This post is part of the Break Through Your Creative Blocks series.
If you have a creative block you’d like some help with, tell us about it – details in the first article in the series.
The internet is a wonderful thing, especially for creative people looking for entertainment and new ideas. Never before have so many different sources of inspiration been so freely available. But as many of us have discovered to our cost, you can have too much of a good thing. Too many websites to visit, too many blogs to read, too many videos to watch, too much music to listen to, too many links to click on Twitter, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg… And that’s before you’ve even opened your e-mail!
Some days, it feels like your laptop is a Pandora’s Box – open it and you unleash all kinds of digital distractions, that make creative work an impossibility. Or to change the metaphor, information overload is in danger of crushing your inspiration.
This is the situation described by João Freitas, in response to our invitation to tell us about your creative blocks.
One of my creative blocks it’s the fact that i always think i’ve got to see everthing that goes on the internet, read everything, all the news, watch all the movies, know all the new music bands that are emerging, etc…
ALL, ALL, ALL
if i try this “daily actualization” i obvious don’t get much time to STOP, THINK and WORK. but i don’t know…it’s some kinda of a a magnetic force because i’m always doing the same thing.
what do you think? Can you help me? Have you ever felt the same?
thanks for this project
I’ll start with your last question: yes, I have felt the same. And I know from talking to my coaching clients that you and I are not alone – information overload is practically an epidemic right now, and presenting many of us with a big challenge. So what you’re experiencing is pretty normal. You might even say it’s an occupational hazard for 21st century creatives.
I’m reminded of a story told by Nile Rodgers, the legendary music producer:
When it comes to dealing with women I’m a super, super romantic guy. But I probably have what they call Don Juan syndrome: which is, every time I meet a girl – every single one – on some level there’s flirtation involved. I was friends with an actor by the name of Malcolm-Jamal Warner who worked on The Cosby Show. And Bill Cosby noticed that Malcolm had a wandering eye. And he pulled him aside and said to him, ‘Son, there are many, many beautiful women in this world – but you can’t have all of them.’
Then he said, ‘Once you realise that, it will give you peace.’ And it’s true.
It’s only human nature to get over-excited when presented with an abundance, whether it’s a world full of beautiful women, an all-you-can-eat buffet, or the latest cool things on the Digg homepage.
The important thing to bear in mind though, is that it’s not the abundance that’s the problem, or even the excitement – it’s getting caught up in the excitement, to the point where it becomes an obsession. This is the “magnetic force” you describe.
And you know the solution: “STOP, THINK and WORK”. But some things are easier said than done, so here are some tips to help you reduce your information overload and boost your creativity and productivity.
Give yourself some digital downtime
Every morning I spent 20 minutes either staring at the wall (sitting meditation) or walking up and down in the garden (walking meditation). It can get pretty boring. Many days, I’m tempted to skip it and fire up the laptop, especially when I’m busy or anticipating something exciting happening in my internet business. But it’s one of the most important things I do each day .
By the end of the 20 minutes I feel much more relaxed, alert and clear headed. And when I sit down at the computer, it’s much easier to avoid distractions and get down to work.
I also have a rule that I’m not allowed to use my laptop in the evenings. This keeps the last part of the day free for family: playing with my children, enjoying a meal with my wife, pottering around in the kitchen or the garden, or watching a movie. Sometimes it’s hard to drag myself away from the computer, but it’s always a relief when I finally switch it off.
I’m not saying you need to take up meditation (although here’s a good place to start if you want to). But I suggest you schedule some regular digital downtime in your day – i.e. switch off your computer and phone (and yes, that does include an iPad!) and spend time in the ‘real world’ of people and things, socialising face-to-face, exercising or doing practical tasks like washing the dishes or tidying your home.
If you really want to break the cycle of information overload, try Tim Ferris’s low information diet for a week, as described in his book The Four Hour Work Week: seven days without any newspapers, magazines, news websites, television, books or web surfing (except for essential work tasks).
Notice what’s happening
Once upon a time, a Zen student wrote to his teacher, criticizing himself for being ‘dim and dull’. Here’s the teacher’s response:
Your letter informs me that your root nature is dim and dull, so that though you make efforts to cultivate and uphold the Dhamma [i.e. the Buddha's teachings], you’ve never gotten an instance of transcendent enlightenment. The one who can recognize dim and dull is definitely not dim and dull.
I’m not a Zen master, but I’d suggest that the same thing is true for you – the fact that you can see and describe this “magnetic force” driving you to read everything you can find on the internet, means that you are not completely caught up in it.
Try to look at things from the perspective of the part of you that sees what’s happening. Get in touch with the thought or feeling that’s prompting you to let go of the magnetic force, so that you’re not carried away by it. The more digital downtime you give yourself, the easier this will be.
Schedule time for creating and consuming
As well as scheduling digital downtime in your day, set yourself times for work and times for reading, watching videos and exploring the internet. It might sound a bit rigid to organise your time in this way, but try it as an experiment. You might be surprised how good it feels.
For example, the morning is my ‘writing time’. I know that if I’m surfing the web and watching videos during that time, I’m skiving off – which makes it easier to stop. In the afternoons, I’ve got e-mail and a to-do list to get through, but as long as I deal with that, I can give myself time to read blogs and hang out on social networks. And I like to listen to podcasts while I wash the dishes in the evening. By allotting different times to different activities, you can stop them getting out of hand.
When I started my first blog, I read loads of blogs about blogging. In the beginning it was exciting, but after a while, I realised I was struggling to keep up and felt overwhelmed. Then I gradually realised that I was learning the most from just two or three blogs, so I carried on reading them and unsubscribed from all the rest. Big relief!
Start using the 80/20 rule to filter information: make a list of the 20% of websites, blogs, people on Twitter, and other sources that send you 80% of the most interesting media content. Carry on following them – and ditch the rest for a week. Notice what a difference that makes.
Trust your network
A few years ago I read a piece by Ryan Holiday about filtering information on the web, where he made a remark that has stayed with me:
If it’s good and you miss it, it will come back to you, I promise.
This strikes me as both funny (how can he possibly guarantee that!) and true. Think of all the times you’ve come across a great blog post recommended by someone in your network – and then seen the same piece recommended by several other people over the next few days.
If you’re connected into a network of like-minded people online, you increase your chances of finding the really good stuff. Try this for an experiment: for the next few days, only click on links the second time you see them recommended by someone in your network.
Let things go
What’s the worst that will happen if you miss something? Next time you see a link that you’re really tempted to click on, sit on your hands for five minutes. Notice the temptation and resist it.
Can you let it go, close that browser window, and get started on your real work?
Over to You
How do you stop information overload crushing your creativity?
Any tips to help João STOP, THINK and WORK?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a creative coach with over 15 years’ experience of helping people get past their creative blocks and into the creative zone. For a FREE 26-week creative career guide, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.