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Ways to keep the Internet from eating away your brain

by Mark P. McDonald  |  June 22, 2010  |  1 Comment

There is a spate of books about the brain, the internet and the impact of the internet on your brain.  They all point to the detrimental impacts of working in an interrupt driven, attention demanding and always-on world.  It is true that people are more harried as they try to stay and keep connected with everyone and everything.  It seems like rather than having 15 minute of fame we seek fame a few seconds at a time, getting 900 ticks of fame coming at different times that we cannot control.

Books like “The Shallows” and “Hamlet’s Blackberry” talk about this issue but offer few concrete approaches to getting greater control other than going unplugged or declaring an internet Sabbath.  Unfortunately that does not work for many of us who work with this technology.

So here are a few ideas that I use to make a break and make sure that I continue to exercise my deeper thought processes and cognitive muscle.  They are in no particular order.

  • Read a book that’s printed on paper. Set a goal to read at least one a month.  It does not matter if its fiction or non-fiction just that you are working your way through a long narrative.  I know that eReaders work well, but reading a paper printed book seems to be a little different than reading text on a screen.
  • Do the math yourself. The next time you have to make a calculation do it on a piece of paper rather than in a spreadsheet or with a calculator.  I started doing this a few years ago with a focus on long division problems.
  • Take a contrary view. Take your last recommendation or decision you presented in your company and rewrite it to argue the exact opposite.  Do this as if this was going to be your recommendation, which is obviously an exercise.  Taking the contrary view exercises your critical thinking skills, something that can take a lower priority as you build a case for your recommendation.
  • Walk the floor, talk with your people. Leading by walking around gets harder with teams disbursed across multiple locations and connected by email.  Sitting down with people across the hierarchy, reconnects you with people and reenergizes the social relationships critical to the way work actually gets done.
  • Make an appointment with your most important client. That was the advice I received a while ago from my bosses boss.  Your most important client is you spouse, family, close friends.  Everybody has some of these clients and too often the most important people in our busy lives take a back seat.  You don’t have to call a meeting with them, just block out a few hours every other week and put it in your diary “Meeting with Most Important Client” so others know that you are doing something important – because you are.
  • Take your own notes at meetings. Sounds silly and most executives have been taught that note taking is for junior staff not senior executives.  Boy is that advice wrong.  The Internet and the pace of meetings and decisions leads us to make instant decisions that have long-term results.  Note taking does
  • Listen, think and then speak. This was a piece of advice I received from a client at the start of my career.  His name was Norm Rashba and I met him as a partner at a local accounting firm that was one of my first customers.  As a wet behind the ears kid Norm gave that advice.  Listen to what they said and what they did not say.  Think about your response, Norm said he would pause and say it to himself in his own mind before speaking.  Then speak clearly and confidently.
  • Take a walk. The pressures of constant connectedness require us to sprint mentally from one issue to another while we sit motionless in the same seat at our desk.  Getting up and moving around helps you clear the mind and put you in a different situation – one of where you are moving rather than the issues constantly moving at you.  This works great when you have an issue to work through 1-1 with someone.  Invite them for a brief walk, get away from the desk, get in motion and you will be surprised how much work you do.

What do you do to step back, get perspective and make the time to think deeply?  All suggestions welcome as we can all learn from each other on this point.

Thanks ahead of time for your ideas.

Category: personal-observation  technology  

Tags: book-review  personal  technology  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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