A few weeks ago, I attended a photography retreat and one of the speakers suggested that we take a week off Social Media to spark our creativity. My first inclination was to say, NOPE! as I clutched my phone to my chest. Then I read a NYT article about "Reclaiming Our (Real) Lives from Social Media" and the request kept creeping into my mind. I floated the idea to a friend who said she really needed to take a break too. I decided to commit to a one week break to see what happens. Does it improve my life? Do I miss it? I know I'm going to miss Social Media because I really love Social Media. I love the community, the connection and really the whole package. I decide to start on a Sunday and dive right into my Social Media Break after somewhat ironically posting about it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
My Rules were as follows:
- Limit email to 1.5 - 2 hours a day.
- Use Pinterest only as needed for story research
- No Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or Ravelry forums
I wake up thinking about social media. I have a really bad habit of waking up, grabbing my phone and checking Facebook immediately. Since I can't do that this week, I feel a little unsure what to do myself. I focus instead on getting my day started. I watch the coffee maker as it makes coffee. I watch the coffee slowly drip into the pot. I mentally ask it to work faster. I keep picking up my phone and putting it down, unsure what to do with myself.
I sit down at the dining room table to eat breakfast and accidentally click into Facebook before I know what I'm doing. I gasp and slam my phone down. I lament my decision to my husband who suggests that I put my Social Media apps into a folder so I don't have another slip. I glare at him. He also says that I need to turn off my notifications. I inform him that I've always had notifications off. He stares at me and says, "But you respond so quickly". I watch as he realizes the depths of my social media addiction. Later in the day while waiting in the car, I slip up again. I click on Instagram. I decide that my husband was right - I need to create an off-limits folder. I quickly make a folder and put my phone away.
It's Monday morning and I get up at 5:15 a.m. to attend an exercise class. I usually surf through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as I wake up but instead I quickly get ready. I spend a few extra moments brushing my teeth (and flossing!) and yet still have extra time before I need to leave for my class. I decide to leave anyway. I arrive way too soon and the studio door is still locked. I notice the woman next to me, checking her phone. I send a text to a friend who also exercises early to whine. I notice the studio doors open and head in to find a prime bike location for spin class.
After class, I think of all the witty tweets I could send about my exercise victories. I dream up the Facebook status update, I'd send. I do neither of these. I begin to wonder if one can not crow about their early morning exercise on social media, did it even happen? I also begin to realize that no one really cares that I got up early and worked out. I'm really the only one that cares.
I spend the rest of the day dodging social media. Luckily my children keep me busy but I do find time to keep up a steady stream of texts with a friend who has been saddled with a busy week of work and jury duty. I give her my full attention and support through text messages. I suspect she realizes that I'm using her troubles as a substitution for social media. I'm having a hard time. I'm a huge extrovert. I need to talk to people and my kids are not providing me with enough conversation or drama.
I'm realizing that I use social media to fill time. I spend a good portion of my day, waiting. Waiting for my daughter to be done with preschool. Waiting for dinner to finish cooking. Waiting for my kids to finish bathing. Waiting. I fill those times of waiting with social media.
After preschool, my oldest daughter asks me to watch cartoons with her while my youngest naps. I agree but quickly begin regretting it. I'm forced to watch "My Little Pony" without the distraction of social media. I remember that I have the kindle app on my phone and dive into a new book. My daughter cuddles up to me on the couch and watches her show while I read my book over her shoulder. We are both pleased with the arrangement. I end up reading half a book while we wait for her sister to wake up for her nap.
At swim lessons later that night, I have another realization. I am so distracted. While watching my oldest at her lessons, I am also holding on to my youngest to keep her from plunging into the pool and drowning. Usually I would additionally check social media and post pictures on Instagram. I sit back and just work on being present. My mind is a jumbled distraction though. My thoughts are leaping around my mind. I keep reaching for my phone and putting it back. I slide it deep into the diaper bag and try to get my youngest to stop wiggling off my lap. I point out what her sister is doing. We end up enjoying the swim lesson time. I yell at her less.
I'm becoming more productive. During my daughter's nap today, I end up writing three blog posts and folding a huge basket of laundry while watching Castle on my computer. Later after the kids are in bed, I clean up the house and make a video for my Time Capsules video class. I really focus on the tasks at hand and I'm noticing that they don't take as long as they have in the past. I'm focusing on what I want and need to do rather than on other people's lives. I'm strangely beginning to feel more inspired without the input of other people's creativity. I finish the book I started on Tuesday.
