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Cutting Back on Social Media Distractions – Experiment Results

Lake Louise

I recently wrote about an experiment to claim control of my tech and social media life. Some tweaks worked, some didn’t. After 1.5 months of testing, here’s a quick update on the success (or failure) of those four goals.

As a good stress test of this, we spent October living in (and loving) Bend, followed by a week in Portland. We also tacked on fun days in 93-degrees-in-November Los Angeles for Farm Sanctuary’s anniversary gala, a fabulous event. (“Not traveling” is relative for us, I suppose.)

This challenge wasn’t about perfection. I knew there would be some modification to my initial plan, though I didn’t end up changing much. I’m surprised how passionately people respond when this challenge comes up. “Oh, I really want to do something like that!” It seems many of us realize the time drain or addiction that our devices can create.

A splendid day outside.

A splendid day in Yoho National Park.

With the election behind us (and piles of uncertainty ahead!), I’d wager social media time skyrocketed for most of us. Chelsea and I are inspired by the activism and positive energy we’ve seen pour forth – it’s awesome to see friends who never post about politics adding their voice to the mix.

Now is an important time to come together and let our voices be heard. I also think it’s necessary to compartmentalize the noise and only take in news and social media in chunks, which has only reinforced my commitment to this experiment.

The famously-high first bolts at Smith Rock always keep me focused...

The famously-high first bolts at Smith Rock always keep me focused…

Here’s how my four goals played out…

A weekly digital Sabbatical: Phone off and computer off on Saturday.

I’ll start off with the fail. Frankly, the digital Sabbatical I attempted to do every Saturday did NOT work for me.

There’s just too much communication in my life on weekends, ranging from coordination of outdoor activities, plans with friends, texts to Chelsea (“hey, I’m gonna be 2.5 hours late getting back from a bike ride”), or answering calls from tenants. Turns out my phone is an integral part of my daily life.

Luckily, in combination with the three items below, a digital Sabbatical turned out to be less necessary. Without the distracting pull from my phone, I’m far more present on Saturday. To keep boundaries on social media, I’ve opted to not post on Instagram or Facebook on the weekends.

All in all, an interesting experiment in being completely disconnected with too many potential headaches or trouble relative to the gain. I’m fine with that.

Saluting the Canadian Rockies! Pretty sure it was Saturday.

Saluting the Canadian Rockies in Banff! Pretty sure it was Saturday.

A no-phone rule during meals and in the bedroom

This rule is GREAT. I feel far more connected to people when I’m sitting down for a meal. Beyond that, there have been zero times when any texts or phone calls were so time sensitive that they couldn’t wait 1-2 hours.

Not having my phone by the bedside first thing in the morning is fantastic. On top of my usual reading, I’ve made a habit of firing up my Kindle in the morning and wound up reading over a dozen books in October.

Rather than reading on my phone, I bought a used Kindle that I am enjoying vs my phone. It’s also nice to signal “no interruptions please, I’m reading,” rather than the mixed signals looking at my phone. (Which used to mean I was just screwing around on social media!)

Morning sunrise in Yoho National Park, no cell signal allowed.

Morning sunrise in Yoho National Park, no cell signal allowed.

Deleting social media from my phone

This. Is. AWESOME. In the past, I’d grab my phone to flip through various feeds juuuust to check in. Now, my phone only has functional apps or (boring) work email on it, so I spend that time doing something else. (Even if it’s just standing in line talking to the person next to me.)

Gramblr has worked well for Instagram. Even though I’ve been riding, running or climbing almost every day since we got to Bend, I haven’t felt a daily pull to share. I haven’t posted a photo of the van in almost two months! *gasp*

I’ve definitely experienced moments where I wish I had social media to pull my attention away from boredom or as a distraction. Instead, I’m forced to face whatever I don’t REALLY want to be doing and just take care of it, which I think is a positive change.

Hanging with new friends at Lake Louise.

Hanging with new friends at Lake Louise. (First photo in this post is of Lake Louise also.)

Deleting personal email access my phone

Ahhh, silence. My phone is no longer a source of to-dos. By time blocking and only responding to personal email on my computer, I no longer stand frozen in grocery stores tip-tapping out a (slow, misspelled) response.

As a side effect to this, I’ve also backed off on responding to work email on my phone. If I’m away from my laptop, I’ll scan through email here and there, but unless it’s time sensitive, I just handle it later.

I highly recommend this tweak for anyone who separates their work and personal emails. Less time thinking about email is better time spent, if you ask me!

Smith Rock: My new backyard climbing playground and all-around beautiful location. Sunset turns the Crooked River into a perfect mirror of the red rock walls.

Smith Rock: My new backyard climbing playground and all-around beautiful location. Sunset turns the Crooked River into a perfect mirror of the red rock walls.

***

All in all, I’m calling this experiment a success. I feel more focused, better connected to people when I’m with them, and I’m reading a lot. Other than the digital Sabbatical, which didn’t work with my lifestyle, I’m planning to incorporate all the tweaks as permanent changes.

Here’s to finding some space to shut down devices and spend quality time with friends and family this coming week. Happy Thanksgiving!

If you’ve tried any social media or technology diets, what has stuck and what didn’t work for you?

