What I Learned During My Time Away From Social Media
I recently abstained from social media for fourteen days as part of an experiment. Perhaps not my most ambitious challenge, but given social media is a key promotional tool for This Is Horror and my primary way of communicating with many friends it was enough for me to feel it.
Pre-experiment I’d check social media daily. The idea was to use social media twice per day but as discipline weakened I’d often check-in during supposed time away. During bouts of intense procrastination I’d log in more-and-more-and-more-and-more. At the point you find yourself scrolling down your Facebook feed looking for the elusive something and simultaneously hating yourself and that self-hatred is intensifying because you’re meant to be being productive, well, that’s when an intervention is necessary. And so the No Social Media for Fourteen Days experiment was born.
I identified a number of potential pain points and addressed them ahead of the self-imposed ban. First, I let my wife who was 5000+ miles away in Japan know that it was Skype, WhatsApp and email for communication for the next fourteen days. You may think, what kind of a guy restricts his already limited means of communicating with his wife during an already painfully difficult patch of his relationship? The answer: the kind of guy who already commissioned his LitReactor columns for the month, likes a challenge and has absolute faith in WhatsApp. (Spoiler, WhatsApp didn’t let me down either.) So I didn’t ruin my business, I arranged cover for This Is Horror social media promotion, and so I didn’t ostracise myself from my friends I put a status up declaring myself off social media for fourteen days, too. Marriage, business and social life saved I deleted Facebook and Twitter off my iPad and iPhone, logged out of social media on my computer and began.
What follows are key takeaways, lessons, challenges and observations from those fourteen days and my return to social media.
Write It Down First
Despite telling myself I primarily use social media for promotion I also realised I use it for the social element. I’ll post about my thoughts, interests and life events. I decided to use a pocket sized journal to record thoughts instead. The benefit is you can look back at your thoughts at the end of the day and decide what you do and don’t want to share with social media. Highlights from day one of no social media include reading The Fireman, listening to Oddisee’s The Odd Tape (seriously it’s a great writing soundtrack) and a quote from the latest This Is Horror Podcast: “It increased the humanity around me to cathartically murder them.” All things I’m happy to share with social media, but recording ideas in a journal allows for some accountability. It also means you don’t interrupt yourself by logging onto social media at an unplanned and non-designated time. You might think you’ll “just write a quick status” but it’s rarely just anything and thus you trip and plummet down the social rabbit hole, flailing with no exit strategy.
Write it down, curate a best of, post it later. Simple.
Don’t Create New Obsessions, Create Better Habits
Look, I get it, sometimes a task is so mind-numbingly boring (hello, tax return) you want to log onto social media to spice things up. With social media gone there can be the temptation to check other things instead, perhaps it’s your favourite website, your email or your go-to news-site. Don’t do this, it’s replacing one vice with another and it’s taking time away from your work.
Two strategies to combat this. First, if you know you find your current task boring or you’re wont to procrastinate, plan to work in short bursts with regular breaks. It sounds so obvious, but planned breaks are much healthier than forcing yourself to work for hours then berating yourself because you can’t stick to it. Check out my previous article on the Pomodoro Technique in which you work for twenty-five minutes and break for five.
Second strategy is to set up a consequence if you procrastinate and stick to it. Better still, make that consequence something you want to incorporate into your life that will benefit you. My personal consequence is that if I deviate from the task at hand and catch myself checking other things I exercise for five minutes. Physical exercise will help keep you healthy and enable greater mental focus. Another good option is to meditate, and if you really can’t focus get out the house/office and go for a walk. Just make sure there’s a timed component to the consequence and you’re not choosing that particular punishment more than once a day lest you want to go from professional writer to professional walker. The trick, too, is for the consequence to be beneficial so you might accidentally get healthier or smarter—win-win.
