Hello, all. I’m still alive.
I set out to (mostly) eliminate digital media, including all forms of social media, from my life last month using an ultimate digital declutter process. Why? I felt like my time was wasted with Netflix or Amazon programming binges, Twitter and Pinterest scrolling, and Facebook’s ongoing attempts to give me heartburn. Last September, I wrote in my journal: I need to think about disengaging from social media. There’s far too much negativity swirling about and flooding my feeds. I don’t want that in my life. I’ve felt this way countless times since social media became the next big thing, and I know I’m not the only one. So, I decided to cut it out completely to give myself a break and to reassess how I will use social media in the future. So did I succeed or did I fail?
I did succeed. Fairly well, I suppose. I succeeded in refraining from digital/social media, and I honestly don’t think I’ll return to using it, or allowing social media to manipulate me, in the same way again.
The declutter was not without its challenges. Although I removed the minute number of apps available for my outdated Windows phone and any social media apps on my kindle, I quickly discovered I had developed a habit of opening a new tab to check out the news or any “important” updates on FB. Wouldn’t want to miss out on anything, would I?
In the first few days of my declutter, I caught myself using muscle memory to open a new tab when I “thought” my brain needed a break from work. I would close the tab immediately, dumbfounded that I had developed this terrible habit to the point that I didn’t consciously choose to seek out a momentary distraction, but I had essentially wired my brain to make my fingers reflexively click on whatever would distract me from any sort of deep focus on work. I would pick up my phone, again reflexively, to check out the news (no news – app deleted), and instantly set my phone back down again when I realized what my physical body was doing out of habit.
After the first week, the impulsive clicking evaporated. Every now and then I would almost open a tab but catch myself before I clicked. Then I stopped clicking altogether. As you can imagine, Facebook quickly takes notice of your absence and starts to send emails to you. Many emails, daily. Notifications of “all you’ve been missing” lately. I don’t open any of the emails. Twitter starts to send emails to check out the notifications as well. I ignore all. I’m not missing out on anything.
Part of journal entries pertaining to digital declutter (the first few days were the impulsive clicking described above):
July 3: Briefly thought about something on Netflix but remembered my digital declutter. Read instead.
July 6: I’ve been reading more. Using my brain instead of letting it float around, wasting away in social media. Feels good.
July 9: Feel calmer. I have fewer distractions. Reading more. I miss having Google on my phone, I will admit that. Don’t miss the news. It’s all depressing stuff anyway. Will need to find a better way. NPR?
July 12: Still no social media. No Netflix. No Amazon. Although, I am regularly tempted to watch old Grey’s or Doctor Who, especially when I’m stressed and really tired after work. I just want to veg out.
July 16: I hardly pick up my phone now. Kindle is for reading and the battery lasts forever now.
July 22: Still no social/digital media. Almost done with the book by David Goggins. The man is a beast.*
July 27: No social media and I’m just fine, although I do miss Netflix/Amazon. Sometimes I take a pic or think about taking a pic to share and I think, “really?” There’s nothing new to show. I don’t need to share the same pics over and over. Boring. Coming up on the end of my digital declutter. Right now I’m yearning for a Doctor Who or Grey’s marathon, but they won’t help me reach my goals. Okay with not scrambling back onto FB. Keen to check out Twitter, but definitely feel more relaxed without all the drama.
July 31: Last day of digital declutter. I’m alive. This whole month has been bleh, less than desirable in so many ways. The worst month I’ve had at work for sure. (Work crap and financial stresses listed, won’t go into that business.) It would have been far worse for me if I had all the bs from social media on top of my ridiculous work stress. I wouldn’t have gotten any billing done at home, either.
So, what did I do with my digital media-free time? I read 12 books. I wrote in my journal. I worked on my novel and dug out my old screenplay to revise. I thought about a lot of stuff without the input from outside noise. It was like I ventured into the forest for clarity except I didn’t have the redwoods, rain, trees, and utmost quiet at my disposal. I thought I would fill my spare time with exercise as well, but July had me burdened with a high amount of stress and I’m mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. After a year and half of struggling, this past month almost broke me more than anyone knows, because I’m ridiculously private. I actually tried to work out somewhat regularly knowing it usually gives me extra energy, but I could barely complete 20 min walks. I look worn down. I feel worn down. However, things will get better. There is a glimmer of hope. Finally.