On Thursdays, I have both my children in child care which means I have three glorious hours to write. Unfortunately I usually waste that time on a Facebook, Ravelry, Twitter, Instagram loop. Today though, I started working on a new 10-day writing class that I'm taking online, wrote most of this article, finished up another article and even had time to start dinner in the crockpot.
After picking up my children and a friend of my oldest for a playdate, my productivity slows down but I am able to really enjoy my time with them. While they are off making a mess of the playroom, I make a batch of zucchini bread after discovering that we have too many from our organics box. In the past, I would have noticed this and still frittered away my time on an internet forum. Today I actually grate the 8 zucchinis, make some into bread and freeze the rest for future use. I also make a batch of pesto and feel like I'm no longer wasting food. I think about taking a photo and posting it on Instagram because the zucchini bread looks amazing but then I remember that I'm not on Instagram this week and so no one will see my amazing bread. It doesn't stop me from enjoying it.
Today is Friday Fun Day in my house. It's the one day of the week that my kids and I don't have any set obligations so I started Friday Fun Day. We head out on an adventure and explore the city around us. Today though as we headed up to the Tulip Fields, I felt a little sad that I couldn't post about it on Facebook or show pictures of tulips on Instagram. I couldn't tweet my thoughts! Then a funny thing happened, I accidentally left my phone in the car while visiting Tulip Town and instead of feeling panic, I felt only slightly concerned that my phone would be stolen. I opted not to go back to the car once I realized that my phone was actually hidden and then I didn't think about it again until we got back in the car and I needed it for directions. I was able to full engage with my children on our Friday Fun Day adventure without checking my phone to see what other people were doing. I was fully immersed. I had a great time taking pictures of my kids and being in the present. The only sharing of our day that I did was to take a picture of my extremely muddy kids and send it to my husband for a laugh.
We headed up to Vashon Island for a story that I was doing and I'm bummed that I'm off social media because usually I'd send out a Facebook and Twitter request for things to do, get a pulse from the people. Luckily I get some great tips from a PR rep and then I do what one did before social media, I chat people up on the street. I notice that I'm willing to talk to people more now. I'm willing to be more face to face.
Before leaving Seattle, we have soccer practice to attend. Normally, I'd sit on the sidelines and snap a few photos while checking out social media. Since I can't, I snap a few photos and watch my kids. I chat with a few parents and even chat up a kid who is having a hard time adjusting to practice. I leave practice feeling pretty happy. In fact, I'd say that my happiness level has increased this week. I feel so in the present that I'm really experiencing everything and it makes me glad. I'm also feeling way more creative. I've written more this week for enjoyment than I have in the past.
I wake up and realize that I can check social media again. I thought this would excitement but it doesn't. In fact, I decide that since I'm the only one awake that I'd rather read the rest of my book. I head to the couch and sit down to read. I'm up for an hour before anyone else wakes up and spend that entire time reading. I don't even check social media until most of the morning is gone. I notice that not much has happened since I've been away. Later as we are waiting for the ferry, I check social media again but then quickly put my phone away to sing songs with my kids. The wait for the ferry ends up being long but we fill the time singing loudly and eating oranges.
I learned a lot during my week off Social Media. I did miss it. I missed hearing what my friends are doing but I also learned that I waste so much time on Social Media that could be spent doing things that really matter to me. I also discovered that I am a productive person without the distraction of Social Media. I read two and a half books, wrote numerous articles, took amazing photos, finished a video for a class, started a knitting project, played with my kids, made delicious food and had an extremely happy time. I've decided to take these breaks a few times a year. I'm also considering taking a digital break when we go to the beach later this year. That might need to be shorter than a week due to my writing work but I think it could be extremely beneficial. I might even write my articles long-hand before typing them into the computer.
I'm working to limit my time spent on Social Media now. I'm trying to only check the sites during times when I can't or shouldn't be doing something else. If I arrive at preschool early, then that is a great time to check Facebook while I wait. But I no longer scroll through Facebook when I'm spending time with my children. I'm trying to be more present with them, my husband and friends instead of being distracted by Instagram. I'm still very much a work in progress and social media is quickly slipping back into the crevices of my life.
My advice for people feeling overwhelmed, distracted and frustrated by Social Media is to take a break from it. The world doesn't stop because you take a break but your world can slow down and everyone needs a vacation from the everyday. You might just be inspired by your time off. You might hate it. But you will learn something from your time off.