I got my first smart phone in 2009. It was a Droid that could barely load a website. But it had a full keyboard and a touch screen. I could download music. Phone + Snake + MP3's = WINNING!
In less than 10 years, the cell phone has become an extension of ourselves. A gateway that arms us with the information to make big plans, plan our next adventure, and augment how we interact with our world (if you take the time to fold up that Google Cardboard thing, which I just don’t have the time to get behind right now. Probably more of a Gen Z thing, anyway.)
But is the phone enabling us to experience more? Are our relationships more meaningful? Are we leveraging the mountains that are available us to make decisions with more clarity? You know all of these questions are rhetorical, right?
So we can search all of the things. Message all of the people. Our contacts can be categorized by hometown, job title, the bar you shared a beer at that one time, hair color, ride-sharing preference, etc.
But this does nothing for us. Our brains can only process one thing at a time. Multitasking is an illusion.
And it’s killing you. (Or at least making you a bad friend, colleague, partner, etc.)
Attention is a Finite Resource
I visualize my attention as a bank. When I wake up in the morning after a good night’s rest, the bank is full. But each thing I do diminishes the bank. And if I am multitasking the bank is emptied much more quickly.
There’s a huge difference between waking up and doing morning stretches vs waking up and scrolling through your social media feeds for 20 minutes, no? Multitasking becomes feedback loop of anxiety that keeps noshing on its own tail.
Checking email first thing disperses your attention to the tasks of getting ready for your day, which means you have a hectic morning, which means you are rushing to work, which means you barely make that 9am meeting, and your brain has no time to catch up with what your body is doing.
Just stop. Take a breath.
At the end of last year, I was forced to reevaluate how I have been doing things. My mental health, work, and relationships were suffering. I was watching myself barely tread water, and I had reached a point where I could not continue. I had to start making sustainable changes that would put me back in control of where my life is going.
Circumstances are often out of our control (the sudden death of my stepbrother, singing a year-long lease on an uninhabitable apartment, a move in the middle of January in Chicago.) The space we give ourselves to feel and process our emotions and be real with ourselves is something we can control. I won’t say it is all about perspective. We are all dealing with hardships, and perhaps trauma. But giving in to perpetual busy work and mindless scrolling is only compounding stressors that are making us exhausted, disconnected, anxious, or depressed.
This is not a quick fix. But I can say that I am happier now than I have ever been, despite the fact that I am still processing personal events and trauma. So what did my breakdown teach me?
1. “Let me get back to you.”
I had to stop making snap judgements and start practicing the phrase “Let me get back to you.” When you give yourself the space to think, feel, and process, you can make decisions from a place of clarity and with your own best interest in mind.
2. Stop Glorifying Business
One of my favorite yoga events in Chicago is Relaxapalooza, a celebration of self care and giving ourselves space for clarity. Their tagline is “Stop the Glorification of Busy”, which I have adopted for my own wellness.
At an early age I learned that output = self worth. If I work hard, I will reap the rewards, and working hard means I never stop.
Muscles don’t get stronger if you don’t give them time to rest between workouts. It is the same for your mental output. The best work happens when you give yourself the time to think and the attention to focus. Which brings me to...
3. Stop Multitasking!
I see you, ten Chrome tabs. “The red notifications bother me, so I should knock out these emails right now.”
If you spread your attention thin (thin means more than one task!) you take longer to complete everything. You may become so dispersed, that you don’t get anything done.
Try working this way instead:
25 minutes of a single activity
5 minute break
Repeat 4 times then take a long break (20-30 minutes)
This is called the Pomodoro Technique. You can go old school with a kitchen timer, or download an app like Tide to keep you honest.
Ok, so what does this have to do with live Tweeting events?
I’m a marketer by trade. This means I attend a lot of conferences. Before I was forced to change my habits and learned the tips outlined above, I figured that live tweeting keynotes and conference sessions would yield more booth traffic and business.
Here’s what really happened: I missed opportunities to connect with the people sitting right next to me.
Besides, everyone was so busy either listening to the speaker or—like me—trying to spin fifty plates and Tweet/Facebook live/Instagram the conference sessions no one will see. No one saw my posts. No one cares. They are already there.
The same is true IRL, IMO
“But I’m addicted to social media. I can’t stop!”
You don’t have to stop. Here’s how I’ve been able to stay connected with events and friends—but not let social media/email/TwoDots/insert-phone-app-drug-of-choice-here suck up all of my free time (while I’ve still got plenty of it.)
1. Delete social media apps from your phone.
Yes, you can keep Messenger, Instagram, and Snapchat if you must. But then you should…
2. Group all of your apps in the same category.
My group is simply named “Apps”, but you could get more creative and call it something like “Distractions” or “Bane of my Existence”
Grouping all of your apps in the same category adds multiple steps to access, which can prevent mindless opening and scrolling.
3. Move the least sexy apps to the first panel.
That way you aren’t tempted by those familiar icons when you unlock the screen. Think bank apps, Lyft (boo, Uber!), Calculator, etc.
4. Disable notifications.
All of them. I only have notifications for phone calls and text messages.
5. Set specific times to check social media
I give myself 30 minutes a day to check my social media feeds. I set a time, and that’s it. I haven’t missed out on anything since I started this practice in February. I promise you you will still get the same information in a timely manner if you only check once or twice a day.
Get rid of your Facebook news feed. News Feed Eradicator tool has changed my life. I have disabled and re-enabled my Facebook account dozens of times. NFE allows for you to participate in groups, stay in touch with friends, and find events without becoming a news feed scrolling zombie.
Got other social media mindfulness tips? Leave them in the comments below!