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The global explosion of information occurred with the launch of Facebook and other similar social networks. Everyone is now connected to every news; you check your newsfeed and boom, an overwhelming range of news appears on your screen.
You might scroll through news relating to your area’s sewerage problem to the details on celebrity mansions put up for sale in the US; or a crime occurring on the streets of Cape Town.
So, isn’t that a good thing to know so much about such a wide array of topics?
Well, at first it was thought so, but as the time passed, evidence appeared that this is becoming a problematic source of distraction; so much that experts are now calling the Millennials and Generation Z the most distracted generations to date!
We wake up, check our newsfeed and other social updates, we have breakfast and we keep filling our brains with all this information. We leave a part of our attention in that newsfeed; in random WhatsApp videos, Snapchat stories and I haven’t even started with the TikTok yet!
Think about it, if you read certain news that a random British politician appreciates socialism more than capitalism or vice versa, or you see pictures of a celebrity having a vacation in Mauritius; does it have any implications for you?
Do you really need to know about this?
I mean, think for a moment. What good does this add to your life’s goals and ambitions? You might be thinking that newsfeeds can be modified but so can other networks; trust me I have tried and it just doesn’t work. Maybe that’s the way these networks work; present you with all sorts of information (or hooks I might say) to keep you glued!
Now, when our brains are constantly being bombarded with information from all places, it’s time to put a brake on what you allow your mind to feed on. If you give it junk, it will feed on junk and produce trash products in the end. But, if we provide it with focused positive information aligned with your life goals and values; it will do wonders, no less than magic!
To understand this, first, you must have a direction for your life, otherwise, it won’t make much sense to you.
As “Alice in Wonderland” puts it…
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
So, if you keep walking on a path you will eventually get somewhere, but is that path chosen by you or generated for you by an algorithm?
Now, moving on let’s be positive and hope that you do have certain goals; so what do you need to do?
Here are some of the approaches for the social media diet; I have categorized them in 5 difficulty levels:
1. Basic (every smartphone user should know things)
2. Easy (kick-start)
3. Moderate (requires commitment)
4. Hard (getting difficult)
5. The stuff of Legends!
Basic: Keep your Wi-Fi/data turned off
This doesn’t need much explaining; even when you are at the comfort of your home, avoid keeping the Wi-Fi of your cell phone in “on” position turn it on only when you need it.
Then, after use, turn it off again. For WhatsApp, put all group chats on silent mode and exit groups with similar content. Turn off the auto media download option of WhatsApp, this way media influx will be reduced some way and you phone battery will also be less consumed.
Easy: Limit your screen-time and news influx
Facebook provides a unique feature to show your time spent on FB during a day. It can be accessed by selecting Settings then Your Time on Facebook option. It will show your minutes spent on FB during the week (day-wise).
You can even set a reminder, by selecting the Set Daily Reminder option. Let’s assume that you have set it at 50 minutes. Now, when you have consumed those 50 minutes, a reminder will be shown by FB. This feature alone might not be so useful; as its usually difficult to stop right there in your tracks when the notification pops but clubbed with the following two options. But, it helps a lot in limiting your time on FB.
First, you set your desired daily minutes on FB, let’s say its 50, you set the reminder at 45 minutes; allowing yourself some cushion to complete the tasks that you were doing and then quit FB.
Make a simple daily tracking habit. Use of a journal can be very handy for this. Then, note down the daily minutes in it and add them for the week.
Remember at this point you do not give a thought to reducing the time on FB, you just track the time you spent each day.
Do this for two consecutive weeks and as per human nature, your brain will automatically start to compare your weekly performance and consequently; you will feel an urge to perform better each week.
Now you can reduce the earlier reminder that was set at 45 minutes to let’s say 40 minutes and so on. I would personally recommend going easy on yourself in the start; it may take a habit minimum of 21 to 66 days to fully become automatic.
Unfortunately, other social platforms do not provide such features to help you track it. Instagram at most provides with the time spent on it; but not the auto-reminder option, you can track it manually.