You thought I'd go an entire post without a mountain biking shot? HAAAAA. Here's my buddy Paul enjoying a perfect day on Cline Butte in Central Oregon.

You thought I’d go an entire post without a mountain biking shot? HAAAAA. Here’s my buddy Paul enjoying a perfect day on Cline Butte in Central Oregon.

An Experiment in Decreasing Social Media Distractions

Fresh air and big views in Waterton National Park!

Noise has tugged at my concentration lately. Not voices in my head (I’m used to those), but comments, likes, and a gravitational pull from my phone.

I’ve felt myself twitching to check in, to scan through social media. My phone feels like a distraction scalpel, slicing away my ability to focus.

This has happened before, but this time, rather than my drastic measures of both 2014 and 2015 – when I completely checked out of social media for six months – I’m aiming for a more nuanced approach. After all, I meet and stay in touch with adventurous, fun people through Facebook and my Instagram account. I don’t want to shut that down.

Meeting (and hiking with) rad new friend in Canada!

Hiking with rad new friends in Canada!

I love connecting with friends and always look forward to hearing from people. This isn’t about removing that contact. Instead, I want to be completely present when I’m with someone in person. Too many times lately I’ll be talking to Chelsea while scanning my phone and will just stop mid-sentence, losing my train of thought, or else find myself texting or checking email during a meal.

I can’t just tell myself, “No social media except during these times of day.” It doesn’t work. I need a stronger obstacle than just moving an app to the 2nd screen on my phone. It’s similar to putting chocolate chip cookies out of sight versus not buying them. If they’re in the house, I will find and eat ALL the cookies.

To curb the frequent distractions, in September I added some structure to my tech life. These are tests, and I’ll report back later regarding how things are going. I will say that I already feel less distracted and present, which is exactly my goal.

Who needs a phone when you've got boxes?

When I was a kid, we played with boxes, not smartphones. Oh wait, this was only a few weeks ago.

My four experiments:

A weekly digital Sabbatical

Phone off and left behind, computer snapped shut and in a cabinet. More time to explore the outdoors, hang with Chelsea and/or friends, build something, read, or dig into other creativity. Maybe I’ll learn how to cook something besides stir fries and burritos! (*Cue Chelsea fainting in surprise*)

A no-phone rule during meals and in the bedroom

No more pulling my phone out mid-meal to check a text or Google some random fact. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just look that up,” or “Check out this photo!” The distraction continues and the conversation thread unravels.

Beyond that, I’m also no longer setting my phone on the table during meals. Leaving a phone in sight signals to my companion that I’m present and engaged, but ONLY until some other communique shoulders its way into our conversation. I don’t want that. Prior to meals, I’m putting my phone on do not disturb and banishing it to my pocket.

The same applies for phone use in the bedroom. No more: my phone (and Chelsea’s) will spend the night recharging in another space. Since I read all my books via my phone, I’m going to pick up a cheap Kindle for nighttime reading, which is probably better for my eyes anyway.

High on the Devil's Thumb in Banff with Lake Louise behind us.

High on the Devil’s Thumb in Banff with Lake Louise behind us…with phones off.

Deleting social media from my phone

Facebook was relegated to computer-only long ago, but my Instagram use warrants adjustment.

I still want to use Instagram, just not on my phone. To accomplish that, I downloaded the free program Gramblr, which facilitates posting from my computer. I edit all my photos in Lightroom on my laptop anyway, so this streamlines things.

I can scroll through IG and FB feed from my laptop, though I’m less likely to impulsively do so. I’m already spending that time on things like writing, reading, watching mountain biking videos (KIDDING), or editing videos and photos. The shift in my distraction levels was immediate and dramatic.

Phone stuff, on the other hand, fits into moments like grocery shopping, standing in line, driving, eating… What was a handy tool instead became an ever-creeping amoeba eating away moments of silence or solitude. As Lewis C.K. has said, sometimes we just need to be alone and not constantly bombarded by information.

Deleting personal email access my phone

No more scanning Gmail during “down” moments. I’ll be on top of work stuff, but personal emails can wait until I’m at a computer.

This is a two-fold victory: I won’t be pulled to check email all the time, and it is more efficient to respond on a computer versus pecking away on my phone.This isn’t an Email Commandment. I’m not setting time parameters like, “Ye shalt only look from 8-8:15 pm.” Simply removing the capability to look at email on my phone is enough to result in time-blocking, efficient email processing on my laptop.

No time to think about Instagram or email riding terrain like this. (Black Rock Mtn, Alberta)

No time to think about Instagram or email while riding terrain like this. (Black Rock Mtn, Alberta)

I love technology and I’m not deleting my interaction with social media or technology. My phone just won’t be the epicenter for me.

I’m 12 days in and at times, it honestly still feels strange. When I use my phone, the twitch to flip through various feeds and open my email (just for the heck of it) remains.

And yet, my desire to look at my phone or scan Instagram/Facebook is already fading. The mind rewires quickly. I think (hope!) this experiment will become a permanent addition to my life.

How do you deal with curtailing technology and social media overload in your life?

Loving a tech-free day in the highlands of Iceland.

Loving a tech-free day of hiking in the highlands of Iceland.