Ditch Your Media Consumption and Reclaim Your Focus

Over the weekend I spend some much needed time with my long-time friends. At one point we decided to chill out and watch a movie on the couch. We were discussing what we thought we might want to watch only to come up undecided. One of us came up with the brilliant idea to scroll through Netflix to see what might catch our attention.

After a few minutes of scrolling and feeling mildly interested in a few things on the screen, my husband says “Netflix is winning this one already.”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“You’re never going to decide what to watch unless you just pick something. There are so many choices, you’ll just scroll through the options for an hour and then give up.”

He was right. It had happened to our family plenty of times. We’d spend all of our evening scrolling through the options to pick the exact right option that we wanted to watch, all the while never really being truly satisfied with the selected show if we did finally choose one.

We ended up selecting something that the three of us were mildly interested in, but then proceeded to all scroll through our social media feeds while watching the show. At the end, we did indeed feel disappointed in the show we watched, but I can’t really be sure if it was the awful plotline or the fact that I had one eye on the TV and one eye on my phone.

This has become such a normal part of life that I didn’t really think that much about it until today when one of my friends sent a meme through a direct message on Instagram (or maybe it was a text message. Or maybe it was an out-loud discussion about a meme. I actually can’t remember now due to so many different communication channels that are used in our friendship!) It was about how Millenials are always trying to use different forms of media at once. And then the friend proceeded to tell me about how she always misses entire sections of shows because she was too distracted while looking at her phone or doing something else and then has to go back and rewind the show. Think about how much sheer time is lost having to rewatch everything!

I understand the complete irony of me sharing this message with you via a blog post, which will inevitably be the focus of an Instagram post, and also an Instagram story. Down the line it may even become a podcast. I grew up in media, I work in media, media is all I know. But please bear with me as this comes from a place of encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors, not a place of encouraging people to consume more media.

After these tidbits of conversations, I really started giving everything a good hard think. I started to realize that I really do get overwhelmed by all the media that is available to people. I get overwhelmed trying to watch or read or listen to it all because of a fear of missing out.

Netflix, Hulu, DisneyPlus, the news, the weather, Instagram feed, stories reels, TikTok videos, YouTube channels, endless websites, audiobooks, podcasts, air radio…these are just a few of the different types of media you can consume and it’s insane. There is so much to do, so many channels to keep track of, and so many pieces of media to keep up on. How does one possibly find the time to really concentrate on all of this? The truth is – its not possible. We are all faking it by multitasking and half paying attention to all things and nothing ever really gets our undivided attention.

This issue is important to me because I am often victim to constant multitasking but never really feeling satisfied at the end of the day. I am not good at multitasking and while I truly don’t think anyone actually is, I feel like I in particular really fall short in this area. I would rather focus my undivided attention on one thing, take the time to truly understand it, and immerse myself in it. I feel more satisfied, happy, and in control of my life at the end of the day when I live my life in this deliberate way.

Here are my how-to tips for deliberately consuming media to reclaim your attention and time:

Decide What You Value and Why

This tip is a really big one because it goes to the core of who you are as a person. You have to decide if you really care about the pieces of content you are consuming. For me, I value my social media accounts because they allow me to see what’s going on in my personal communities, and I like the news because it allows me to see what’s going on in the world. I value text message because it allows me to stay in touch with my close friends when we can’t be together. I like books because they entertain my mind and sometimes I read to gain skills. I don’t really care about TV that much because I don’t often find shows that really capture my attention.

Cut Out What You Don’t Need or Want

If a media type doesn’t bring you value in some way, then it’s not worth incorporating into your life or letting it take over your life. I don’t enjoy TV that much, so I purposely don’t spend much time watching TV unless I know specifically there is a show or movie that I want to watch. I try not to ever let myself scroll mindlessly through the recommended shows hoping that something comes up that I want to watch. If I have to do that, then I know my time and attention would be better spent somewhere else.

