A Technological Diet

On a note not entirely unrelated to my recent hiatus from all things internet, today’s post is about the damaging effect of excessive technology.  I haven’t been on the internet much for the last two weeks- the first was because the week before spring break is always hectic at school, and the second was because I took a spur of the moment trip to the Dominican Republic and there wasn’t much internet access.

Since essentially my entire job is based on the internet, I spent lots of time on my computer reading articles, tweeting, blogging, facebooking, and interacting with other organisations.  I obsessively read newsletters, try to keep up with all of the blogs that I follow, and bookmark interesting things to research and write about.  These aren’t the healthiest of things, but I still manage to set myself a limit (albeit a high one) of how much time I spend online.  I noticed a huge shift in my general well-being when I resolved to spend more time not staring at a computer screen.

I also noticed, however, that the amount of time spent around technology isn’t my only problem.  One effect of my self-imposed technology limit was that I was trying to cram everything I usually do into less time.  I was trying to rush through everything and absorb it all in far too little time.  I can control the quantity of my internet usage, but how efficiently I was using it proved much more difficult.  I think that technology itself isn’t what’s really to blame, but how we utilise it.  Instant communication and nearly unlimited information- how could it be a bad thing?  In reality, the availability of information is something that we don’t know how to deal with.  As humans, we just aren’t capable of processing all of the information we throw at ourselves.  Trying to keep track of hundreds of Facebook friends, reading cluttered Twitter feeds, watching viral videos and giggling at memes- though it all seems like mindless procrastination, it still takes brainpower.  Even right now you are processing information as you read this post about how damaging excessive information is.  Ironic.

Our technology is evolving faster than we are.  We’re a species with increasing health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, twitching eyelids, and rapidly increasing ADD diagnoses.  We think this “progress” is helping us, but we’re not really sure how to deal with the information overload.  We’re losing analytical skills because we can look anything up instantly, our conversational abilities are diminishing with each tweet that we send, our memories are disintegrating, and interacting face-to-face is getting more and more difficult.

It’s a losing battle, and not one that we can just walk away from.  After my four days with basically no internet, I came back to 297 emails.  Nothing catastrophic had happened while I was gone, but there were also dozens of things that required immediate attention and that I couldn’t just ignore.  We are all involved in the technological world and there’s really no way to avoid it entirely.

I’ve been mostly successful in preventing a complete media overload by avoiding live television and trying to stay away from overly commercial locations like shopping malls.  Keeping myself sane while working on my own computer has proven to be a lot more difficult though, especially given my current job as a content and social media manager.  I still feel the need to read everything that could possibly be relevant to my life or job and stay somewhat involved with online communities, and I do check Facebook more than I would care to admit.

I’m pretty good at problem-solving, but this one continues to confound me.  How do you avoid a technology overload?  Do you just learn to cope?

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Capabilities

You are capable of about a hundred times more than you think you are.  This is sort of related to my post about Body Clocks– I promise, you seriously underestimate yourself.  There’s a conception about what’s a “normal” amount of things to do and how busy people are these days.  That may be true, but our bodies are built to handle stress!  I’m not saying that we don’t all deserve downtime- hey, I make sure I have time for a nice cup of tea at night and a pretty substantial amount of nice, restorative yoga a couple times a week.  But if you do have to go on a seriously intense spree of work, I promise you will survive.

This is a thought that I have periodically around certain times- mid-semester projects, juries, finals, deadlines at work.  Today I was wigging out a bit about my impending recital and the other two concerts in which I am performing in the three days immediately preceding it (not to mention all of the schoolwork and job stuff as well).  I haven’t come that close to a genuine freakout in quite awhile, and it was not something pleasant to experience.  I just had to keep reminding myself that it is not the end of the world, and that I can still balance my life.  Just make some time and take a few extra minutes to breathe.  And on Sunday after my recital, I am going to do nothing for the entire day.  Being busy is just another cyclical part of life, as is making some time to relax afterwards.