Social Media and Negativity
One thing I didn’t miss during the hiatus was the mass of negativity on social media. I’m not only talking about people moaning about their problems but world tragedies, too. People can write about what they please on their own social media channel but we only have so much energy in the day and if we surround ourselves with negativity it’s more likely to lead to a negative mindset. It’s for this reason, too, that I restrict my consumption of the news. This isn’t about living in a bubble or pretending there aren’t problems in the world. There are many things in the world we absolutely should get angry about, but it’s about being purposeful with your time and energy. Knowing negativity affects me and zaps away some of my positive and creative energy, I’d rather avoid social media pre-creative writing. And with all the self-doubt that surrounds writing and creative pursuits it’s not a bad idea to restrict the other negative chatter that may take away from your artistic vigour.
Plan Social Media Time
Since returning, I’ve tried dipping in and out of social media. I’ve even dared to check it during a five-minute Pomodoro break. This is not a good idea as you’re likely to find yourself sucked in. Even if you decide you won’t reply to anything it takes up mental space which could be better optimised for other things. If you only use social media when it's scheduled in your calendar you might find you use it much less. It’s easy enough to use social media for two hours as part of the dipping in and out approach, but when it’s on your calendar you may feel differently about dedicating two hours of your day to Twitter and Facebook. I’d recommend doing the same with your email and news consumption (actually, for ultimate productivity I’d recommend planning your entire work day using calendars).
Social Media Can Be An Amazing Positive Tool
Despite the cautionary tone of much of the article let’s be frank: social media can be an amazing tool and force for positivity. I have met so many incredible creatives, writers and human beings (sometimes one person is all three) thanks to social media. If I didn’t have social media, growing This Is Horror would have been a much harder task.
One of the toughest tasks during my social media hiatus was putting together the podcast TIH 109: Writers’ Craft Talk: Best Writing Advice with 20 Writers. Limited to just email I had to get creative about contacting authors I was connected to via social media but not via email. Sometimes this meant simply tracking down a publicly listed email address, but often it meant contacting other writers to find the email address of said writer. Some writers I emailed didn’t respond but replied almost instantly upon my return to Facebook, when I asked if they’d received the original email. In most cases the email had slipped between the cracks. Without social media we wouldn’t have featured some of the writers in episode 109.
On the subject of social media as a positive tool there are so many great communities out there, especially on Facebook. I've joined communities on hiking in Japan, the Paleo diet, writing (of course), Patreon creators, building an online business, I could go on. So by all means use it to connect with like-minded people, to pool together ideas and foster positivity, all great alternatives to scrolling the neverending feed of memes and cat pictures.
Risk-Reward of Posting to Social Media
Before posting to social media carry, out a quick risk-reward. What’s the benefit of the post and what are the risks? I’m coming at this from more of a business standpoint but you can see how this may also work socially. Imagine I’m writing a story and decide to post about it on social media. You could argue a reward is to garner early interest, to excite potential readers, to keep people informed of your work. Not bad rewards but what do you really gain from posting at the time of writing? To my mind nothing you wouldn’t gain from posting about it during scheduled social media time. The risks are great. You interrupt your state of flow, you potentially end up embroiled in conversations, and the word count that could have gone towards your story has now gone towards social media chit-chat. An exception to this might be if you have a story specific question, something you’re researching and need help beyond Google from (shock, horror) real people. Even in this case I would recommend scheduling a time specific for this and working on another element of your story.
Remember The Social Aspect of Social Media
Social media can be an effective marketing tool, but if you’re to be truly effective and want real long-lasting connections you have to be a real person and see others as real, too. This is, again, why I propose scheduling social media time. When you log on, give social media and your friends all of your attention. Reply to your messages, enter meaningful discussions, but don’t get so sucked in you go over your allotted time limit. Where possible I try to take social media conversations to email. There’s less pressure to respond instantly and there’s no evasive ‘seen’ timestamp feature as per Facebook.
Using Social Media Going Forward
After my self-imposed social media ban I won’t be off social media indefinitely but I will use it with more intentionality. Social media will stay off my phone and tablet as there’s no need to tell people what I’m doing when I’m doing it. If it’s worth shouting about I can shout about it retrospectively. I’ll schedule time for social media, as I will email, but I won’t frontload the day with it, that’s reserved for creative tasks, and checking a message beforehand may lead to a distraction that limits my creativity. When I do use social media I’ll give it my full attention and where possible I’ll switch social media conversations to email.
So that’s what I’ve learned and how I’ll use social media, how about you?
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