I feel less anxious.
I press more lightly on my Sharpie.
I meditate more—sometimes even for twenty minutes instead of the usual ten.
I laugh more at the little things.
I have started daydreaming about the big things.
I read more. (I highly recommend Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid)
I write more.
I connect more.
I am more focused.
All of this was because of a significant break up.
I broke up with social media for the month of January.
Here’s why I decided to stop scrolling on social media for a while, what I learned about being a digital minimalist, and ideas for disconnecting and connecting more at work and in the world.
Before the breakup, scrolling found its way into nearly all my morning routines— as I hopped on my meditation pillow, while throwing the kale and protein powder into my blender, while climbing the stairmill, or from the weight machine. While I’m not proud to admit it, I even once pulled a muscle while liking a post, mid-walking lunges.
Evenings were similar and usually consisted of scrolling through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram (I gave up on Facebook years ago). I went to sleep full of updates about other people—and full of self-loathing. I would lament the time lost to social media that could have been spent learning Spanish, reading a good book, writing, catching up with my husband, or even getting desperately-needed sleep.
Worse still, I thought I was spending about thirty minutes a day on social media, just ‘quickly checking in’ on things. It turns out, I was averaging more than two hours.
Technology disruptions (mostly social media for me) were also seeping into my work practices. The stream of notifications from social media, Slack, email, and texts had consistently increased over the years. While I hacked my way through or around them—by turning my phone over in a meeting or turning notifications off at certain times—I was still letting myself be interrupted more and more.
The Wall Street Journal highlighted that office workers get interrupted—or self-interrupt—roughly every three minutes. Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine who studies digital distraction, said that once thrown off track, it can take 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task. And a social media interruption occurs every 10.5 minutes on average.
There is a plethora of research confirming that technology is using us more than we are using it. We are addicted to our phones. And that is exactly what they are designed to do.
Tristan Harris was a design ethicist at Google, where he studied the ethics of human persuasion. It was there when he realized the pervasiveness of technology in our lives. He went on to co-found the Center of Humane Technology. When I first heard him speak at Wisdom 2.0 in 2018, I was both inspired and deeply concerned about our addiction to our phones—especially how the very technology we thought was helping us save time was, in fact, manipulating us to waste more time.
I couldn’t avoid it anymore. It was time for a self-imposed intervention.
Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, recently wrote a book called Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. One of my clients, who was noticeably focused and productive, encouraged me to read the book last December.
In the book, Newport references a study that highlights the paradox of social media that many of us, including me, feel:
“It makes us feel both connected and lonely, happy and sad… especially when the sound of a voice or a cup of coffee with a friend is replaced with ‘likes’ on a post.”
While Newport himself does not utilize social media and has convinced others they really do not need to be a part of it, the book was less about getting people off of social media and more about minimizing it. He shares stories of how ‘digital minimalists’ are still connecting with social media but under their own new, redefined terms. He emphasizes that technology is intrinsically neither good nor bad. We have a choice in using it to support our goals and values or letting it overlay its own goals onto us.
Per Newport’s recommendation, I had to decide what minimizing my technology and social media use meant to me. Minimalism, by definition, is the art of knowing how much is just enough. We Swedes call it lagom, which means “just the right amount.”
I decided that before I defined digital minimalism, I had to go cold turkey for one month. I had a feeling that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have had the courage to reduce my scrolling time as meaningfully as I knew was best.
During my breakup with social media, I was fortunate enough to hear Tiffany Shlain speak about her new book, 24/6 and how she does a digital shabbat with her family every Friday. She talked about how we are all overstimulated and in a constant state of want. Suicide rates have doubled since the iPhone came out, while mental health issues in general are also increasing. This isn’t just about creating more space in our lives. This is about an epidemic that is negatively impacting all of us.
As a society, we need to create a more intentional relationship with our phones and social media—not just because it allows us to be more present, but also because it’s good for us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
When February rolled around, to my great surprise, I wasn’t ready to get back together with my social feeds. So, I extended my breakup for a few more weeks, gradually peeking in to just a few posts. Despite a tightness in my stomach as I started scrolling again, I didn’t feel compelled to look at, or like, everything. And, I was able to pop out within ten minutes.
I had done it. Life not controlled by social media can be done.
I have decided that, for me, digital minimalism on social media means that I want to provide value and share my thoughts with people as well as hear from others whom I care about. To do this, I have to be intentional about when, where, and for how long I engage every day. My new goal is thirty minutes a day.
Here are some other tips for managing your relationship with social media:
- Turn off notifications.
- Put your phone away during meetings and meals—not just flipped over on the table, but in your bag. Better yet, leave your phone at your desk if you’re going to another room for a meeting.
- Track your time on social media and give yourself a time limit.
- Delete social media on your phone.
- Get outside more. I recently discovered the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing and love it. Walking meetings are good, but be mindful of colleagues with heels or shoes that aren’t made for long walks. A meeting on the rooftop works well, too!
- Recruit your friends and colleagues to spend less time on social media so it’s something you all do together.
Other tips for taking control of your digital life can be found here from The Center for Humane Technology.
If you see me breaking any of my new social media minimalism rules—call me out on it and ask me why! I may have a good reason, but most of the time I probably won’t.