It’s probably no surprise to you that these days we are under a constant barrage of media input.
If it’s not television, music, moves, or video games consuming your time these days — it’s probably email, blogs, apps, YouTube, websites, Twitter, and Facebook. I mean it’s gotten to the point that I can’t even eat my Lucky Charms in the morning without Lucky the Leprechaun nagging me to log on and visit him on his #%@! website.
Anyone who has spent any length of time online knows that checking email, watching YouTube videos, and posting updates to Twitter, Google+, and Facebook can consume your entire day if you’re not careful. Honestly, if it wasn’t for all the coffee I drink and my children needing to eat on a regular basis, I probably wouldn’t be able to pull myself away from the computer at all.
As if that’s not bad enough, we have annoying websites like this one calling you a slacker if you’re not involved in all of these social networking sites as a way to connect with your customers and fellow artists. Now we’ve got Google+ pounding on the door wanting us to spend the rest of our day sorting our friends into elaborate social circles.
This is not about whether or not it’s worth your time and effort to be on Facebook and Twitter. This is about being finding a way to use these social networking sites without having them take over your entire life.
What seems to be happening is that we keep signing up for more of these accounts, which of course requires more of our time to constantly update and maintain them. In other words, we keep adding all of these new things to our plate while the number of hours we have to deal with them never changes. Sooner or later something has got to give.
I know that I’m not the only one thinking about this issue these days because several of my friends have recently either shut down their social media accounts or forced themselves on a social media sabbatical because they realized that it was consuming way too much of their day.
In other words, they simply gave up and walked away.
After seeing this happen again and again, I started to wonder . . . Is there such a thing as finding a healthy balance when it comes to using these kind of social media sites? And if so, was it possible for someone like myself who generally has the willpower and self-discipline of a fruit fly?
I was curious if there was a way to be involved with these sites without having them take over your life. Was the only solution really to shut down and walk away? So one day, in between posting status updates, I sat down and tried to come up with a list of different options that I could possibly use to limit myself from frittering away my entire day on these useful but also time-sucking websites:
After looking over these options, I quickly realized that giving up completely and going cold turkey probably wasn’t a real option, nor was hiring someone else to do all of this for me (although I’m sure that might appeal to many of you). So I was left with four remaining options:
The last option about writing the whiny long-winded article on this site was obviously a given ;)
So over the past month or so, I’ve been experimenting a bit with a few of these different strategies
What I quickly discovered was that timers and time limits for the most part don’t really work on me. I apparently have some type of starch blocker in my brain that filters out any ringing or buzzing sound that indicates that I should logging off from Facebook, Twitter, or anything else for that matter. I have a feeling that this is sadly the result of ignoring my alarm clock for all these years. Please learn from my example kids. The snooze button is not your friend!
So timers and schedules were quickly ruled out.
Next I decided that I would just take a break for awhile. Just as if you were deprogramming yourself from a cult or recovering from a bad case of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream addiction. You just take a step back, do without, and then see what happens. . .
I think this lasted about three or four days before I started going through status update withdrawal and getting the Twitter version of the hippie-shakes. People were trying to contact me! What kind of Twitter friend would I be if I just left them hanging out there in cyberspace? Who else was going to share my idiotic observations of the world if it wasn’t me? I was weak I know, but in the process I also discovered that taking an extended leave of absence probably wasn’t going to happen.
So in the end, it was either continue to do what I had been doing, or start rationing out my social media days like some type of bizarro Weight-Watchers program. I had a feeling that this might be my last chance for social media sanity, so I was determined to make it work.
Sometimes it’s all about momentum and habit, we find ourselves doing something (both good and bad) for no other reason then we’ve been doing it. We need to find a way to break the cycle and stop the momentum in order to change our habits.
So lately I’ve been scheduling days where I won’t get on Twitter or Facebook at all (gasp!) — Now I know this may sound a bit extreme to some of you, but I also knew that it was the only way that I was going to make this work. Schedules didn’t work. Time limits didn’t work. So now I was down to “Facebook Free” days as my final option.
My original plan was that instead of having a fixed day of the week to “turn off and tune out”, I would simply schedule my Twitter-free days a week or two in advance so that I could plan my writing schedule accordingly. The idea was to start with one day a week and then possibly work my way up to 2-3 days a week later on.
At first I found myself scheduling these days on easy-to-avoid the computer days such as when family activities would pull me away from home or we would be out of town. The problem with this system, of course, is that I wasn’t actually getting any writing done either on these day because I had conveniently scheduled all my Facebook-free days to coincide with the time that I wouldn’t have been sitting at the computer working otherwise.
On paper it looked like the plan was working perfectly and I was suddenly exhibiting a lot of willpower, but in reality I knew that I was simply taking the easy way out. Eventually it came to the point that I had to start banning myself from checking Twitter, Facebook, the website, and even opening my email during “creative working” hours/days. I finally realized that even the smallest peek into my email inbox would quickly begin my descent into social media madness.
Creativity, at least for me, has always required a period of quiet stillness time that is uninterrupted.
Many of us need that downtime where there is nothing to distract us and nothing for us to do. We need those moments of creative solitude in order to listen to those soft creative voices within. We also need that time to recharge and process all of the input that we already have received.
You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. ~Kafka
I remember reading about how Mahatma Gandhi would take one day a week and not speak to anyone. He didn’t do this to rest his vocal chords, he did this because he realized the value of taking the time to reconnect with his inner voice even in the midst of overthrowing a colonial empire. Now I obviously don’t have a smidgen of the willpower and self-discipline that Mr. Gandhi exhibited in his daily life but I realize now that he was on to something.
I needed to find the time to be alone with myself
So I started turning off the wi-fi on my laptop and kicking it old school every few days. No web browsers, no Pandora, no TweetDeck, no email, just me and that scary blank page.
From now on, there will probably be some days where you won’t hear from me at all on Twitter or Facebook and if you send me an email message I might not respond right away. It hasn’t be easy, but I’ve had to swallow my pride let go of the idea that I could do it all.
I am slowly learning how to adapt and survive in this brave new digital world. Like so many others, I am still fumbling around trying to find that elusive balance between being constantly connected and still having those precious moments of solittude where creativity can take root and blossom. I can only ask you to be patient with me as I learn to be more patient with myself.
This is not goodbye, it is only a new beginning…
Image courtesy of Marshall Astor
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.