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.
Victoria's Secret is best known for what it has to offer women. However, a few days ago as I was strolling around the flagship store on Bond Street, I discovered that the store also has a lot to offer men as well. Just not exactly what you'd think.
My experience began like many other shopping excursions, casually browsing for a few practical items. The store was bustling with women who were relaxed but focused on their own purchases. The women in the store all displayed a quiet confidence in knowing what to do and how to do it. My browsing journey took me into another room where I noticed a man behaving quite awkwardly while being guided around by one of the many well-trained twenty-something shop assistants. My first thought was: "Good for him coming in here alone! I imagine it isn't the most comfortable experience for a man." It was clear he felt out of place. His discomfort was obvious by the way he was shuffling around and avoiding eye contact with any women nearby.
This otherwise unremarkable experience sent a spark through my mind. This man was professional and smartly dressed; perhaps he could have worked for one of the many private equity, hedge fund or banking firms in the nearby area. I imagined that he was confident in his own world of work, but in this female haven he was not. He was the only man in the room, and it showed.
This world - that of Victoria's Secret - was not created to make someone like him feel comfortable. In this environment—a store catering to women, filled by women and selling feminine merchandise—the familiar patriarchal dynamics of the world had completely shifted.
This was a world that can transform an otherwise confident professional into an introverted, self-conscious and indecisive man who needed the help of a twenty-something female to make one simple purchase.
I have seen this story play out with the gender roles reversed many times throughout my career in the corporate world. Today, the culture of many companies are built and sustained by men, for men. Traditional male characteristics are still encouraged, rewarded and expected from female professionals, especially if they expect to reach the executive suite. Being the only woman in the room is still an everyday reality for so many women in business; most men do not understand how corrosive this situation can be to a person's confidence.
I have often heard men say that they believe gender inequality is not an issue in their firm. They hire women and now even have some women on their teams. Well, on those terms this man should not have experienced any issue either. There is no sign at the door of Victoria's Secret barring men from entry. Men are allowed to freely enter and buy whatever they choose. No woman in there would tell them to leave or suggest that to get to the front of the queue they must behave in a certain way. So, what was the problem? Why did this man appear so uncomfortable? Why did he suddenly lack the confidence he seemed to have in the outside world?
It's all in the numbers. If that store catered towards the needs of men, or if there were simply more men in the store (either equivalent to or greater than the number of women), then it is likely that man would have felt a greater sense of belonging.
Just because women are allowed into the workplace now, does not mean their experiences are equivalent to those of their male peers. Women, as the minority, simply do not have the same sense of freedom to be their true authentic selves in many corporate environments, even today.
Just like that Victoria's Secret shop assistant guiding the lone man through an ostensibly unwelcoming environment, so, too, do women benefit from the guidance of sponsors, helping them navigate the male dominated corporate world.
Before a man talks about gender parity, perhaps he first needs to take a trip to a lingerie store and experience what it is like to be the only one in the room. Maybe if more men had experiences like this, they may begin to understand what it is to feel so out of place. Maybe they would join us in creating greater gender equality in the workplace.