A great deal of my work involves using the Web, so it’s not possible for me to unplug entirely. While in New York for BlogHer, I had some work to complete, and I was checking my phone for tweets, emails and texts to meet with people and respond to work-related matters. Online time was always focused and brief, and I loved it.
The more I read about why unplugging is good for our overall health and our ability to create, I’m reevaluating the way I spend my online time and how easily I fall down the social media rabbit hole. As this recent Newsweek article reminds us, our social media connectivity has skyrocketed in just the last few years, and we don't yet have the data to tell us just how this will affect us:
In less than the span of a single childhood, Americans have merged with their machines, staring at a screen for at least eight hours a day, more time than we spend on any other activity including sleeping. Teens fit some seven hours of screen time into the average school day; 11, if you count time spent multitasking on several devices. When President Obama last ran for office, the iPhone had yet to be launched. Now smartphones outnumber the old models in America, and more than a third of users get online before getting out of bed.
As a little girl, I’d walk into a bookstore and think, "I will never be able to read all the books I want to read." It was disappointing but also kind of exciting to realize that the scope of information was so large that it was impossible to ever do it all.
I feel similarly about all the Web has to offer. Still, the tangible, such as books, offers a visual reality check. When I look at tables stacked high with books, I am much more aware of the time limitations that I don’t always consider when I have dozens of tabs open in my browser.
When I find myself wondering where the time went while reading books, I know exactly where it went and can count the pages to prove it. The same goes for wandering a museum or a day at the beach. That time is easy to recount. In part, I believe, because it’s being lived at a reasonable pace. We can’t move at the speed of technology. And those who create social media are encouraging us all to step back, too.
As bloggers, there are so many platforms to embrace to further our social media reach. The fact that they are so often free makes it easier to forget the fact that we pay for each one in some way. Emotionally and financially, we all find benefits and costs in different platforms. It's worthwhile to identify which we find most valuable and those that simply suck away our resources.
We can't do it all. But we can attempt to do some well.
Using a mix of old-school tools and new technology we can manage our social media time so it doesn't use us:
Delegating Not Multitasking
Studies show that multitasking is a misnomer. We can’t do it all at once. It’s a fact. Take advantage of cross-platform sharing to be in more places at once. Social sharing apps such as Tweetdeck and Instagram, allow you share one message across multiple sites in one fell swoop. Using services such as Evernote allows you to clip articles to read later and clear out some tabs in your browser. Don't confuse multitasking with delegating, prioritizing and scheduling what needs to be done.
Focus? There's an App for That
Apps such as Freedom, Concentrate and Stay Focused help regulate your computer distractions. If you’re unsure where in the online Bermuda Triangle your day disappears, apps such as Time Sink measure how you’re using your time at your computer both online and off.
Taking a Time Out
Long before I knew of the Pomodoro Technique, I was taught to use an egg timer and allot time to different projects, including time to take breaks. As a freelancer, this has always been really helpful. I still have a timer on my filing cabinet but find the timer app on my phone also works well. It's portable and I can pre-set alarms throughout the day if I have a lot going on.
Set a Curfew
Email aside, I generally don't go online until noon, so I start my day with a few focused hours. I'm also working to not be online as late at night, regardless of whether I’ve spent the day offline with friends or online doing research on a new screenplay. It’s less about how many hours I spend online in a day and more about how difficult it can be to unplug because it’s so accessible all the time - be it Twitter or The New York Times archives or email. Sometimes it's good to have a curfew.
What do you find most beneficial in making sure you use your time well? Any apps you recommend or rules of your own you find do the trick?
As people look more and more to social media to find content, I'm not sure if less social media engagement could affect my site traffic. Yet, I believe the time I spend offline enriches the quality of my content online, and I hope that in the end that's what makes anything worth reading. To quote Charlie Parker, “If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn.”
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