The more that technology connects us, the more disconnected (distracted) we can get, which negatively impacts our stress level, personal down time, and quality time with loved ones. We feel a wave of terror if we leave the house without our cell phones, and we must attend to every buzz and ding that emanates from a nearby pocket, purse, or PC. No wonder we’re feeling frazzled.
I came across the opportunity to review Joanne Cantor Ph.D.’s book, Conquer CyberOverload: Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity, and Reduce Stress while I was finishing an article about multitasking (and how unproductive it is). I often write articles based on what I am experiencing, and I am no stranger to feeling overwhelmed or anxious with some of the projects I have my hands in.
Conquer CyberOverload is a small book–the perfect length for the short attention spans of readers Dr. Cantor has targeted.
Dr. Cantor cites much research that shows how little our brain can process when do try to do certain types of tasks at the same time (also known as multitasking, but in reality is task-switching). She also gives suggestions and practical ideas at the end of each chapter in table summaries on such things as how to manage our high-tech devices, and keep email and other interruptions from impeding progress on the things we try to accomplish. These summaries help you use the knowledge you’ve learned in a practical manner.
Now I’ll highlight a few of the noteworthy things I found in each of the five chapters.
Chapter 1- How the Digital Revolution Changed Everything
We love to be connected to others, whether it’s on our Blackberry, Twitter, Facebook—you name it. But there’s a reason that many businesses now request that you turn of your cell before they give you customer service—you cannot focus when your attention is divided. Dr. Cantor explains how when you are working on two intensive tasks, the brain switches from one to the other, and each time it switches, you lose your place and both tasks suffer.
Chapter 2- “Now Where Was I…?”
Dr. Cantor gives some simple, brief exercises that you can do without getting up from your seat. The exercises demonstrate the task-switching that happens when the brain is trying to concentrate on two cognitive tasks at once. It gives credence to the thought that multitasking should be called half-tasking.
To most productive, Dr. Cantor suggests limiting interruptions and setting a time for certain tasks such as checking emails. Perhaps you can wait until a natural break in your work to check your emails and voice mails, she says, and she has additional tactics to try if you are concerned about being reached in a true emergency.
Chapter 3- “I’m Drowning in It!”
To get to the ‘eureka’ moment of a breakthrough when we are looking for creative ideas or solutions, Dr. Cantor discusses the benefit of alternating between periods of tight focus and relaxation. She also explains how sleep—even if it’s just a short nap—can help you retain memory and enhance learning.
Another thing that resonated with me: Research proves that we get overwhelmed when we have to make a decision and are faced with too many choices. (This explains why I procrastinate and have so much paper clutter!)
Chapter 4- “That’s Entertainment??!!”
The concepts in this chapter make a great argument for why I don’t watch horror, gruesome violence, or porn flicks. I don’t even watch news on TV that often. The images from the media stay with you, and Dr. Cantor gives scientific reasons for why we relive some of the emotions associated with the media. We can recall movie scenes that we haven’t seen in years because a part of our brain holds onto our emotional responses. Some programs or movies can make you feel anxious or depressed as well as other positive emotions. That’s why it’s so important to be choosy about what you and your kids watch.
Chapter 5- “Yes You Can”
Dr. Cantor leaves us with a wise, open attitude about how to manage information overload: a little at a time. Adopt some of her methods and leave others. Try them and see how much relief you get. It’s all about balance. “Rather than abandoning our gadgets,” she writes, “the solution lies in understanding the brain and developing habits that maximize their positive and minimize their negative effects…The more we understand how the brain works,…the more effectively we can create an environment that nurtures our creativity and productivity while keeping our stress low.”
Conquer CyberOverload is easy reading in every day language, and is short enough for a busy professional to read and apply right away (at 100 pages, you can polish it off in an hour or so). I enjoyed it. Dr. Cantor’s candor (sorry I couldn’t resist) and research was refreshing and easy to read, and confirmed some of the statements I made in my own article (pending publication as of this writing).
If you, like me, get easily distracted online, check out this great roundup of resources.