03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Digital Dieting

Why do we group so many things in sevens? Seven is more than a lucky number or a famous baseball player's uniform. It's the brain's natural shepherd, herding vast amounts of information into manageable chunks. It's also a special tool that can help you make smart decisions and sift through all the choices of modern life. Even more important, seven can filter the digital static that comes from being connected to our cell phones, iPods, email, TV, and the Internet. This useful digit can help untangle a complicated life, leaving time for real work, family and friends.

In the early days of desktop computing, the idea of a digital revolution was talked about in the rarified worlds of M.I.T., Stanford and Cal Tech. The average person didn't think they needed to have one, but businesses took the plunge and invested in computers believing they would increase productivity. And they did, until the built in solitaire games that were embedded in computer operating systems became a secret addiction for thousands of workers. The boss would walk toward an employee's cube, and with one click, the worker would turn FreeCell into a spreadsheet. It didn't take long for IT departments to eliminate games all together from the workplace as productivity dipped in direct proportion to the number of hours spent on entertaining distractions.

Today, even without the games, networking applications like Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and many others, along with the constant ping of emails and rss feeds, is costing an estimated $900 billion in lost productivity. It's gotten so bad that a host of new programs have been designed to block certain sites and manage email delivery in time chunks, rather than through a steady stream. But these solutions are like trying to stop a roaring forest fire with a bucket of water.

According to a new study by UC San Diego researchers, Americans consumed an average daily diet last year of 34 gigabytes and 100,000 words (about a 400 page book). To be sure, these are averages that probably include all the information that's transferred from super computers to hospitals, the military, and other high-user specialty areas. Nevertheless, we've become gluttons of digital "stuff," a distinction rivaled only by our rising obesity rates.

Putting people on a digital diet isn't going to solve the underlying problem of mental hop scotching. We are a society suffering from a new mental pandemic: ADD. We've all been there. You read two paragraphs of a book or a magazine article, lose your concentration, and then read those same paragraphs again, and again. One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off really important things, like love, and friendship.

There are no simple answers to information overload. But there are 7 ways to start taking back your life:

YES: Ask for help, pay for help or say yes to an offer of help when you feel overwhelmed.

NO: Learn how to say no to too many social engagements, too many favors, too many extra projects at work.

STOP: The clock. Life isn't a 24/7 merry go round. If it were, you wouldn't get the 7 hours of sleep necessary to keep you fit and sane.

Keep in shape with an exercise routine you can stick to.

START: Use technology so it doesn't use you up. On line banking, for instance, will save you time, money, and stress because your mortgage will be paid automatically.

Clear the clutter, trash the trivial stuff. Get organized.

BE: Make time for friends, lovers, family. Learn how to breathe and daydream. Be your true self and find your humanity.