Four friends are taking selfies on their phones at the same time, effectively hiding themselves and … [+]
I was waiting in line at a cafe when I took out my cell phone.
Knowing how our minds determine what is important in life doesn’t seem to help me much: I know that the salience network in our brain helps us focus on important events and topics. I am grateful that we have this ability. Still, I chose Instagram.
Since I’m busy writing a book, I tend to find light, shallow, and thoughtless distractions to escape. How many people liked it last Thursday? Normally I wouldn’t care, but suddenly it’s incredibly important.
Next, I flipped through my feed, feeling dragged into the abyss: what my friends were eating for lunch, who they were dating, and what they’d bought from Old Navy. For the Star Wars fans out there, it’s like a Death Star tractor beam. You can’t win. You might as well allow anything.
Lately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve found that the appeal of social media is more like the Death Star than ever before. And let me stop here for a moment and get one thing straight: I’m one of the biggest social media advocates you will find. It can change your whole business model. You can discover new customers with viral content. I’ve seen what can happen when an influencer tweets one of my articles. In my career as a journalist, social media has changed radically since around 2008 when I first logged in and started browsing. It is great.
At the same time, I am aware of the dangers. I know that scrolling social media to satisfy yourself doesn’t really solve any of our problems.
I recently had a chat with productivity (and brilliant computer scientist) Cal Newport. Yes, I’ve read all of his books and seen a few podcast interviews. I wasn’t aware of that at the time, but Newport is pretty brave about the dangers of technology during the pandemic. With social media, we have to see it as a tool and a means to an end, quantify and master it, and not let it determine how we spend our time.
“Some of us have to be really drastic,” he told me during our chat. “We have to stop seeing technology as a psychological pacifier and distraction.”
His solution? To be much more conscious.
I already knew about Newport’s views on social media. He sees the platforms as tools and nothing more. In a podcast interview with Donald Miller he once explained how to do it would be smarter if we all used social media than planning marketing posts. That is, with more intent and purpose rather than using the apps all day. “We have to first find out what is important to me and then strategize the technology in specific ways,” he said.
I had the feeling that he could be the last one to decipher technology and the benefits of digital innovation, as he is a computer scientist. During the chat I realized that he wasn’t enthusiastic about any of these apps and was more interested in how people are productive and achieve great things in their work.
I also like the way he’s doing something about the problem of tech obsession. He recently released The Time-Block Planner, an analog tool to support a digital world.
The idea is healthy. By organizing your thoughts, choosing key metrics to focus on during the day, and then reviewing your performance, you can address the distraction in a visceral, tangible way. On social media, this can mean spending time posting and even browsing, but then leaving it behind.
“The urgent will push the important aside,” he says in the video. “With the time block planning, on the other hand, we reverse the script.” It emphasizes how the planner is helping you isolate yourself from digital distractions like social media.
His video explains everything:
Does it actually work? I can confirm that block time planning and journaling help me focus and avoid distractions. I never combined them. I’ve learned that more intentionality means more productivity.
I’m a fan of the planner and I’m currently using one to help focus better.
Will I still do the doom scroll? Perhaps. Yes. For sure? I’m still learning why I do this during my downtime and what I want to achieve.
I’m also making progress. I know the Doom scroll is a waste of my time and I am learning that my time is precious. According to Newport, time blocking can double your productivity. I think it. I haven’t used the diary for too long on time blocking so I plan to share how it all turns out.
Right now, you know this: We need these tools. We won’t do it any other way.