In case you need some perspective about what you and your body are actually capable of, here’s a list of awesome facts (I love lists):

  • Your stomach acid can dissolve metals.
  • Human bone is stronger than concrete- it can hold as much weight as granite!
  • Your brain can hold between 3 and 1,000 terabytes of information (makes midterms sound easy)
  • Your brain is immune to pain (think harder)!
  • Your heart can squirt blood 30 feet (don’t try this at home)
  • One human hair can hold 3.5 ounces
  • Your hair is basically indestructible, other than by fire.
  • If it really came down to it, you could still be alive without your spleen, 75% of your liver, 80% of your intestines, a kidney, a lung, and nearly all of the stuff in your pelvic area.
  • Your nose can remember over 50,000 scents (can someone harness this power to memorise other stuff?)
  • You can go for ten days without sleeping.
  • You can go for a month or two without food.
Trust me, whatever you’re going through?  You’ll survive =)
Sources: 1 2

Yes and No

I have always taken every opportunity that life has thrown at me.  This has led to some awesome experiences (getting great gigs, learning to ride a motorcycle through the Himalayas) and some less awesome experiences (not having time to sleep, being unprepared).  There is a delicate line between taking on too little and trying to do too much, and I have definitely spent most of my more recent years jumping back and forth over it.  I’m not afraid of much, but I am terrified of missed opportunities so I often say yes to things that I perhaps shouldn’t.  I’ve found myself taking 27 credits (more than twice a normal courseload) while working three jobs, holding e-board positions in organisations, and finding time to exercise and practice my instruments while still coping, but there have also been times when I’ve taken on a lot less and still felt overwhelmed.

At the same time, it is always important to seize new opportunities when appropriate.  Many people want things but don’t think that they deserve them or are qualified, and they really miss out.  My rule is that you are always capable of more than you think.  I have tried so many different things that I would never have thought myself able to do or enjoy, and I have very rarely regretted it.  As a freshman, I took on the task of accompanying an entire choir (usually a graduate piano major’s job) despite not having had a piano lesson in over six years.  It kicked my ass, but I learned so much from the experience and I’ve been working with the choir since.  This past summer I took a job at a marketing firm as an intern just to make some money.  I said “yes” to any task they asked me to do even if I had no clue how to do it, so I sometimes had to teach myself random things-like designing, slicing and coding an email blast or writing a press release-in an hour.  It was stressful, but I realised that I actually liked working there and had a knack for it, so now I’m graduating school a year early with a job already lined up.  In both of these cases, I was grossly underqualified for the positions, but simply because I took the opportunities that arose, I benefitted immensely.  I often accept opportunities before thinking about whether or not I am capable of them, and even if it blows up in my face (like one time when I offered to fill in for a gig despite having a 104 degree fever) I end up learning a lot more from it.

It’s really difficult to know when it’s a good idea to take something on and when it’s not, not only for time reasons but also just for general wellbeing.  All it is is another way of prioritising, though.  Is the opportunity something you want to do?  Is it something only you can do, or can someone else do it better or enjoy it more than you?  Will this opportunity come by again?  How much of a time commitment is it really, and are you willing to make other sacrifices?  Is it something you will enjoy, or will it stress you out?  Will you be able to make this commitment, or are you spreading yourself too thin?  Will this experience set you apart in terms of your career or other life goals?  Thinking about things like this before you decide whether or not to take a chance or opportunity can be very clarifying, because when you know what your motivation is for making a decision, you will be far more at peace with it and probably also more organised in how you approach it.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Making time

One balance that I find particularly difficult in life is that of time.  I’m always running around trying to get stuff done and I very rarely have time to relax.  I know the importance of just mellowing out every so often, but life is so short and there is so much to do that I often take the “sleep is for the dead” approach.  Many people prefer to take life more slowly and take on less obligations, and that’s fine- but they can benefit from stretching their perception of time too.

