1. Avoid competitive and comparative spaces in your leisure time
Social media is built on social comparison: lifestyle, looks, number of followers, number of likes, professional accomplishments. You may always feel the desire to compete. We can often forget that features such as likes and followers are artificial and deliberate design choices to get us to return to a platform.
But not all channels will impact you in the same way. For example, you may find solace in some online spaces, while others bring out your competitive streak. So know which specific social media platforms make you flourish and which ones make you wilt. Spaces that prey off your self-esteem do not deserve your attention, and choosing to withdraw your attention is your right.
If you rely on a toxic social media channel for social or professional opportunities, come up with a simple rule to help you manage how often you check it e.g. block Twitter at the beginning of the day, schedule in some guilt free time, delete the app from your phone and re-download it when you need it.
2. Take metrics with a pinch of salt (and limit them in your life)
Metrics are like the weighing scales of health. You can get hung up on meaningless numbers that significantly change your behaviour in ways you know aren’t good for you. For example, you may choose to go on a mild stroll for 3 hours over doing an intense 20 minute HIIT workout because you want to feel your FitBit buzz when you reach 10,000 steps.
As an alternative to metrics, set goals that you can control such as writing an hour a day or working out 3 times a week. Commit to actions that you can repeat and that don’t rely on other people or manipulative engagement features on apps.
When it comes to health, focus on how good your body feels, not what the scales say or how many steps you’ve walked. When it comes to social media or blogging, focus on how good it feels to be developing your writing and creativity skills. Focus on how satisfying it is to interact with friends or likeminded strangers. But the metrics? Screw them.
Also take responsibility for the metrification you allow in your life to begin with. Before downloading a new app, starting a new social media account or buying a Fitbit, ask yourself whether there are ways the metrification can negatively impact you? I follow this personal rule: never use any health and wellness service that measures me with metrics. I know that I’m vulnerable to getting hung up on the number in a counterproductive way.
While I cannot get rid of the metrics on blogs or social media, I make sure that the benefits I get from the platform significantly outweigh the downsides. So instead of focusing on metrics, define your own meaningful goals and milestones.
3. Slow down
How are you reading this right now?
Are your eyes skipping words?
Are you holding your breath?
Whatever it is that you are doing, check in with how you’re feeling.
Instead of rushing onto the next thing, identify where you are holding tension in your body and find ways of releasing it.
4. Embrace the joy of single-tasking
Your devices are like a magical swiss army knife: they combine a television, a radio, a typewriter, newspapers, social events, a telephone and so much more.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath, close all other programmes and browser tabs, and focus on doing one thing.
As I write this, I am using Cold Turkey Writer, which transforms my laptop into a typewriter. I cannot do anything else on my laptop but write. It is terrifyingly effective.
So find ways that you can practise single-tasking.
5. Set and forget
Annoyed by the number of WhatsApp notifications lighting up your phone at night? Pissed off when Netflix is already autoplaying the next episode of a television programme when you’ve had no time to process the one you just watched?
Spend an hour going through every app, online service and streaming channel and change your settings so you stop every email, desktop, phone notification. This is also an ideal time to review and manage your privacy settings. So here’s just few things you can set and forget:
- Mute all WhatsApp groups with more than 4 members
- Turn off all but essential and valuable notifications on your phone
- Turn off autoplay on YouTube and television streaming services
- Stop all automated email notifications
- Turn off all desktop and audio notifications on Slack
I did this over a year ago and not turned my notifications on again since.
6. Stop beating yourself up over minor slip-ups
If you find yourself constantly frustrated about breaking your own rules or giving in to your impulses or just spending too much time on a specific app, then just take a deep breath and cool down. You haven’t killed anyone. You’re not a terrible person.
Guilt about our digital habits can be an unnecessary source of stress, especially if you’re a parent, entrepreneur or general high achiever. While many of us are aware that spending 9+ hours consuming media a day may not be as fun as it sounds, there’s a lot of counterproductive tech-shaming that goes on too.
So focus on finding your pleasure and stop judging yourself. Looking at cat gifs in your spare can be just as valid as reading Proust (don’t @ me). And the two aren’t mutually exclusive either.
Trust yourself that if you want to read more books or spend more time with your family, you will make the time for them. Of course, you’ll have to take action to make it happen: but put your energy into making those plans instead of stressing yourself out over a couple of hours lost to internet browsing.