A growing number of people these days are realizing how much of a pull social media has on their lives. Turning off the 24-hour news stations is easy, but unplugging from the constant stream of targeted links online can be much more difficult to pull yourself away from. If you, like me, find yourself clicking on your Reddit or Hacker News toolbar links whenever your attention starts to drift then it's time to take action! With this in mind, I decided to try going a month without social link sites. And by that I mean sites that you could theoretically stay on long enough so that when you refresh there's new content. Reddit, HackerNews and Digg are the top offenders for me. I wouldn't put Google Reader in the same category, since eventually you'll reach an end to your feeds (and with periodic pruning you'll reach it faster). So I set off to work; content in the thought that no matter what I wouldn't open any of these sites. After removing all bookmark links, things went pretty quietly for the remainder of the first day- - withdrawal takes a little longer to set in.
Effects at Home
I felt the first noticeable change in behavior the first night I stopped using these sites. Generally after getting home from work, I'd veg out a little on the couch and read news from the day along with interesting articles. I'd break to eat dinner with my girlfriend, but eventually I'd continue reading more at some point during the night. What I realized what that I concentrate entirely too hard on what I'm doing. In programming, or creating things in general, this is an asset, but in this case concentrating on reading an infinitely long string of articles meant I was adding extra stress on myself while making me much less fun to be around. By not popping open Reddit, there was a refreshing feeling. It's as if I had a lot of chores that were suddenly called off. The stress that I'd become accustomed too was gone and I ended up sleeping much better that night.
All that extra time
Chances are you have a list of books you want to read. If you're spending all your time reading the hot blog post of the day, then this list is only going to grow in size. If you attacked this list the same way as social news, you'd probably learn a whole lot more, while cutting the stress. The amount of time you'll gain is a bit of a shocker at first. When I realized just how much of my time was going into this though, it was unjustifiable to continue. A few minutes here, a few minutes there does really add it. If you want to track where you're using your time, I'd recommend Wakoopa . Wakoopa is sort of a social time tracker. You can use it to track your use of desktop applications, as well as web applications. It also gives software recommendations. So for instance, if you're using Transmit for FTP, you'll see it's the 2nd most popular FTP client for Mac, and you can check out some of the alternatives other people actually use. It's convenient to have a list based on actual usage. You can also set your profile so everyone can see certain applications and web applications you're using, or set certain apps to private. Having something public that's tracking your usage out there is a nice kick in the butt to go through with something too.
In the building I work at, there's a phrase on the wall that I see everyday
The best times in life are when we are creating.
Although it's by our landlord, who has since gone bankrupt, it's still good advice. Thinking back over the years at previous jobs and times of my life; one thing that consistently leaps to the top is what I was creating. Times when I'm not actively working on project; or aren't genuinely enthusiastic about some personal project are when my attention drifts and I become susceptible to distraction. One of the best ways to fight time drains is just to find something you're passionate about and sink your time into it instead. Whether it's blogging, programming, writing or building stuff out of Legos — it'll feel so much better doing that instead.
Finding a place for Social Media
You might notice above I mentioned that I was planning to go a month without social media; yet the title of this post says differently. The main goal though was not to avoid using sites like this altogether, but to stop one of my biggest time drains. For now I'm keeping these sites off my toolbar. I still go to them occasionally, but now it's only late at night if I feel like I've gotten something accomplished that day, and never enough to linger. Just moving the action from an automated one to a manual one was the kick I needed to regain that time.