I just read the free (PDF) version of Leo Babauta's book Focus (available in various versions here). I also read this article by Nicolas Carr, the basic premise of which is that our brains can hold only so much information at once, so distractions physically overload us. These two items fell fortuitously across my reading vision, but hey, I'll go with it.
I used to be a disciple of the voluntary simplicity movement (see Duane Elgin's Voluntary Simplicity [Amazon link] and Timothy Miller's How to Want What You Have [Amazon link] for the two books that really influenced me). Partly it was out of necessity, because I was broke and had to live simply, but also this sort of thinking has always seemed like a good idea. I'm not consistent about it: I spend a crazy amount of time complicating my life with gadgets and productivity systems, but I just sort of accept that this a hobby for me, and as long as it's not compromising me financially or otherwise it's really not that bad of a vice. Otherwise, I do trend toward the "enough is enough" tenet. I wear clothes until they fall apart, I'm fine with my little roller-skate car, and I'm happily situated in my small, plain apartment. I don't need anything else.
However. I hadn't realized how much digital minutiae has stealthily intruded on my free time. I'm not even talking about rewarding minutiae like READING an e-mail or a Facebook update; I'm talking about the time spent fruitlessly checking all these sites for something that might be interesting. Also compelling was the novel idea that my e-mail inbox is someone else's to-do list for me. Seen in that light, it can freaking wait.
I'd already turned off most of the dings and boings from my phone because the thing sounded like a field of crickets. If someone calls me, it rings. It tells me if I have a voicemail. It tells me if I have a text message (because texts are typically my go-to communication units). Otherwise, nada. No bleeps or dings for e-mails, tweets, Facebook updates, or breaking news alerts. I don't even have e-mail pushed to my phone anymore, and the other services update silently. I look at my phone often enough that I'm not likely to miss anything vital. After I read Focus, I smothered my computers similarly. Growl = gone, dock and menubar notifiers = gone. I've been checking my e-mail 3 times a day unless I'm expecting something I want to see instantly and then refusing to look at it in between: this is a HUGE load off. I look at Facebook once or twice a day and then close the tab. There's no help for my Twitter addiction, so we won't discuss it. News feeds...I unsubscribed from a lot of them and have given myself permission not to have to look at every. Single. Item. If something truly important occurs, I'll find out. Probably on Twitter.
Furthermore, I dimly recalled this idea of doing one thing at a time, a recommendation that has arisen from various angles throughout my life, and strangely it actually does improve my outlook. Shocking. I maybe have cut down to...two or three things at a time, but it's progress, not perfection. The point is that I even enjoy work a lot more if I just work when I'm there. That sounds ridiculous, but my head is a busy place, a bad neighborhood where I should rarely venture alone. I can be at work and simultaneously be planning the next week, worrying about the next 6 months, berating myself for the day before, which I can't change anyway, and pondering any number of esoteric and unrelated topics (should I buy a blue nose ring? when does the dog need his rabies shot? ...). My last few shifts I've gone to work and just worked. Then I came home and did not-work stuff. Then I tried and failed to sleep because of a hideous rhinovirus, but that's beside the point. I enjoyed my shifts a lot more because I was able to actually be around for them 100%. Ish.
These treatises crossed my path at a good time, that time being evidently when I was receptive to them. Simplicity can be about things, but I'm focused more currently on purposeful use of my time. Do I want to spend my free hour reading Facebook updates or a novel? If Facebook, fine, but I want it to be a more deliberate choice as opposed to the automatic squandering of my time I've fallen into over the last few years. If the novel, I won't be checking e-mails or Facebook anymore while I'm reading it.