Disconnect / Reconnect

Here are some tools that help me manage overload.

by André Natta

Every month I sit down in front of a blank screen—sometimes stumbling across some obscure piece of information pertaining to the future of our city—as I attempt to write this column.

At least, I think it’s most likely an obscure piece of information because I assume that not everyone sits with eyes glued to a computer screen for hours at a time.

The ability to slowly step away from the screen is important, especially since you really can’t operate in the real world otherwise. It’s a little easier to pivot over on The Terminal, since the perceived need to be immediate and timely tends to drive you to get something done as soon as possible.

It’s a trade-off though, as sometimes you can try to be too current and too up-to-date with the information—something that can lead to the same level of sloppy curation (though thankfully not yet). Something written about three weeks before may not be pertinent when you discover it either in print or on the site.

Most months I find myself sitting in coffee houses as I try to make sense of the information I’ve gathered, and I see a lot of conversations happening in front of me about how much people feel chained to their devices and to a culture of too much information.

Perhaps you can argue that it’s time to unplug and not care about what’s going on. That’s been a weird concept for me to embrace. As much as I believe in paying attention to information in order to be a better informed citizen, I understand that a lot of folks just want to live their lives, unfettered by those concerns.

The funny thing is, some of those decisions they aren’t paying attention to can have a significant positive or negative effect. I hope that as more information shifts to living online here in Birmingham that we don’t suffer from a bigger case of informational ignorance   than we already seem to at times.

Maybe that’s why I’ve normally got Focus Booster (www.focusboosterapp.com) running on my laptop, ticking away the seconds as I bounce my head to big band swing and spend way too much time mastering the art of the Google search.

The Adobe AIR (get.adobe.com/air)  based app allows you to apply the Pomodoro time-management technique in a fairly non-evasive manner. It comes in most helpful when you realize those emails you thought went out for interviews are still sitting in your inbox because you didn’t make sure they  went out. It can also double as a simple meditation tool to allow you to focus on breathing and taking a step back.

Perhaps the drive to pay attention is the reason that the recently revamped My Tracks app for Android (www.google.com/mobile/mytracks) is becoming a favorite tool of mine. It allows me to keep track of my runs, walks, and meandering excursions using Google Maps. The best part is it doesn’t ask you what you’re doing until you’re finished. So if your run becomes more of a walk, you don’t have to make that decision until you’re finished. You can also download the data as a CSV file, enabling you to use your existing workout tracking programs without necessarily sharing what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

I’ve also found myself following some of the suggestions made over on The Filter Bubble (www.thefilterbubble.com/10-things-you-can-do) so I can truly get a different perspective on what’s going on. In the same vein, The Information Diet (www.informationdiet.com) helps me find ways to diversify what I learn and how I share it.

The crazier life becomes for digital nomads, the more you want to disconnect from the world. These are the tools that help me manage that sense of overload.

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