And now it’s August 1st. I haven’t checked out anything online yet, despite working from home all day. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to break focus to browse FB or Twitter. I’ve killed the impulse to click for distractions when what I need is to concentrate, so my productivity level has increased significantly. It’s a game-changer, and I’ve been on my laptop for the majority of the day. I’ve had to work from home a number of times this past month due to construction, and I’ve not lost myself in social medialand (ideal timing for my digital declutter, eh?). When I needed a break today, I stretched, talked to the bird (who is now starting to say her name, Lexi), and had a snack, as I’ve done the previous times this month during home billing days. Even as I write this blog entry right now, I don’t click on anything but my music selection. I’ll likely post this entry onto FB and Twitter sometime tonight, but that’s about all I have planned for interaction today.
That’s the key now: planned interaction. It’s unlikely I’ll return to FB as much. There’s so much drama. It’s exhausting. Twitter is becoming the same way, but I prefer it over FB at the moment. Pinterest is a beautiful black hole time suck. I look at every country I want to travel, every home I love, projects I can do, food I can consume, clothes I want, books to read, funny memes, everything. It’s the best thing ever if you want to be distracted for hours on end. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with scrolling through FB, Twitter, or Pinterest every now and then, but I know that unless I’m vigilant with the time I spend on social media, I’ll get sucked into the vortex. I must be mindful of the time I spend on Netflix and Amazon as well. I don’t want to spend my “day within a day” (and my apologies – I can’t recall which book I read that in, but it stuck) mindlessly watching television. I want more.
I know an ultimate digital declutter won’t work for everyone. Some people work in social media and can’t control much of it. My son (I just went to link to Twitter & it’s changed again, and I like the old look at this point but it’s new, so again I adjust) who works online constantly, said this of this his process: “…I just try to focus on digital wellness, minimizing distractions, and only checking social media when I take a break or I’m idling and waiting on something else (like a pot of coffee to brew).”
Damn. I raise good kids, eh? 😉
I think digital wellness is an appropriate term. We want physical, emotional, and mental wellness in our lives. We should aim for digital wellness as well. I think we all know this but implementing a digital wellness program is just as challenging as starting an exercise program. Where is the right place to begin? Which sort of digital declutter process will work best? How long does one need to declutter? One week, one month, longer? I don’t have the ultimate answer for any of this. All I know is 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. The rest of it I gleaned from Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism.
The declutter worked for me. It might not for you, and that’s okay. It brought me back into focus. I can sit and write, uninterrupted by social media, for a long time. I can work on stuff that’s tedious for a substantial amount of time without drifting off into Lalaland. I can dive deep into work like I once did prior to the social media revolution. I’m in my mid-40’s, so half of my life was spent without cell phones, and more than that without social media as a distraction. The ability to focus is ingrained in me, unless I’m sitting at a desk and want to pass a note to the person diagonal from me, without anyone noticing. Then the focus increases five-fold. No one must see the note. (Although everyone does, but usually pretends not to notice. Or if you’re Tim Kirkman, you collect the note, read it, snicker, and then pass it on to its intended recipient. Usually. But Tim would have a mostly-focused me to contend with now. However, he probably still has his freakish ninja skills. So I’d still be screwed. But I digress.)
I feel free. Social media doesn’t have the same control over me; I have more control over it. Or so I think at this point. Should I realize the opposite a week from now or a month from now, I’ll start the declutter over again. It honestly doesn’t hold the same attraction, but like an old bad boyfriend, things that once looked promising and then turned bad can look good once again due to delicate whispers and lovely promises. Social media is exactly the same. Must keep sharp.
This has been an exceptionally long post, and for that I thank you if you’re still here.
Please comment below if you’ve ever tried a digital declutter and if it’s worked for you. Or what worked for you. Methods, time frames, rules. It’s interesting to see what works for people. It’s also great for giving other people ideas on how to declutter their digital lives.
I hope you all have a wonderful, mostly digital-free weekend.
*This book is exceptional, this man is beyond exceptional, yet he proves anyone can (almost) do what he does by training their thoughts. Please, please read it or purchase the audio version and listen to it. If you can’t afford it, request it from your library as I did. (Although, I will now buy it and read it again and again, and I’m buying the audio version for members of my family.) If you have no idea who David Goggins is and why you should spend your time listening to him, check out these two videos (they are WORTH your time, trust me), here and here, amongst a dozen others on YouTube. He’s the real deal. Fucking Goggins, man. I need to listen to him every single day.
Until I’m Fucking Stodden.