• Liz Breen

The Low-Info Diet

Updated: Dec 20, 2018


Truth of the matter is, you can say whatever you want, but how you spend your time is the real indicator of what you value. AKA you can claim something is a priority, but if nothing about your daily habits supports that claim, it is, as the kids-serving-as-US-presidents say, fake news.

Seeing this disparity in my own life — between the values I gave lip service to and the values I actually lived — was the biggest reason I decided to move from a big ad agency to a small one.

I said my husband was a priority, but I was rarely home, and when I was, I was holed up in a back room writing scripts, checking my phone for emails, or generally just contaminating the house with my bad moods.

I said my friends & family were a priority, but I was often late to get-togethers, having to excuse myself to deal with a work crisis or canceling altogether with just an hour’s notice.I said my health was a priority, but I wasn’t sleeping; I was eating like crap and drinking several nights a week to cope with the stress.

I said my own writing was a priority, but I hadn’t written anything creative that wasn’t for a client’s benefit in nearly 2 years.

Basically, I was lying. To myself and those I cared about. So I made a change. I took a job where I work hard from 9:30 to 6 and have the rest of the time to myself, which means I’m sleeping 7-8 hours a night, working on my own stories for at least an hour each morning before I go to work (two hours on the weekends), and spending a lot more quality time with my loved ones.

I gained so much of my time back so quickly, and it felt good to put that time towards my true priorities. But in the beginning of 2018, I began to wonder if I was using all of this new time wisely, and that lead to me really examine my use of and relationship with technology. Let me be clear, I have never been addicted to technology the way so many people are today. I don’t have my phone out during dinner. I don’t feel phantom vibrations. I hate Snapchat. But I would still find myself scrolling through Facebook while also watching TV. I would monitor my phone for notifications after posting what I felt was a particularly funny tweet. I would check Instagram… and then recheck it three minutes later.

I don’t know how much time I spent on my phone (I should have used the Moment app), but if our schedule indicates our priorities, and I was spending 2 hours a day with my friends and family, 2 hours a day working on my own writing and 2 hours a day scrolling through apps on my phone, wouldn’t that indicate that friends, family & creative projects are as high on my priority list as my phone and social media? And did I want that to be the case? No, of course not.

So rather than just saying, “I’ll use my phone less” (because that’s a surefire way to fail), I took some active steps to ensure I would be compelled to use my phone — and my computer — a whole lot less and therefore focus on my priorities more.When it comes to my phone, I…

  • Deleted the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn & email apps.

  • Prevented all notifications from appearing on my lock screen, even text messages (though for texts, I left the badge icon).

  • Turned my entire display to grayscale (so those red badge icons I left on my text messages feel less urgent).

  • Put it away in my nightstand as soon as I get home from work.

  • Never use it while also using another piece of technology (i.e. I don’t have it near me if I’m on the computer, watching TV or reading my Kindle).

For my computer, I…

  • Deleted all bookmarks from my Chrome bar except for the white noise generator I use when writing (Noisli; it’s the shit) and the portal I use to rent ebooks from my local library (because the URL is genuinely infuriatingly hard to remember).

  • Turned off sound and banner notifications for emails on the Mail app and texts on the iMessage app.

This all took place about 6 weeks ago now, and in that time, I’ve noticed a few things.

  • Nothing bad has happened. In particular, I thought this would be a problem with my work email, that someone would write me after I leave the office, and I wouldn’t see it and it would create a BIG GIANT ADVERTISING EMERGENCY. This has not happened. But I also made sure to communicate with my coworkers and let them know that I’m choosing to no longer receive emails on my cell phone, so if a BIG GIANT ADVERTISING EMERGENCY occurs, they all know to call me directly for a quick response. No one has called, and as an agency, we are arguably wrapping up our busiest time of the year. Also, I found that since I no longer get emails on my phone,  I can go the entire weekend without checking it, and come Monday morning, my inbox has well over 100 emails, but most of them can be read and deleted immediately, no response required.

  • I don’t miss anything. Especially anything social media related. If anything, being more mindful about when I check social media has shown me how boring it actually is. (Trust me, I’m as surprised by that statement as you are.) But I can go days without thinking to check Twitter or Facebook; I’ve gone two weeks without checking Instagram. And when I do log in, I do so planning to scroll through for 10 or 15 minutes, checking up on my friends’ activities, but most of the time, I find myself bored after 5 minutes and logging off. My attitude has most drastically changed towards Instagram, which was probably my favorite platform when I began this whole experiment. Guys… Instagram is literally a waste of time. As in, in the moments that I do choose to view it from my browser, I literally have the thought, “Oh I have 5 minutes to kill; let’s see what I’ve missed on Instagram.” And the answer to that question thus far has always been, “Not a lot.”

  • I feel more present in all my tasks. When I was scrolling through Facebook while also watching TV, I told myself I was doing it because I just have a really active brain. Like, I’m just so smart and creative that I need more stimuli than most people. This is incredibly hubristic (and also pretty unflattering) but it’s genuinely what I told myself, and I worried that if I didn’t have my phone within reach while I was just sitting on the couch, that I would feel bored or antsy (because again, I’m like Super Brain over here). Much like my BIG GIANT ADVERTISING EMERGENCY, this has yet to happen. If anything, I notice now that if I forget to put my phone away and I do have it within reach while I’m watching TV or writing or reading that I feel a little anxious, and as soon as I put the phone in another room, the anxiety goes away, and I can focus on and fully enjoy whatever it is I’m doing.

Again, I’ve only been on this new, Low-Info Diet for 6 or 7 weeks now, and when I started it, I framed it as a short-term experiment to break some bad habits, and once I accomplished that, I told myself I could reinstall the apps and add the bookmarks back to my web browser. But I find now that I don’t really want to. Not yet anyway. I feel like I’m using my technology less, but valuing it more, that my devices are not sources of distraction but genuine tools that help me do the important things — like staying in touch with friends, writing, and generally just not getting lost while driving — even better.

If you’re sick of reading my words about this, but are interested in starting your own Low-Info Diet, I really recommend watching this 60 Minutes segment called “Brain Hacking” that came out last year. (It’s got Anderson Cooper. Enough said.)

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