About four years ago, corporate digital marketing specialist Anastasia Dedyukhina, Ph.D., made a radical change in her all-consuming digital habit. Previously glued to her smartphone, she decided to replace it with a basic phone that allowed only text and talk, because, she said, she started feeling the phone vibrating in her pocket even though she had no pockets. She realised then that she needed to change her lifestyle: No more emails to her mobile device, no more internet — and no more social media to keep her plugged into happenings all day, every day, 24/7. “It made me a much calmer and creative person,” she said.
The experience also prompted her to found Consciously Digital, a London-based company that helps people balance their online and offline activities and, in turn, take control of their frenzied lives. “We are used to being constantly stimulated and discovering new things, and our devices give to us an instant gratification,” added Dedyukhina, also author of Homo Distractus: Fight for Your Choices and Identity in the Digital Age.
It’s a cold, hard fact: Most people — including professionals around the globe — are infatuated with their devices and are drawn daily to social media sites such as Twitter, Snapchat, Weibo, WhatsApp, and countless others. Almost 3.5 billion people worldwide are active social media users, according to We Are Social and Hootsuite’s global Digital 2019 report. And while growth has levelled in the US, 69% of Americans still use some sort of social media, YouTube being the most popular, followed by Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, the Pew Research Center recently reported.
This lure of immediate gratification is both good and bad: Professionals can connect with clients or colleagues, find talent, and conduct research on some social media sites; but they also fight the constant urge to check messages, view photos or videos, and get lost in the online whirlpool. Social media usage fills the mind and the minutes (sometimes hours), leaving little room or time for innovation.
People become less productive, and disengaged from in-person communication, noted Chris Bailey, a productivity consultant in Kingston, Ontario, and author of Hyperfocus: How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction. And they are less reflective and strategic and more reactive and anxiety-ridden, he added.
“When we’re on these websites, they pull us into this vortex of distraction,” Bailey said. “The internet is where our intentions go to die.” This reality has forced some companies to get creative in dealing with the problem. Sweden’s Background AB, a presentation production company, several years ago implemented a six-hour workday (a popular notion in the country) during a 12-month experiment, but recommended its employees stay away from social media when working. “In order to meet our clients’ deadlines and to be efficient during the short six-hour workday there was no time for private social media usage,” noted company founder Gabriel Alenius.
So how do professionals avoid getting sucked into the social media maze, where one click leads to another, and then another? Bailey and Dedyukhina offer the following tips:
Create a timetable. Schedule brief periods to check your social media accounts, and don’t waver from this plan. Check your messages in the morning or during a break. Or, “At the end of every hour, allow yourself 5 minutes of Instagram procrastination, but only after you have accomplished an important chunk of work,” Dedyukhina said.
Delete, delete, delete. “One of the most productive things I’ve ever done is to delete all of my social media accounts from my phone, and so if I want to fiddle with something, I can’t,” Bailey said. So remove these apps from your phone, and only access these sites via computer. Also limit the notifications you receive and “be very selective to what you allow to interrupt you throughout the day,” he added.
Use distraction blockers. Employ one of the many “distraction blockers” that can help prevent you — even temporarily — from logging onto a site. Applications like Freedom, Cold Turkey, FocusMe, and SelfControl allow you to selectively disable access to websites for a time period that you designate when you want to focus on your work or cut the noise, Bailey said. Another app, called Buffer, allows users to plan and type social media messages without actually visiting the sites and getting pulled into the web of distraction.
Be upfront with clients. Clients may contact you via some social media platforms. If that is the case, let them know when and where they can hear from you. “As long as we are putting up time-and-place boundaries, we can still have happy relationships with clients without compromising our own well-being,” Dedyukhina said.
Get active. While you’re struggling through your Facebook withdrawal, fill that time with other activities. Take a walk at lunchtime. Later, take a class, read books, and spend time with friends and family. “Having an activity you replace social media with is critical, so you don’t end up watching Netflix,” Bailey said.
Get some sleep. Many people go to bed with their phones on the nightstand, the equivalent of sleeping with your house door open, Dedyukhina said. So disable your notifications and “improve tremendously the quality of your sleep by getting an old-fashioned alarm clock and leaving your phone to charge out of the bedroom”, she advised.
Take an extended break. Make a commitment to ban social media use for eight days, much like a holiday, because that period will allow your mind to settle and reset. “After that point, you will have adjusted to a lower level of stimulation,” Bailey said. “Go without social media and notice how much you can accomplish.”
Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.