Opinion

How I brought my social media addiction under control

Patrick D'SouzaIn this guest post, Patrick D’souza has a few ideas for how to ensure social media doesn’t get the better of your working and private life.

One of the things social media has done, in many cases without being noticed, is gradually impinge upon our time.

Every day, fewer and fewer units of this valuable commodity are left available to us, thanks in no small measure, of course, to our fascination with phones, tablets and the easy access to information they provide.

A few days ago I decided to look at where I was spending my time and whether it was being used in the most profitable and remunerative manner possible.

What I found was interesting. The place I was spending most of my time, about 30-40 per cent, was not Facebook or Linkedin as I had imagined, but email.

Email is deceptive because we can often view it as an ‘open, close, forward, reply, delete’ mechanism. This isn’t the case. Not any more anyway, now that social platforms must compete for our affections and the platform many choose to do that on is email.

In my zeal to be a well informed professional I found I had signed up to more platforms than I could poke a stick at. I was being assaulted on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, by a compendium of forces including Linkedin, Twitter, Scoopit, Google Plus, Medium, Farnham, Quora and others.

The problematic platforms were, unsurprisingly, the ones with the best content – Linkedin, Scoopit, Medium and Farnham. Open one of their emails, and if youŕe an infophile the way many of us in the business are, you only emerge several hours later.

Work was starting to suffer. I found I wasn’t writing or creating any more. I was simply consuming.

But that was only 30-40 per cent of time. What about the balance? Well, it was being sucked up by this intolerable weakness to ‘respond’ that many of us in the industry suffer from. I found I was responding to everything and everyone, sometimes for their benefit but not always my own.

People were starting to notice. My brother-in-law would often ask me if I could “put the phone away”. I couldn’t.

But I soon came to realise that I had to put an end to my addiction. I had to bring some control back into my life.

But how? I took five steps.

1. I took an hour to go through every email from the platforms I use (even my favourite ones – Linkedin and Twitter) and unsubscribed from each alert. You don’t need to subscribe to a platform’s notifications when you visit it nearly every day.

2. I deleted applications on my phone and tablet that were making it easy for me to respond to social comment – Facebook and LinkedIn (Twitter, for my sanity’s sake, I kept). If you can’t bring yourself to delete applications, hide them from your home page. Put them in a place where theyŕe harder to access.

3. I started rewarding myself with tweets and posts. For every four-hour shift of real work done, and for me that is writing and conjuring through either my blog, or for the agencies and clients I consult to, I gave myself 15 to 30 minutes of tweeting, posting, responding. I discovered in the process that there is magic in gratification when it is delayed.

4. I started reading up on focus and control, and ways to enhance both. I immersed myself in Goleman (who is hawking his latest book Focus) and was enthralled by it. Goleman has identified that our modern day gadgetary is distracting and it is affecting our attention spans. When that happens, relationships suffer and so does productivity at work.

5. Yoga and breathing control have been immensely useful in knocking the stuffing out of that thing called impulse. That thing which makes us do what we want to, not what we need to.

Tweeting and posting are impulse activated behaviours. That is why they bring so much pleasure – a physical release, even – from a jolt of dopamine.

Not that we should deny ourselves of this. But everything, as they say, in moderation.

So, has my five-step programme worked?

I think so. Productivity is up, and time spent on doing inane things is down. I am averaging between a post a day on my blog in addition to meeting the exacting – and often unreasonable – demands of the clients and agencies I work with.

I am finding time, between tweets, posts, banking and paying my electricity bills, to also have frequent coffees and beers with friends, plus spend time teaching at my favourite charity in Mumbai, the Angel Express – where 1500 slum kids are given the keys to freedom daily – an education – thanks to the organisation’s amazing founder Ms Anubha Sharma and her long standing band of volunteers.

By managing my impulses, my propensity to tweet, post, provide my opinion – even when EXPRESSLY not solicited – I have managed to return to the place I hadn’t been for a while. The moment.

Patrick D’souza is the former MD of OgilvyOne Malaysia and the founder of Insanity, a content marketing consultancy with a presence in Singapore, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and Mumbai.

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