The trick in finding your balance is knowing what’s negotiable and what’s not in order to alter your perception of time.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that my only real “pet peeve” is hearing someone say “I don’t have time.”  Nobody magically “has” time.  Successful people create time, because if something is important you must find the time for it.  End of story.  I find it incredibly important to go to the gym every day, so I make time for it no matter what.  I’ll sleep less, I’ll scarf a meal faster than I should (I’m the master of the four-minute lunch), I’ll be a few minutes late to the practice room- I even schedule my classes and rehearsals around gym time.  I’m not joking.  To me, it is a major priority (possibly a major addiction but hey, it’s better than crack).

When you grasp the idea of priorities, your day will magically start to get longer.  Seriously- you will begin to do things more efficiently because you have incentive, and your perception of time will just expand to fill it.  It’s proven:  Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time you have to do them.  Well, Fiona’s Law states that tasks also shrink to fill the time you have to do them.  Haven’t you ever noticed that the busiest people have the most time?

It’s all about priorities and give and take.  If it is a priority for you to go for a run before breakfast twice a week, make it happen no matter what.  Go to bed earlier the night before, arrange your schedule at work a bit differently, stash breakfast at your office- whatever it takes.  When you start to sort out one priority at a time, soon you won’t even think about scheduling anymore.  It becomes second nature to figure out what’s the most efficient way of getting things done so that you can make more time for your priorities.  Here are a few quick tips to help you start prioritising and finding more time:

  • Start small.  Suddenly trying to find four hours every day to practice painting will not happen.  Start with an extra half an hour, and slowly find more when the opportunities arise.
  • Small bits of time add up.  Say you have six classes in a day.  If you wait around for fifteen minutes before each of those classes, that’s 90 minutes right there.  Do something small during those 90 minutes that you would usually have to do at another time, like reading or checking emails.
  • Move quickly.  Seriously, people waste so much time walking slowly.  Get some exercise and get places faster- two birds with one stone!  Also, walking quickly alters your entire mindset- you’ll be much more productive.
  • Multitask.  Research shows that those who multitask don’t do as well with each task.  That may be true, but now much effort does it really take to do the dishes while the water is boiling for dinner?  Or to stop at the post office on the way to the bank instead of making two trips?  Pay bills online while you’re on hold with customer service?
  • Sort your tasks.  Sort of like multitasking: check your emails, facebook, twitter, pay online bills, do anything that needs your computer- at the same time.  If you do similar tasks at the same time, you can move from one to the next much faster than if you were running back and forth all over the place.
  • Say no.  I’m all for taking awesome opportunities and saying “yes” all the time.  But if you’re really in a time crunch and someone asks you to do something that you know someone else is available to do, don’t feel pressured to say yes.
  • Schedule.  I’m a very spontaneous person, but I do keep a schedule.  If you have a schedule of what you need to do in some sort of chronological order (nothing formal, just something loose like “go to the gym for 2 hours in the morning, lunch, go to the bank, then practice for 3 hours, etc.) then you can know exactly how much flexibility you have when something inevitably gets thrown off, you know when you can take a 20-minute coffee break, and you won’t get stressed if you fall a wee bit behind.
  • Organised to-do lists.  Sort of like a schedule, but more long-term.  I keep a list of all my assignments with things that need to get done ASAP and things that have dates way off in the future.  Prioritise things that are due soon, but let yourself slack a little bit with things that are further off in the future.
  • Manage your media.  We live in such a cluttered world.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, commercials, TV…these things are all huge time sucks.  How easy is it to creep on your friends for an hour when you just meant to shoot a quick message, or watch four episodes of Modern Family because they’re all on Hulu?  I’m not saying to go crazy and delete all your accounts, but at be conscious of how much time you spend “plugged in.”  Not only does it physically take time, but it also adds stress and overstimulation to your life.
  • Sleep less.  In a healthy way, not in a miserable caffeine-dependent way.
  • Don’t be a slave.  The idea isn’t the whip yourself to misery.  The point is, by slowly making adjustments to how you perceive time you will naturally become a more efficient person.  Sometimes you just need to park it on the sofa and sit still for awhile, and that’s totally fine.
May you all bask in more free time!

