It may seem odd or wrong for a blogger to tell you to go off social media for a week, but that’s what I’m going to do. Back when I had a desk job, things would occasionally get really glum. I would feel despondent, bored, irritable, and unfocused. When that happened, I sometimes turned to compulsively checking social media sites, mostly Twitter and Facebook, but also Reddit and a variety of blogs where I often found content that could drag me mentally if not physically away from my dreary days. The result was that I would accomplish strikingly little and become even more despondent. Depending on how self-aware I was feeling at the time or how long my to-do list had grown, I would eventually put myself on a social media fast.
It became a game to catch myself typing in the URL of some time-wasting web site and stop myself before another hour or two went down the drain. Suddenly, I would have a huge (although entirely predictable) increase in productivity. Less predictable was the fact that I simply felt better when I was ignoring Twitter. On thinking more about it, I realized the reason I start to feel so down when I’m compulsively checking things on the internet is that the checking isn’t just looking for something interesting to read. Rather, it’s usually checking for interaction from others, comments on something I’ve written, responses to my tweets, and “likes” on my status updates.
Every time you check and find nothing, it’s a bit of a downer, especially if you’re doing it to escape an already foul mood. Furthermore, so much of the internet is carefully curated. People post what they want you to see online, whether that’s their badass attitude, super sweet new shoes, or vacation photos from Hawaii. Even if they’re complaining about waking up at 4 a.m. to feed the baby, they’re probably not going to tell you if they fought with their spouse about it in the morning.
This week, do yourself a favor and sign off the social media sites for a while. If you don’t think you can stay off them completely, make yourself a rule that you will only check them before or after work. Exert some control over the technology in your life and reclaim your brain. You may notice a subtle difference in the quality of your thoughts when you free up those cycles that you would normally spend on hitting the refresh button. You may feel more focused, calmer, and even more creative. You may even feel less critical of yourself, and your productivity will definitely improve.
If your self control could use a boost, try these browser plugins to block time-wasting web sites:
StayFocused: I can vouch for this one in Chrome. It’s pretty easy to use and customizable. I like the Nuclear Option for getting a lot done at once: no Twitter for three hours!
LeechBlock: This one is for Firefox and is highly customizable.
WasteNoTime: Another highly customizable plugin, this one works for both Chrome and Safari.
At the end of the week, check in with your internet habits and see if you want to make this a permanent change. How can you make better use of your energy and attention online?