He quotes a book by Richard Saul Wurman from 1989 titled Information Anxiety: “One of the most anxiety-inducing side effects of the information era is the feeling that you have to know it all. Realizing your own limitations becomes essential to surviving an information avalanche; you cannot or should not absorb or even pay attention to everything.”
(1989???? That was before the term “internet” was coined, and only a handful of scientists had access to each other’s computers via a handful of modems and dedicated lines long before the world wide web was conceived.)
Bit Literacy and Information Anxiety have hit the nail on the head.
In Bit Literacy, the author lists all the ways that information flows to us, and due to the fact that the book was written in 2007, it hardly mentioned blogs and podcasts, and makes no mention of Twitter, Blackberries or iPhones. In 2 short years, the volume of infromation has only increased.
He also goes on to say that the natural reactions to information anxiety are:
– to live by reaction, responding to each piece of information that appears and demands attention
– to opt out, which is to avoid the problem entirely by living in an ignorant bliss
– to practice bit literacy, by paying attention to some information, and letting the rest go
What struck me is how true the sentiment is for “time anxiety.”
After all, to rephrase the author: “one of the most anxiety-inducing effects of the information era is the feeling that you have to DO it all.”
Let’s look at that more closely.
Walking by a library does not induce anxiety in the minds of most people. All that information in all those books does nothing except to sit there on shelves, resting on pages.
Strolling by a hard-drive filled with information doesn’t do anything either. Carrying a number of USB drives in a briefcase seems not to add to our stress levels.
However, one letter received six weeks ago, a single unreturned phone call or 2 unreplied emails can cause more stress than 100,000 unread books.
The only difference is a thought that we have in our heads — “we need to give a reply.”
That’s often followed by another thought — “but I don’t have enough time.”
What often accompanies that thought is a feeling of guilt coming from the notion that “I should have enough time.”
What compounds that feeling is a bit of an existential realization — “I’ll never have enough time. My mental grasp will always exceed my reach. I am likely to die without ever getting to the bottom of the list of things I believe I should do.”
Or maybe that’s taking things a bit too far…. or is it?
After all, the time anxiety that we feel does not come from the books in the library or the websites on the internet, it comes from us. As human beings, we are incapable of confronting the sea of information without having some version of the train of thoughts I mentioned above.
The expectation that we place on ourselves that we should do everything that our thoughts tell us we should do, might be a useful place to look for answers. That might be something that we can change.
According to the Work of Byron Katie, these thoughts that appear in our heads can be successfully questioned, and we don’t need to believe them. We also don’t even need to become better at managing time demands or Bit Literate, or better at GTD®.
It would be actually be easier for us to implement these techniques if we could free ourselves from the anxiety, guilt and untrue thoughts that creep into our minds incessantly, and we could grasp the fact that at the end of it all, our thoughts are not a reliable guide to what should be accomplished in a lifetime.
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