone calls and meetings. Raise your hand if you’ve worked in a corporation that lives by the motto: death by meetings. Meetings rarely ever do anything to get actual work done. Phone meetings, in-person meetings, virtual meetings... They are the ultimate distraction. If you’re the boss, set less meetings. If you’re an employee, attend less meetings. (Really.) Productivity soars only when you have the opportunity to sit down and work.
6. Set no more than two tasks to complete every single day. Look at your to-do list. What actually has to get done today, and what on your list will make you happy, get you further to your goals, and help you grow either professionally or personally? If you write down the same to-do tasks, it’s time to create a new list. Every day, you have one chance to do anything—truly. If you want different results, you have to do different things. Lead every day through that lens.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.