are you one of those people for whom facebook – or maybe it’s twitter or instagram or pinterest or some other social media or app – is a timesuck? to the degree that it is getting problematic? do you log in and find yourself endlessly scrolling? do you lose hours on your computer, tablet or phone this way, when you really did have other things you wanted/needed to be doing? do you sometimes stay home at night and do nothing but surf online for your evening’s entertainment? and then wonder where your evening went? (replace evening with day or weekend or whatever measure of time is appropriate for you.)
all of these things are me. well, were me, until i decided a week ago sunday that it was time for a break. cold turkey. to see if i could reclaim power over my social media use. to reclaim some of my “free” time and use it to do other things that i really wanted to be doing and somehow always felt like i didn’t have the time to do. like those two hours in the morning before i have to leave for work, while i am drinking my coffee and eating some granola? i usually read facebook. or as soon as i come home from work around 5 til i realize i haven’t eaten dinner several hours later? most likely facebook. after dinner? yep, facebook. up late til almost midnight, having a hard time winding down to get to sleep? more facebook.
it was ruling my life. and i was letting it. so i had to get a handle on it.
now maybe you don’t have this level of problem. (good for you!) maybe you think it’s crazy that i do/did. but i don’t think i’m alone or particularly troubled. i just think that i, like so many people, have been conditioned by the internet to have short attention spans and therefore get sucked into having my attention bounce all over the screen from one article to the next, one status update or photo or video to another, over and over again, in an endless loop. it’s easy for it to happen. and it’s my timesuck.
(i’m very aware that i tend to use social media/the internet as a way to tune out, to numb my brain, not be present. but that is exactly the problem i am trying to work on in my life, being more present. not so distracted. be here now.)
so after some conversations with a few close pals, last sunday night i said a brief “see ya later” on facebook, shut off notifications on my laptop, deleted the app on my iphone and set an intention to try to use my time more wisely to do other things that give me joy, and to retrain my brain to focus on things for longer periods of time.
i went six days without logging in at all or seeing any notifications and it was glorious. on saturday night, the sixth day, i did allow myself to log in very briefly to check my notifications and see if i had missed anything major. a few comments to my farewell post wishing me luck. a photo i had been tagged in. a birthday party i’d been invited to but had already missed. (sorry!) i had 75 notifications but most of them were just people liking my instagram photos which i continued to forward remotely from my instagram app. i went to the page of most of my closest friends to see what they’d been posting all week, see if i’d missed anything big. nothing much – most of them don’t use facebook as much as me. lastly, i checked my friend requests – 2 from people i’d never heard of before who i didn’t have any mutual friends with. delete.
and that was it. it took me all of 20 minutes to catch up on a week of facebook. it left me with an empty feeling. like, why in the world do i waste so much time there? what’s the big deal? how was i able to just catch up on a week’s worth of facebook in 20 minutes and not care about what else i missed? granted, i know there were probably a lot of great news/culture/politics articles i missed reading and forwarding on, and there were probably a few events i missed out on beyond that one birthday party. but generally speaking, i didn’t miss much.
(after the brief check-in on saturday, i have not logged back in since.)
the real question is, what have i been able to do with my formerly-facebook time that i wouldn’t otherwise have done? let’s see:
–i finally finished reading ta-nehisi coates’ book “between the world and me,” which i had been struggling to have the focus to finish even though i thought it was really great.
–i started reading “the people’s art history of the united states,” “five minutes to happiness,” and “who are you meant to be?” (yes i am a self-help book junkie these days.)
–i listened to the full 9 hour audiobook (in the course of one day!) of “the muralist,” a slightly cheesy but nonetheless gripping art historical fiction mystery that made me think a lot about various styles of art and the people who make that art. and about the period in time right before world war 2 when abstract expressionism was germinating. i really enjoyed it. and while i was listening to it, i was doing other things like washing all my dishes and pots and pans, vacuuming, laundry – this after listening to it all day while walking dogs.
–i listened to “why we make things and why it matters.” i’ll have a whole blog post about that one coming soon.
–i listened to a million podcasts. too numerous to detail. not just while walking dogs but also in my free time that i wasn’t sucked into facebook.
