The exhausting compulsion to hit “refresh”

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I love this “secret of adulthood” by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project: “Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy.”

We’re so good at tricking ourselves into escaping things we know we should do, have to do, and even want to do — all of which would lead to increasing our ultimate happiness — because those things are uncomfortable or unpleasant or just not fun. Hello, procrastination!

But Oh, What a Wonderful Feeling

It’s the same with productivity. There are so many things that trick me into that exciting, seemingly stimulating feeling of being productive.

Yet feeling productive and actually being productive are quite different. The rise of real-time communication in this digital age capitalizes on our very human bad habit of desiring and relishing that feeling. The sheer flood of information that flows through apps and tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, texting, chatting, checking in and checking out, submerges our brains. All those things feel like verbs and actions, like we’re getting stuff done.

That feeling doesn’t move the needle. How is it possible to be productive without producing?

There’s only so much we can take in at a time. Human beings are naturally bad at understanding how well we pay attention to things and how we spend our time. At some point, we’re just making a mess, moving around our saturated sponge-minds.

The trouble is that even when we don’t make any real progress, we still spend our finite energy and attention chasing that feeling.

How to Savor Slower Web

It’s crazy that we sap our energy by engaging an interminable cycle of hitting refresh. Technology isn’t the total culprit in disrupting and distracting. We can choose what to let into our digital lives, by paying attention to, well, how we pay attention.

The thing is, it can be a pain to change our ways. It’s like going on a diet after being on a regular course of fast food. All that salt, sugar, and fat gets us hooked. But we do have the ability to be cognizant of our complicity, to take more control, and to tune into slower, quieter frequencies with tools that follow principles of the slow web, allowing you to interact when you want. Less of a content firehose, more of an oasis.

How do we create that oasis? Here are some tools and tips to get started:

  •  Use platforms like to help you take a slower stroll through curated content and put your stamp on your own collection.
  • iDoneThis:  Wearing many hats working with content, I use iDoneThis with my startup team. Every day, I get an email that asks me what I’ve done, I spend a few minutes to reply with what I’ve accomplished, even when they’re small steps forward. The next day, I get a digest email of what everyone has done. It keeps me accountable both with my team and myself, and prevents me from getting away with spending all my time chasing that deceptively productive feeling.
  • Feedly:  As a fan of libraries, I’m still on-board the RSS train. Organize content from blogs, publications, and other sources into one place.
  • Pocket and Instapaper:  Save articles to read later without getting off track with your flow.
  • Lists, digests, and filters:  Most apps have settings and extensions that can help keep your head above water. Curate and pare down lists on Twitter and filter out meaningless information like check-ins. Turn on digests. Turn off infinite scroll and notifications.
  • Schedule quiet time: Set aside time to unplug, either through tools like Freedom, which shuts off internet access for blocks of time, or by intentionally protecting certain times from interruption and distraction.

By disconnecting from all the series of tubes more often, and connecting more consciously when you do, you’ll arrive at feeds when you’re hungry rather than mindlessly snacking all day.

Pain and Gain

Changing your information diet, as with a food diet, takes effort and practice. And let’s be real here: it’s not fun, and you’ll fall off the wagon a lot. You have to do stuff while looking at all the other people eating burgers and fries and instagramming appetizing photos.

But slow and steady, you can built a habit. You get used to a slower web and the real, producing-kind of productivity, especially when you’ve consciously carved out time and space to play, ponder, be bored, and be uncomfortable.

Weirdly enough, this is what efficiency looks like — involving pause and strain.

There’s value in that pause and strain. Let’s not discount the joy of discovering new things and receiving stuff into our brain’s inbox with information and inspiration. But without processing and producing, struggling and ruminating, some stewing and savoring — all that input flits away, an illusion.

Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, the easiest progress management tool that helps you recognize what everyone has gotten done. She writes about productivity, creativity, and the way people work. Follow her on Twitter @iDoneThis and @lethargarian.

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Rory Euroasia Buildingtrading
Rory Euroasia Buildingtrading
10 years ago

I know the feeling. Great article.

10 years ago

Thanks for reading!

10 years ago

Very good article. I’ll check out iDoneThis – sounds interesting. I would add next to Pocket and Instapaper. Sound Gekko is a kind of “read it to me later” tool.

Janet Choi
10 years ago
Reply to  Michael

Thanks Michael! Sorry for the belated reply. I’ll have to check soundgekko out- it sounds intriguing!

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