Why I pulled a HULK SMASH on my social media presence

I’ve had this feeling that the amount of brainspace that social media occupied was out of balance for me.

I found myself in a problematic situation more often that I’d like: checking social media during every bit of downtime, or when I was trying to solve a particularly difficult design problem. It made getting things done and being present harder than it should. I needed to be more focused.

So I took a break, read a good book, and totally rethought how I do social media (and work, too, but that’s another story).

The book I read while I was away is called Deep Work. It’s is full of insights on what’s broken about our approach to work, among other things. It also talks about what’s being lost in our ever-connected haze of communication: the ability to think deeply.

There’s a section which talks about how social media should factor into your life, or even if it should at all. I’m still thinking about its implications. The book suggests you start by making some personal goals, which I am in a constant state of refining. After you’ve made them, see if social media provides enough benefit to offset the time and attention drag associated with them.

My goals require these networks to be the best way of doing two things. One: helping me become the best designer possible. And two: connecting with people I can’t see every day. If they turn out to not meet those goals, I’ll leave or significantly reduce my time investment in them. I’m bearish on the first goal, but more hopeful about the second.

How I did it

I started with trying to selectively unfollow people. I just couldn’t though. More than once, I sat down to try and found nothing but decision fatigue awaited every time. Everyone on my list mattered in some way and it was difficult to let it go. So I just paid someone to do it for me.

I had them move everyone to a list I’ll check (weekly, probably), and unfollow everyone. This leaves my timeline free to gradually rebuild a list of daily follows which help me meet the goals I mentioned earlier.

With Twitter, I’m using Tweetbot because of its excellent filtering capabilities. It’s helpful because sometimes I want to follow a person, but don’t care about everything they tweet. Your mileage may vary, but here’s what I’m filtering:

  • Politics (specifically mentions of any candidate’s names, related hashtags, etc.)
  • Any check-in (beer apps, foursquare)
  • Apps that auto-post from WordPress or other blogs
  • Time-wasting sites
  • Character names for shows that I don’t want spoiled

I may end up filtering all links and moving to Nuzzel, which aggregates popular links in my feeds. Still unsure about that.

I’m not saying I don’t consume any of these types of content, but I don’t think I want to get it from this medium. Except for whatever @dogsolutions posts. I will like and probably retweet everything until the day I die. If you don’t like that: FIGHT ME.

I’m also checking in less frequently. A weekly check-in on Facebook, 2x daily on Twitter. That lets me post and reply and feels like a good balance.

Overall, I’d love for these services to give me more granular control over the things I see. They need our time and attention to keep growing and survive, but I only have so much to give.

Direct messages and other things

People can message me and it’s treated like any other incoming communication. I’ll get to it eventually, but not immediately.

I don’t get notifications about likes, follows, or any of that.

I also dumped the apps because I check them too frequently.

The last thing I did was to put on blinders when I go to these sites. I used my browser’s ability to load custom stylesheets and made one that hides things which cause me to wander around too much. So if it’s troublesome, I find it in the code and set it to display:none. Poof, problem gone!

What’d it do for me?

I was surprised at what happened. In the time I’ve been away, I was able to research and begin drawing a new typeface. This process had previously taken me months, and now I had the focus to do it in weeks. I also wrote a new article (not including this one). Additionally, I was able to contribute to some really heavy, thinky things at my job. This wouldn’t have been possible with social media checks every minute.

I’ve also benefitted greatly from the downtime by having a general sense of lightness and playfulness. I’ve felt less stressed and finally feel like my brain has some space to stretch.

One of the biggest surprises was how it helped my relationship with my wife. Since we’ve both been spending more time with each other (she read the book and quit social media for a while, too), we’ve talked more and I feel more connected than I have in years.

In closing

I got here after lots of (over)thinking, but it seems like this is going to work for me. I’m still working out my goals, which feel like the key to how I interact online. But overall, I think I’m moving in the right direction. It’s my hope that sharing this can give you some insights on moving forward yourself. If you find any new strategies, I’d love to hear them.

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