I learned this trick about discipline and willpower several years ago:
I pretend I don’t have any.
I play a game where I assume future Tim will be lazy and unfocused, and will distract himself from doing any meaningful work.
So if that’s true … what can I do to make my future self do the work needed to reach his goals, even when he wants nothing but slothfulness?
The best method is to create an environment where it’s extremely hard to not work.
Cut out enough distractions, and I’ll work because there’s nothing else to do. (Pssst–this is one of the reasons I get up at 4:15 am. Those quiet early hours are a great time for pure focus.)
One of the biggest distractions I’ve had to cut out of my life is social media. Because 99.9% of the time I was spending on it wasn’t getting me anywhere near my goals in life.
So here’s the eight things I did to stop letting social media kill my productivity, so I could get more writing done:
1. Install RescueTime
“Know your enemy and know yourself.” – Sun Tzu
I guarantee that the amount of time you think you spend on social media, and the amount of time you actually spend on social media, are two very different things.
Time management software RescueTime has a forever-free version that will track exactly what you spend your time doing when you’re on your computer.
Try it. What it reveals will surprise you.
2. Be Honest With Yourself
“But it’s fun!” – Joanna Penn, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, in an argument with me about spending time on social media
Many people have gotten the wrong impression from my articles about social media. They think I hate it.
Not true! I love funny cat pictures and the I Fucking Love Science Facebook page as much as anyone else.
But I am careful to distinguish between things I do for fun and actual productive work.
As we’ve seen, social media is terrible at actually selling books. Yet far too many authors are wasting far too much time on social media, telling themselves they’re “networking” or “marketing” or “building a community.”
When I watch TV, I don’t try to convince myself that I’m “learning about story structure” or “researching new advertising methods.”
I’m watching TV because it’s fun. That’s it. And that’s OK.
Sure, you may be interacting with readers when you’re on social media. And yes, some of them will buy your book.
But it is still the slowest, hardest road to successfully marketing your books.
It’s like digging a ditch with your hands when a perfectly good back hoe is available. Will you make some progress? Sure. Is it the best, most effective way to do it? No way.
3. Kill the News Feed
“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his [or her] chosen goal or destination.” – Christopher Columbus
There are several groups on Facebook that I’m a part of, and that I really enjoy. But at one point I realized that whenever I tried to visit these groups, I got constantly distracted by my news feed.
Solution: Get rid of the news feed!
If you’re using Chrome, it’s really easy with the News Feed Extractor.
On Firefox and Safari, use this handy Quiet Facebook hack.
Now I can visit Facebook, message people, and check in on my groups–without getting distracted!
4. Silence All Social Media Notifications
“Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” – Confucius
And I mean all of them.
No text chirps, no mobile notifiers, no email bleeps.
This will keep you distraction-free, and I promise–you won’t miss anything important.
5. Uninstall Mobile Apps
“Delete the negative; accentuate the positive!” – Donna Karan
It’s far too easy to pick up your phone and lose yourself in social media.
Delete those apps. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest … make them all gone.
6. Block Access
“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self.” – Igor Stravinsky
If you just can’t stay away from social media, block all access to it from your computer.
7. Automate Your Updates
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
But what about your updates?
It’s not just about consuming social media feeds. You go on those sites to post updates as well.
This is where I recommend you automate your social media.
With a tool like Buffer, you can load a number of updates all at once, to be posted over time.
Even better is a tool I’ve been using called MeetEdgar.
It allows you to create a library of helpful and interesting updates that automatically get posted on a schedule that you pre-set.
It’s greatly increased my social media engagement, while running entirely on autopilot.
8. Plan Your Social Media Time
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” – Alan Lakein
Every night while I’m letting the dog out before bed, I check my social media. It gives me a few minutes to catch up on things, and then I’m done.
If you need more time, do it during your lunch break, or in the last twenty minutes of the day.
Instead of social media being your default action when you’re bored (or avoiding writing), plan out a set amount of your time, so it’s a conscious decision.
What do you get when you combine all of these?
Less distraction and more time to do meaningful, impactful work as a writer.
Balance the amount of time you spend consuming other people’s creativity vs. doing your own creating.
Put these eight ideas into practice, and you’ll be able to keep social media in the proper place in your life.
March 25, 2015