Generally speaking, I do not believe you can dramatically change your life overnight. And yet, I tried something this week that has done just that.
I downloaded the best app ever.
An app to block apps.
Ever since I joined Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, they’ve been daily fixtures in my life. I even built a career out of them. For several years I ran the social media accounts for teen brands at Hearst Digital Media, and from 2010–2012, I was the first-ever social media editor for Seventeen. I became a full-time CEO when the YouTube video campaign I launched with Christen Brandt in 2009 spiraled into a nonprofit. I directly managed all the @shesthefirst accounts up until October 2017. It was my job to pop into social all day, every day, and I loved it. There is something that makes you feel larger-than-life when you’re connecting with an audience as the voice of a respected and well-loved brand.
But the bigger my responsibilities get and the more big-picture strategy they demand of me, the more I realize social media is deteriorating my capacity. Even if I didn’t check my personal accounts much during the day, I couldn’t resist scrolling first thing when I woke up in the morning, when spending over an hour on the subway each day, while walking down the street, or while lying in bed before turning the lights out.
For the last two or three New Year’s Eves, one of my goals has always been to reduce the social media time-suck. But I failed every time, because instant gratification is so darn powerful. Do you ever pop into Instagram several times after posting something to see how many people like it? Then you know the feeling. I’d also get inspiration from scrolling that tipped me off to a cool opportunity or relationship I wanted to develop for She’s the First. Social media became such a part of my identity, because of my career path, that I couldn’t see its faults outweigh its benefits.
So what changed?
Earlier this year, I was at The Wing chatting with my cofounder Christen and Hitha Palepu, and they were discussing app blockers they used. I was intrigued but took no action…until last weekend.
Last Sunday, I visited Refinery29’s 29Rooms. I got tickets because I saw so many people Instagramming themselves in all sorts of themed rooms. I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate Christen’s last day of being 29, and it was. I expected the exhibit to activate us on social media. I did not expect it to ingeniously remind me that we spend too much time on our phones.
At 29Rooms, there were a handful of rooms that asked you to put your phone away. One room was a calming auditory experience, where gongs created a sound bath. Another room was called “29 Questions” and matched you with a stranger. You stared into each other’s eyes for 30 seconds and then picked questions from a deck of cards to jumpstart a 6-minute conversation. Another room was a 5-minute dance party where you bopped to tunes like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Love Train.” It was impossible not to smile.
“Reclaiming My Time”
That night, I was determined to change my relationship with social media. I downloaded an app called Stay Focused. It tracks how much time you spend on all your mobile apps and lets you set time limits. I limited my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter app time to 15 minutes daily, and I can only open the apps before 9pm and after 9am. Turns out I’m a pretty loyal follower of my own rules when there is a motivational blue screen to intercept me.
Here are 6 changes I’ve noticed in just 6 days:
- On Instagram, I look up the friends/family/role models who are most important to me first (my husband, my parents, my besties, She’s the First, etc) Turns out everyone else’s posts aren’t necessary for your happiness.
- Having 15 precious minutes increases the depth of my engagement. Because I’m not endlessly scrolling, what I do see matters more to me. So I leave my mark by commenting more. And when I close the app, I’ll text a friend if she’s posted something particularly important. That way, I can initiate a more meaningful conversation or invite to meet up.
- Not using social media on the subway means I am reading BOOKS. It’s funny how much more attractive books are when they’re not competing for attention with your feed. I avoid using social on the train, because when the data connection cuts out underground, I don’t want to waste my minutes waiting for a blank screen to load.
- When I need to use social for work, I turn to my computer, which has helped me create a clear divide between my professional needs for social versus my personal ones, so that I can refocus my personal time in a deeper way. If I want to see what’s new in someone’s life before we meet up for a business meeting, I use my computer to go directly to their profile, avoiding the abyss.
- The social networks are working FOR ME, rather than the other way around…15 minutes isn’t enough time for me to fall into the sneaky algorithms they’ve created to increase my time on their platforms for their own business gain.
- At large, true to my app’s name, I am more focused on my priorities and thus, less stressed. After all, we compare other people’s highlights to our struggles more than we care to admit, or even realize. (If that’s something you relate to, then you may enjoy the video below.)
Do you think you’ll try a social app blocker out — or have you already? Let me know how it impacts you!
This week, YouTuber Casey Neistat published a great vlog about the dangers of social media envy. (NOTE: I hate the misleading thumbnail for this video—ugh. That’s a gender analysis for another time.) The message within the video, however, is A+.