It may be showing my age to talk about the transformative nature of technology in the world, but I’m old enough to remember the pre-Internet age. I can remember the rise of email, Blackberries, then smartphones, and social media. While technological advancements have always turned the tide of the world as we know it, we’re living in an age where technological leaps are moving so quickly and condensed that just ten and twenty years can create whole shifts in our culture.
In the 2000s, we began to live digital lives—connected fully to the internet and the devices in our pockets.
While the digital age is highly advantageous for acquiring information, communicating, and working with ease, there’s a danger to our increasing connectivity. Becoming overrun and ruled by our technology is easier than ever and, in fact, it’s insidious.
Part of personal leadership—that is, the ability to define and direct your life with clarity and consistency—is getting a hold of the things that would challenge your personal authority over your life. This can be your finances, the influence of other people, and yes, technology.
These are my top strategies for keeping the digital devices in your life from overstepping and taking control. Instead, keeping them within acceptable parameters allows you to maintain high productivity and a clear focus on your personal and professional goals.
4 Ways to Keep Your Digital Life Under Control
1) Turn off unimportant notifications.
First things first: get your notifications under control. I think we’ve developed an almost Pavlovian response to that notification ping! It makes us immediately want to grab our phones and see what we’re missing. And if we’re honest, for the vast majority of the time, we are not being notified of anything important. It’s all furniture sales and telling you of a new upload from your great aunt or someone you’re subscribed to.
We’re often in the middle of important work or time with people we love, and these notifications pull us away from both intimate family moments and “the zone” where our brains are most engaged and productive in work.
Turn off notifications. You likely still need them for text messages and your tidied-up business emails, but everything else? You really don’t need to be pinged. It’s not enough to put your phone on silent. Truly filter out the noise by going into your settings and turning off these notifications, period. You will be amazed by how much mental clutter it eliminates.
2) Cut down who and what you follow.
If you want to dive deeper than simply shutting out notifications, I recommend purging who and what you follow across various platforms. Whether you have Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, email lists, podcast subscriptions, or other social media resources that you follow and engage with, there are no doubt limitless ways you can waste your time.
These things are likely full of good content. Be they sources of good information or connections to people you genuinely like, I’m not suggesting any of these are bad. What happens, however, is that they compete for precious space in our minds and hearts.
Two things happen when we are involved in so many platforms, following so many people, productions, and websites: we get distracted. We can spend hours lost, scrolling, and seeing the latest updates that don’t actually offer anything meaningful for our lives.
Turning off notifications only does so much if we’re still left with mental and digital clutter. Unfollowing and purging these feeds to leave only what we truly want to see and engage with frees up our mental and emotional energy when we do look at our devices. What do you really want to spend your digital time with? This is a big question to ask.
3) Leave your device behind.
When smartphones rose in popularity, one of the biggest points of contention was our lack of self-control with them. They were new—we didn’t have social or legal rules in place for when and where was appropriate or inappropriate to use them. As a result, texting and driving, or walking on the sidewalk, or while having dinner with your family all became points of contention. While we’ve begun to distinguish what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to technology usage, I still think we struggle with these boundaries.
One thing that you can do to take personal leadership in the area of technology is simply leaving your devices behind at certain times. Maybe when you get home from work, you put it on the charger and leave it there, away from you while you unwind. Maybe you leave it on the dresser instead of at your bedside so you don’t browse late at night.
Setting up defined boundaries—even simple ones, like not allowing phones at the dinner table—is the beginning of taking control back.
4) Fill your downtime with worthwhile endeavors.
So what then, do you do with this time when you set boundaries? Freeing yourself from the mental clutter of notifications and the need to check and be constantly engaged with technology is the first step. But personal leadership isn’t just about denial, it’s about growth. In order to take control of your digital life, you have to do something with the room that you make.
Are you filling your downtime with worthwhile pursuits? How are you enriching your life? This isn’t to say eliminate digital clutter and refill it with new clutter.
What I am saying is that when you fill your life with quality pursuits—things that you find bring you joy and enrichment—the low-quality distractions of technology will not be as attractive to us.
Personal leadership is about intentionality. We must approach our lives and time with a sense of purpose. While technology can enable us to do this more effectively, it can also distract from it. It's up to us to be aware and intentional about how we utilize our resources.
What are your best strategies for managing your digital life? Share your tips in the comments.