Schedule Your Media Consumption

I know this sounds like just one more thing to do but if you start doing it now, it will become a habit for you and you won’t have to spend more of your attention thinking about it. Scheduling your media consumption means something like this:

  • Before Work: Respond to personal emails and text messages
  • During Commute To Work: Listen to podcasts
  • During Lunch Break: Check social media feeds
  • During Commute Home: Listen to news or music
  • In The Evening: Watch a TV show
  • Right Before Bed: Read a Book

This type of tip works really well for me because I tend to get decision fatigue. I want to make sure my time is well spent because I am a busy person, but often I sit in my car waiting to leave for work because I’m trying to decide if I want to listen to an audiobook or listen to the news on my way. And sometimes in the middle of deciding, I will get a notification on my phone about something completely different that takes my attention away so that I completely forget what I was doing. You can choose the media you want and the timing that works for you, but ultimately this helps to organize your time so that you aren’t spending precious minutes trying to decide what you want to watch or listen to.

Reduce Media Inputs

I am notorious for obtaining things that I never intend to use. That includes mobile apps and accounts for services that I use once and never use again. For instance, I have both a Spotify account and an Apple Music account. I don’t need both and I certainly don’t need to pay for both. I could delete one of them and declutter my phone and my mind a little bit.

Let’s stick with Spotify for a second. I have a ton of playlists that I’ve created in Spotify. Most of them are playlists that I’ve never listened to again. But they sit there on my playlist list, begging me to listen to them. When I open Spotify to select music that I want to listen to, their existence hovers on the outskirts of my mind and it causes me a little bit of indecision. The same thing happens with podcasts and audiobooks. I download tons of these with the intention of possibly listening to them later on, and then I never actually do anything with them. However, in the back of my mind I have this list of content that I feel like I need to consume since I have it, and in many cases, have already paid for it. I should make a rule for myself that I shouldn’t purchase another audiobook until I’m ready to actually read it. It’s not like audiobooks sell out or are scarce.

I’ve done something similar with my email. I get a ton of newsletters and junk email that I never wanted. Every once in a while I go on an unsubscribing spree to rid myself of distracting email. Whether or not I take the time to read the messages or click on the contents, I still have to take the time to clean them out of my inbox so it’s better to just never get them in the first place.

Turn Off Notifications

I have a smartwatch and I used to have any and all notifications buzz my wrist when they came in. Facebook messages, work emails, text messages, phone calls, meeting notifications, news alerts, weather alerts, reminders, etc. For a while, all of these timely notifications allowed me to be a highly functioning professional who was still on top of her personal life. But finally, bit by bit, the pace at which I was responding to everything started to wear at me to the point where every time my watch buzzed, my heart would start palpitating I would feel a sense of dread. At one point I yanked my watch off and threw it on the floor in front of a coworker. He asked me why I bothered to wear the watch if it was making me so anxious. It made me realize that while I was answering things very quickly, I was never really accomplishing anything because something was always competing for my attention while I was in the middle of something else – wearing the watch was just not worth the stress it caused.

I finally cut the notification habit – I turned off all watch and phone notifications from every app, except for text messages and phone calls. I only see what’s on the news when I am curious about what is on the news. I only see my new emails when I schedule a time to read my email. I only see notifications and social media comments when I choose to open a social media app. These things no longer distract me and I gave myself the power over my attention by being deliberate about when I check certain things.

Do Something In The Real World – Like Exploring Outdoors

It’s easy to get caught up in the digital world. It’s an endless ecosystem of content that we could spend the rest of our lives consuming and never actually get through everything. It’s ultimately unsatisfying because there is nothing tangible about it. It doesn’t feel like an accomplishment – at least to me, it doesn’t. Learning to get outside and enjoy the tangible beauty of the world has been the best thing for me. Sitting still at the moment while on a rock-solid boulder while watching the leaves lightly rustle with the breeze is the most relaxing content I’ve consumed. Watching the clouds float by, creating moving patterns of shadows on the landscape below is actually fun and feels like it is worth my time. I enjoy it more than any Netflix show or news article. I feel more satisfied when I’ve climbed a mountain than I do when I respond to the massive amount of emails in my inbox. Being outside reframes my mind and helps me to focus on the things that really matter.

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