Slacking off is productive!

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of being unproductive: trying to get stuff done when you’re not into it, and not getting stuff done when you’re on a roll.

There are times when I am so productive that I have cancelled plans (super lame, I know) to keep working.  I’ve blasted through tons of things on my to-do list and toiled for hours and felt really good about it.  I’m talking writing five-page papers in 45 minutes, learning a movement of a concerto in a few hours, and cleaning the entire kitchen with a smile on my face.

Conversely, there are times when I have had so much to do but I just couldn’t get into it.  I’ve sat and watched twelve episodes of How I Met Your Mother the night before a term paper was due, avoided the practice room at all costs during the weekend of a concert, and sat on Stumbleupon while I was supposed to be paying bills.

This works, however, because they balance out.  There’s an equilibrium between doing nothing and doing too much.  It’s important to define which is happening, though.  It has to do with honouring your body’s natural cycles– sometimes you have tons of productive energy, and sometimes you just need to mellow out.  If you dishonour this, it’s entirely counter-productive.  I know that if I’m trying to read for class and I keep reading the same sentence over and over again, I’m just going to have to do it again later.  I’ll sit and get stressed about how I can’t focus, and that is entirely counter-productive.  If I’m trying to learn a new piano piece and I can’t make the fingerings come naturally, I’m just going to have to un-do all of the incorrect practicing I do later anyway, which is even harder than starting fresh.  At the same time, sitting playing Portal when I’ve got loads of energy is a waste of time as well.  I could be getting ahead in my work so that later when my energy dips or my friends want to hang out, I can just relax.

Of course, if you’re constantly in a rut you need to make a lifestyle change to get more energy but if you plan ahead and work as much as you can when you can, slacking off is an important part of being productive.  It’s just another one of the dichotomies that life throws at us.  Point is, work hard when you can so that you’re able to play hard when you can’t.

Body Clocks

When my mum used to tell me about why it was important to sleep (even at a young age I didn’t want to waste the time when there was adventure to be found), she used the words “body clock.”  I used to think that we literally had a Dali-esque squishy clock organ inside of our bodies that told us when things needed to be done.  I don’t think I was really that far from the truth, though.  Time is sort of a fallacy created by humans as an attempt to find order in the universe, but at the same time it is entirely authentic.  We just all have our own perception of it through that mythical part of our body: the clock.

Some people like to stay up late, and find themselves most productive in the wee hours of the morning.  Others get up with the sun and find that to be the best.  Some need 9 hours of sleep every night, others only 5 or 6.  I can’t sleep if I eat just before bed, but my brother can devour six pounds of curly fries and sleep like a baby.  Everyone is different, however, everyone is adaptable.

At my worst, I stayed up until 2 or 3 each morning, downed about twelve cups of coffee at 630 each morning to get through the day (not exaggerating), and then caught up with 12-14 hours of sleep each night over the weekend.  I was also sedentary and had terrible eating habits as a vegetarian who had never even met tofu.  I was overweight and miserable.

Then university happened, and there was so much to be done!  I trained myself to be a polyphasic sleeper: I took 4 hour-long naps during the day so I could be awake for 20 hours of the day.  This was miserable for the first two weeks, and then it was awesome.  It was like being high all the time, but with amazing productivity.  I think I accomplished more in a day than some of the other kids on my floor did in a week.  I got a lot thinner and happier.  This pattern didn’t last though, because when you sleep so little you have to be incredibly precise, and having to take a nap every day at dinner time killed my social life.

Now, I’ve reached a happy medium.  I sleep for a solid 6 hours just about every night.  This works because I exercise every day and eat a lot better, so that little bit of sleep is high quality.  In fact, this semester I’m only taking 21 credits and I only have two real jobs so I decided to try sleeping more- but I just can’t do it!  I can get 7 hours if I really wipe myself out, but that’s about it.  Apparently, my window of opportunity is between 3 and 7 hours- but that’s still a lot of flexibility!  Now I’m in great shape and I barely need any coffee- usually just a bit before the gym in the morning.

