Edit Your Life, Part 6: A Media Fast

Quick note: Every Wedneday is Simplicity Day on Zen Habits, and for the next few weeks, these posts will be a series called “Edit Your Life,” looking at ways to simplify different parts of your life.

I’m a former newspaper editor, and one of the things I learned was to edit brutally (no sarcastic comments about why I don’t do that with my blog posts). Cut out everything that’s not necessary, and you’ve got a more meaningful story.

I highly recommend editing your life.

Today’s edit: A Media Fast.

This is going to be a controversial post, undoubtedly, as it will ask you to consider giving up some of the things you’re addicted to most: television, DVDs, movies, news, magazines, newspapers, and … gasp! … the Internet. Don’t tune out yet, though: this is not a permanent thing, but call it an experiment instead.

Take a minute to think about how much information you process every day. If you’re like me and a lot of other people, you get a lot of your news on the Internet, and you also read a lot of blogs. You might also read books and magazines and newspapers. You probably also watch a lot of TV, where you get entertainment and news. You might watch a lot of DVDs, and listen to the radio on the way to work. At work, you might get memos and emails and a billion other pieces of information coming at you. You might be a part of an online forum, or social site, or newsgroup, or mailing list (or several!).

It’s information overload.

Our brains are not made to process this much information. We can do it, but it gives us a lot of stress, and we cannot think about any of the information long enough for it to give us real value. We are in the middle of a vast river of information, and it just flows by us constantly.

And then there’s all the time we spend on all this media.

Take a minute to think about how much time you spend online (typically a few hours), watching TV or DVDs (typically a few more hours), and reading all the other stuff mentioned above (another hour or two). Now think about how many goals you could accomplish if you cut those activities out of your life. The time you would gain would be tremendous.

So what do you do about it? Sometimes it’s good to get drastic. Try a media fast. But is it even possible? Yes, it is. Here are some ideas:

  • If you’re feeling bold, cut out everything for a week. Well, everything that isn’t completely essential — you might need things like email for work, but can you really say that reading your blogs is essential? Is TV essential? Most likely not. Cut it out and see if you can make it a week.
  • Fast for a day. Can’t hack a week? Try one day. Cutting all Internet, TV, radio, and reading (other than fiction) for a day would be pretty drastic for most of us. See if you can last.
  • Fast on specific media, and take turns. Instead of cutting out everything, try cutting out only TV for a week. Then try cutting out newspapers and magazines. Then … if you dare … try cutting out your blogs. Then your favorite websites (whether it’s Digg, Netscape, a forum, wherever).
  • When you fast, work on specific goals. Don’t replace one media with another, or with another time-waster. Have a goal that you’d like to accomplish for that day, or week. See if you can use the time you’d normally spend on media to accomplish actions that further your goals.
  • If you’re not sold, track your time. Try logging your time spent on media for one day, without actually cutting back. Add it up in a spreadsheet at the end of the day. See how many minutes you devote to each type of media. It might be an eye-opener.
  • Once your fast is over, re-think your media intake. You may discover that cutting out TV, for example, wasn’t as hard as you thought, and that you were able to get a lot done. Maybe you want to stay off TV for good, or at least cut back on it drastically. Instead of launching right back into your old media habits, use your media more thoughtfully from now on. See if you can live with less, and work on your personal goals more.

Imagine the peace of mind that could come from shutting off the river of information that comes at you daily. Imagine the focus you could find without all the distractions. Imagine that your life can be changed for the better with this one little edit. It may seem difficult to quit an addition, but don’t you think it might be worth it? At least give it a try.

Related articles elsewhere:

See also:

  • Are Your Days Crazy? Take Control
  • Edit Your Life Part 1: Commitments
  • Edit Your Life Part 2: Your Rooms
  • Edit Your Life Part 3: Closets and Drawers
  • Edit Your Life Part 4: Your Work Space
  • Edit Your Life Part 5: Your Wardrobe
  • Develop Clean House Habits One at a Time
  • How NOT To Multi-task: Work Simpler and Saner
  • Slow Down to Enjoy Life
  • Zen Mind: How to Declutter

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