Turning It Off - Why I’m Taking a Social Media Holiday

Life has gotten pretty crazy over the last couple of months. Sure, there’s the usual chaos of the Holidays, but I can’t blame the crazyness on that because we all know about it well in advance and usually plan for it fairly well.

The craziness has been brought about by some great projects I’m involved in, including:

  • Working on a book,
  • Having a fun new role,
  • Feeding a continued voracious appetite for books, and
  • Taking on a greater number of speaking engagements.

All this while running a small business, which I've been doing for years now.

And craziness has its consequences.

The busier it all gets, the less time I spend thinking about and working on priorities in a purposeful manner. I feel increasingly scattered. I start playing whack-a-mole to address what’s most urgent as opposed to what’s most important or what I'm most driven to produce in the moment (which is a luxury I get to bask in when I'm working weeks, even months ahead).

I’ve also noticed myself making greater use of social media and YouTube here and there, and checking email more often, as a soother of sorts. These are a great distraction when I feel I want a break but one that doesn’t require any thought or purposeful activity. And I’ve come to realize that, despite spending from only a few minutes to 20 minutes here and there, it’s eating up a lot of time every day, maybe up to an hour or more some days. And a lot of attention that could be directed to greater pursuits.

[T]he skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience, from mood to productivity to relationships.
— Winifred Gallagher, RAPT (2009), p. 2.

Even using these online sources of entertainment as background when I'm working on low-focus activities such as housework reduces my ability to consider ideas and problems that would benefit from a bit, or a lot, of thinking time:

  • Refining a draft in my mind.
  • Mulling over a difficult idea, trying to find an easier way to express it.
  • Thinking about a tough decision I'm trying to make. 

Note: A current favourite source of distraction is political news and commentary from US media, which has provided a great deal of material with which to fill this time...for months now. And I'm not even American!

The background noise of choice becomes a soother, plugging the mind with something to tide me over but that doesn't enrich my experience in the moment. 

Why is it that when I’m most pressed for time and pressed for results I can act in such a foolish and wasteful manner? It’s a classic case of time and attention scarcity. We can only do so much in a given day and pay so much attention when our brain is abuzz with all the “to dos” yet to be checked off and we often start to make less-than-optimal choices.

We live in a gray zone, constantly juggling activities but rarely fully engaging in them, or fully disengaging from any of them. The consequence is that we settle for a pale version of the possible.
— Tony Schwartz, The Way We're Working Isn't Working (2010), p. 4-5.

When I’m pressed for time:

  • My favourite things to work on start feeling like chores because I need to cram them into less time and my work is less satisfying because I feel I'm not producing my best.
  • My favourite activities get less time or get cut altogether.
  • I notice less about my environment (people, places events) because I'm in my head, which makes the present less rich of an experience than it could be.
  • I don’t eat as well as I usually do. I'm more prone to turn to convenience, which usually means a less healthy choice.
  • I spend less time with family and friends, connecting in superficial ways instead such as using social media.
  • I become less empathetic, less observant of the needs of others.
  • I spend more money because I either want the escape or want the buzz of getting a treat because, well, your know, I’m working SO hard!

I’ve been behaving this way lately. I recognize this behaviour because that used to be my default. For years. And...

I don’t like this person.

We’re guided by a fatal assumption that the best way to get more done is to work longer and more continuously. But the more hours we work and the longer we go without renewal, the more we begin to default, reflexively, into behaviours that reduce our own effectiveness—impatience, frustration, distraction, and disengagement. They also take a pernicious toll on others.
— Tony Schwartz, The Way We're Working Isn't Working (2010), p. 4.

Just yesterday, Mr. F2P and I had some silly disagreement after what was a long day for both of us. We were both tired and punchy and wrong. Our behaviour towards each other was not what we’ve come to expect from ourselves or from our relationship. We were both disrespectful in small ways by being mildly inconsiderate, impatient, easily annoyed, and even whiny (I’ll leave it to you to decide who was whiny).