On the part of news through other media sources, it’s relatively easier to put a stop on them.
Do not put on the radio news while driving, instead get some audiobooks in your phone and play it over the Bluetooth. Darren Hardy, author of the massively successful book “The Compound Effect”, says that he used this technique for so many years during driving; to listen to the audiobooks of Jim Rohn that he is like his everyday virtual mentor.
Tim Ferris, author of “The 4-hour Work Week” says he doesn’t watch the TV news, nor does he read a newspaper. If anything is important, it will get to him through his friends and colleagues and if it’s not, it doesn’t need to be known. Counterintuitive? May be, effective? Definitely!
Moderate: Plan Your Purpose on Social Media
So, the next step that comes in, is to plan what your purpose is on social media. Do you use it just for fun or do you use for a specific purpose? For instance, to promote your small business (for bigger businesses there should be social media team doing this for you), create a personal brand or any other.
If there is a specific purpose, write it down in a journal and plan your next day; what you are going to do about it. For example, your plan might look like this:
10:00 to 10:10 am: Post about the business offer on your FB page, Instagram account
12:00 to 12:10 pm: Circulate the offer to your WhatsApp contacts
04:00 to 04:20 pm: Check and reply for responses on the post
08:00 to 08:10 pm: Any remaining follow-up
Total Time Spent on Social Media: 50 minutes
Time durations shown here are only an example you might be able to complete these tasks in less than 20 minutes.
But actually, only planning will not be enough; keeping up with the plan and actually tracking your progress will help you achieve it. There are a few tricks to help you stay on track. For one, you can write down your social media slots on a post-it note and stick it on your laptop screen or a display board; that is clearly visible from your sitting area (I’ve displayed it on my printer.)
Or you can use the X-chain method, what you will need to do is display a month’s calendar at your work desk or display board and whenever you achieve your daily social media goal, you place an X on the calendar on that date.
This way the more consecutive days you reach your goal the longer the chain will become; providing your mind a sense of achievement and satisfaction through this visual tool. Another method can be to place your cell phone in a drawer; using the traditional out of sight out of mind thing in a positive aspect.
Hard: Delete all social media apps from the cell phone
Yes, I said that most of the times the temptation of shiny icons on your phone is so great that it becomes unavoidable to touch them every 10 minutes or so. Human willpower is a limited resource and it requires frequent recharging, so, delete all social media apps from the cell phone; and ones that cannot be deleted for the sole purpose of being built-in, sign out from them.
Use social media only through a computer browser or through a browser installed on the cell phone. Performance of these platforms through browsers is consistently slower and unsatisfactory as compared to their app counterparts. For WhatsApp let’s say you can’t actually live without it; try to use WhatsApp for Business that does not keep displaying the notifications.
Stuff of Legends
Legends through-out history have used excessively outrageous techniques to keep them away from temptations of that time. One, for example, is the story of an author in the 19th Century France.
Victor Hugo, he had promised his publisher that he will be providing him with a book to publish in a year’s time, but at mid-year due to his other projects he had not even thought about the book; let alone the progress on the book.
The publisher knowing this, gave him a deadline of six months. Desperate times required desperate measures, he asked his assistant to lock all his dresses away; left only with a shawl to wear, he was left with no choice but to stay indoors and finish the book.
And that he did, the book was published two weeks earlier than its target date! The book was called “The Hunchback of Notre Dame!”
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits being a chronic scroller used a similar technique to stay focused on his goals; he asked his assistant to change passwords of all his social media accounts on Monday morning and not to provide him with those until the weekend starts!
Then repeat the process on Monday. He claims it did wonders for his productivity! You can ask your BFF / sibling/spouse to do the same with you. You can use this technique during your most important projects; to keep you away from the distractions.
So, there you have it, a little framework for a media diet to protect your genius and keep you on track with what your most important ambitions are.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list; but it might just be a nudge in the right direction to put you on the path of massive productivity!
(For further study on the subject, you may read The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy, Atomic Habits by James Clear, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig, The 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferris and The 5 am Club by Robin Sharma, Merci!)