The point is, everyone has some sort of flexibility with their body clocks.  Anyone who says “I need eleven hours of sleep every night” simply does not know how to optimise his or her life.  Here are some tips to get started:

  • Be strict!  At first, you won’t feel great when adjusting your habits but you have to stick to it.  Research shows that new habits take up to three weeks to form.
  • But be forgiving– if you fall off one day, don’t just give up.  Nobody is judging you- just pick yourself back up and try again.
  • Be careful when you eat– if you know you don’t sleep well after eating a lot, don’t down a bag of chips just before bed!  It takes self control, but try a nice cup of tea instead.  Or at least something light like soup if you’re seriously famished.
  • Set alarms– plural!  I have three alarms every morning set at 15-minute intervals.  Now I wake up before they go off, but when you first start shifting your body clock you need lots of reminders.  Sleeping an extra 15 minutes at one time is better than hitting the snooze button seven times!
  • Exercise!  It will boost your energy during the day and you will sleep so much better at night.  Just know how it affects you personally- are you wired after your workout or do you need to pass out?  Figure out which is best for you, and time your workouts accordingly.
  • Make plans- You’re much more likely to get up if you know you have plans to grab breakfast with your friends.
  • Be productive- You’ll sleep a lot better if you have crossed at least one thing off your to-do list for the day.
  • Follow a circadian rhythm- Sure, some people are night owls.  But I guarantee you that if you can shift yourself to spending more of your waking hours with the sun, your health will improve.  Our bodies are optimised for natural light, not this electrical nonsense.  If at all possible, try to get up earlier in the day!
  • Honor your body- as always.  Sometimes you might find it difficult to stick to schedule.  Once in awhile, it’s totally fine to stay in your bed all day reading or watching trashy TV.  Everyone needs a guilty-pleasure binge once in awhile.  Just make sure you get up on time the next day and greet the world!

The Big Bang

So, this is my first foray into the blogging world since the explosion (and nearly immediate demise) of Xanga in middle school.  I was never one for blogging or keeping journals because it seems self-absorbed to assume that anyone would be interested in reading about my thoughts.  It turns out, my life is a lot more interesting than I give myself credit for because so many people that I know have requested that I write about what I am good at.  Question is, what on earth are they talking about?

I used to be fairly miserable- pretty overweight and suffering from a host of psychological issues.  Near the end of high school, something exploded. I dumped my negative boyfriend (sorry, I’m not sorry), joined a gym, and found ways of interacting positively with the world around me.  I had been trying yoga since middle school, but I really threw myself into it.  I kickboxed until my biceps felt like they would explode.  I read about how to be a healthy vegetarian rather than subsist on carb-heavy side dishes.  I stopped listening to depressing goth-rock and directed my taste towards mellow indie music and mentally stimulating psychedelic tunes from the 60s.  I slowly ditched my all-black wardrobe in favor of grungy neutrals (hey, it’s an improvement) and spent as much time as possible hanging out with friends rather than sitting in my room sketching and writing moody song lyrics.

Now, I am in my third year at Syracuse University.  I’m a music major (voice and piano) with minors in Business Administration and Information Technology and an awesome job lined up for me as soon as I graduate- a year early.  I’ve taken between 19 and 27 credits each semester while working between 2 and 6 jobs at any time.  My friends think I’m crazy and my family knows I am, but really I’m not particularly special.  I just know how to manage my time, what’s negotiable (that extra hour of sleep), and what’s not (hitting the gym).  If you can benefit from my experience, then I’m more than happy to share!

So, what am I good at?  That varies on a day to day basis, but one thing that I am always good at is finding a way of being content, come hell or high water.  This is a blog about how best to navigate this tumultuous world that we inhabit through positivity, a healthy yogic lifestyle, exercise, and efficiency so that you too can always find a way of being at peace.