It might not sound like much, but our interactions last night are an emerging symptom and turning a blind eye to them will only make the condition worse.

I apologized for my behaviour before we went to bed but apologies like these start to run shallow when they become a regular occurrence.

It’s not only money that we all need to manage. We need to manage our attention, our energy level, our behaviour toward ourselves and others, and our decision making. 

When any one or all of these get out of whack, there’s a domino effect. Nearly every part of our lives is affected, sometimes in ways we can't even appreciate in the short to medium term. 

That’s not what I call living a rich life. It’s nothing more than a house of cards waiting for a crisis.

Just as creditors will extend credit as long as you are a debtor in good standing, others will cut you some slack for a while when you’re running your life capriciously but they won’t do so indefinitely.

I don’t want to play that game. I don’t want to fall back into a perpetual self-imposed scarcity of time, energy, attention & focus.

We’re truly fortunate in the F2P family. We have everything we need and most of whatever we might want (thanks in part to wanting little of anything most of the time). And I want to keep it that way.

That why... 

I’ll be taking a six-week social media holiday.

I know I need to take my breaks from focused work in more restorative ways and this will help me do just that—because I don't trust myself with small doses of social media just like I don't trust myself when there's chocolate cake in the fridge.

What does a social media holiday mean for me?

Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.
— Cal Newport, Deep Work (2016), p. 62.
  • Removing the social media apps from my iPhone to reduce temptation.
  • Giving myself one window a week to schedule my Twitter and Facebook posts (links to regular blog posts and book quotes I find through my reading that I think are worth sharing) but I won't consume any material other than responding to replies on these posts.
  • Limiting my Internet usage to the following:
    • Work and related research, including watching TED Talks for a project I’m working on.
    • Vacation research for an upcoming trip to Costa Rica.
  • Participating in a book-related question I post every week on the Rockstar Finance Forums.
  • Responding to blog & review comments once a day. (I can’t leave you guys hanging!)
  • Unsubscribing to promotional emails (I can always resubscribe). They're not social media, but they can become an easy distraction. (Clicking on one of their links can cost me 30 minutes, not to mention money. Foregoing deals on stuff I buy regularly is a small price to pay for a quieter mind. And there are always deals...)
Three to four hours a day, 5 days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.
— Cal Newport, Deep Work (2016), p. 16.

With reduced distractions, I’ll be redirecting that time toward professional and personal pursuits and renewal activities that will pay greater happiness dividends over both the shorter and longer term:

This is the tracking sheet I've been using as a visual reference for the number of deep work hours I'm investing daily in my book project. (Green = good)

This is the tracking sheet I've been using as a visual reference for the number of deep work hours I'm investing daily in my book project. (Green = good)

  • Focusing more on what I say are my priorities, in order of importance (actions always speak louder than words).
    • Writing
    • Reading
    • Blogging
  • Tracking my progress (see right).
  • Having regular meetings with an accountability partner.
  • Exercising more often.
  • Taking short naps as needed (always better than passive entertainment).
  • Paying others the attention they deserve in the moment.
  • Getting back to the archery range, which I’ve been ignoring for weeks.
  • Making sure that spending quality time with friends is high on my priorities list.

Let’s see how this goes. I’ll be reporting back. 

Have you ever taken a social media holiday or are you contemplating taking one? 

UPDATE 072417: I initially thought I would report weekly. What was I thinking? Here's the update: Facebook and Twitter no longer taken a chunk out of my day. I deleted the apps from my phone for months and it lead to a reboot in my thinking. I no longer looked to it as an escape from deeper, more meaningful work. How wonderful! The six-week holiday turned into three months and I've been slowly, cautiously working my way back into it as they are a convenient means to connect with others from time to time. One material change? I've parked the book for now. I lost my "why" and when I get it back, I'll dust it off because the second writing was going much better than the first. Baby steps...

Image credit/copyright: digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

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