–i watched the carole king documentary, the most recent episode of downton abbey, and a 2 hour doc on the heroin problem in the u.s., all on pbs.
–i wrote. a lot. in longform! for my blogs. my artbymags.com, thesearethethings.com, and patreon.com/artbymags blogs.
–mostly, i worked on art. i cut and made a whole new stencil for my “home is where the music is, the music is my home” painting. i cut another small 3 layer dragonfly stencil for the rewards for some of my patreon patrons, and then cut, sanded and primed wood for said rewards, sprayed the stencils and then added some words by hand/brush and then added a gloss layer on top. packaged all those up and got them out in the mail.
–i also sent out sticker rewards to some of my patreon patrons.
–i hand painted a pair of shoes that had been getting dusty in my closet.
–i spent more time playing with my cats (all hail the cat dancer!), getting them some exercise and bonding with them.
–i slept more/better.
–i went out to see the folk art exhibit at the museum. on a weeknight!
–i rediscovered the joy of twitter, which oddly doesn’t end up being a timesuck for me in the same way due to its shorter word limit and general layout. (but can be equally as informative on news/culture/politics, albeit in shorter bursts.)
–i cooked a few times during the week. (i hardly ever cook anymore.)
–and i just generally felt like i was getting more done, being more productive and creative. and motivated! and i felt better about myself because of it. i found i wasn’t as concerned with what others were doing/comparing myself to them. i was happier just being me, doing me.
wow, that’s a long list! and i’m sure i forgot some stuff.
so yeah, all in all, it’s been a great experiment and i’m really glad i did it. and i hope i can keep it up, going forward. my goal is to allow myself to check in from time to time, maybe on the weekends or at night before bed, not to disappear completely from facebook. i do miss having social contact with my friends near and far and feeling connected, and it is a really useful tool in networking and getting the word out about my creative output and my pet business. i do enjoy many aspects of facebook. i don’t want to abandon it completely.
but i can be smarter about the time i spend on it. and until i make a new habit of doing more of all these things i did when i wasn’t on facebook, i think the best way for me to deal with it is to continue to not be on it very much. i’m not sure what my perfect balance will end up looking like… but i just know i can’t go back to losing so much of my life to it.
and while i’m at it, here’s a few tips for other ways to cut down on all the noise/distraction of our daily lives, if you are really looking to reclaim some of your lost time. i did all of these and they are helping me a lot.
—delete apps off your phone. maybe it’s not facebook that is your timesuck. maybe it’s another social media app or some stupid game (dots!) or the news feed app. or the stock market ticker. i don’t know. whatever it is, see if you can delete the app for a little while and just notice how much less you pick up your phone to check it. notice the absence of it and the time that opens up because of it.
—turn off notifications for apps. ok, so maybe you don’t want to delete the apps entirely cuz you need to continue to be able to access them, but you’d like to be less distracted by them. just turn off notifications. or at least sounds and/or vibrations. the info will still be there, but you just have to be more deliberate about setting a specific time to check them. instead of it continuously dinging you to see every new thing that comes in, just pick a few times a day to check it, or once an hour, or whatever. take control of it instead of letting it control you!
–if you don’t want to turn off notifications for your email app but would enjoy some relief from constant notifications, consider using a subscription manager like unroll.me to manage all your email lists to reduce the amount of email coming in. when i ran it, i discovered i was subscribed to over 200 email lists! many of them were relics from my past life as a music critic – i was still getting record release notifications from almost 50 publicists! useless info that is just cluttering up my box and making me take the time to hit the delete button to clear. GONE! unroll.me lets you keep the really vital stuff – bills, financial notifications, headline news announcements, anything you deem important – and then other stuff that you don’t want to unsubscribe from but can wait to read you can categorize and “roll up,” or digest. and then you get one daily digest to scan at whatever time of day you specify. (you can edit all of this at any time and you can also abandon it at any time and go back to how things were before.) it’s a great time manager and inbox clutter remover.
ok. that’s it. that’s what i’ve been doing while i haven’t been on facebook. hopefully i will incorporate a little more social activity with friends in real time too. i’ll check back in about this in a few weeks to let you know my progress.
thanks for reading!