Sometimes I write something so personal I have to think twice before hitting “publish”. This is one of those times.
For the first time in months my email inbox is empty. There’s a false sense of achievement in this. Particularly for a performer who does all their own admin.
I used to think a large part of being an adult is accepting your inboxes will never be empty. Here’s the story of how I “quit” social media and took back control of my life.
For of all, I should point out, my day job is in social media. I am a community manager and copywriter for Facebook & Twitter (along with other platforms when the budget allows it). So “quitting” cold turkey wasn’t going to be an option. But I knew something had to give.
I realised a few weeks ago a lot of my anxiety came from having “stuff to do” and “no time to do it”. In reality I wasn’t making a useful priority order for things. I was making jobs for myself to do because I felt like my life would have to have a meaning if I was busy. After all, complaining about being busy is a humble brag disguised as a complaint.
My girlfriend and I went on a break one week ago and I decided I could either kill the time I’ve been given watching YouTube clips and scrolling on Facebook or I could actually try and do something with my life. I picked option B.
Step 1 involved deleting almost all the social media apps on my phone. I replaced the Facebook app (which was my default to open when I had a few minutes to spare) with Kindle. This meant when my muscle memory made me unlock the homescreen, my thumb would (without thinking) open Kindle and my screen would be filled with a book. I’ve been reading loads. I take trains everywhere so I have a buttload of free time and it feels great.
Step 2 involved deciding to make my time, life and experiences my priority. I have set hours that I am on social media. Outside of those, I’ve got to find other things to do. This means either facing up to the silence of life (and thus thinking about things we’d all rather push out of our heads) or making something beautiful. I tend to pick the 2nd option, but sometimes it’s nice to reflect.
Step 3 is still in progress, it’s involving to decide to budget time more specifically to tasks. So I now split my daily “to do” list into two sections. The first is stuff I HAVE to do, this is tricky. Because what I “have” to do varies from day-to-day but the beautiful thing about not wasting up to 90 minutes a day scrolling on Facebook (this is the average amount of time a person spends not actually engaged with the site, but pushing news stories up and down the feed) is I have that time to think “do I need that done today” and it has really helped me focus on being in the moment and the day at hand.
The 2nd half of that list is stuff I WANT to do. This can include tasks like writing this blog, answering emails that aren’t work related etc. Basically anything which isn’t a need to keep me going.
Step 4 is also in progress, I’ve made an effort to meet with my friends. To ring them and try harder to have meaningful connections. It’s not easy. Some friends dislike any offline medium of communication. Which is fine. Often I am more inclined to text than ring people, but I no longer use social media for these chats. I use Whatsapp or Skype. I don’t like how my monkey brain can get distracted from the conversation at hand by notifications or news stories or tweets or just anything. It’s too much information.
Step 5 has involved picking my social engagements around what I want to do rather than what I feel I should be doing. I found a term for what I was doing – plan shopping. This is where you pick your social life around how you think it will improve your career / look on social media / networking opportunities etc We’ve all done it. And the amount of brown-nosing and ass-kissing that goes on in artistic circles is massive. Instead of trying to “get in” with people, I’ve started to meet people outside of comedy who I have a real interest in and find genuine.
Step 6 is a constant “in progress” and involves turing off a lot of notifications and removing people from your Facebook timeline. I took stock and in ONE day 90% of my notifications came from people I didn’t know inviting me to events I will never go to (see step 5) and people posting in groups which I don’t care about. This made me feel like my “work was never done” and one I’ve open the notifications bar and have loaded up the group / event, I’d notice a friend has RSVP’d and wonder what they’ve been up to, so spend 10 minutes scrolling and then immediately dismissing the information. What a waste of time.
Since starting this journey everyone (all 6 of them) have said something along the lines of “I can’t quit Facebook / Twitter / Vine etc my work / friends are on there”. But what if they weren’t on there… what if they were offline, with you. Sharing conversations and deep intimate conversations?
If I, a socially anxious, social media addict who prefers the internet to real life to the point I picked a job which allows me to feel connected all day (which in reality I’ve not spoken to anyone properly in days, maybe weeks) can “quit” and get offline… so can you.
In the last week or two I’ve met fun, interesting, exciting and new people who have been open and honest with me. Sharing stories and moments and not once I have felt like I’ve “missed out” on checking social media. Yes, I will do it if I get a text or they go to the toilet, but when I’m out with them, I’m with them. Which is a hard shift (or it has been for me).
Don’t give yourself anxiety you don’t need. Clear out your inboxes (even if it means marking stuff as read). Remove notifications you don’t need and the fact that someone is making a request of your time doesn’t mean you need to answer it. Remember you’re going to die one day and time is the one thing you can’t ever get back.
I suppose at some point a promoter might ask why I didn’t RSVP to their Facebook Event or a Friend might ask why I didn’t wish them “happy birthday” but ultimately these things are meaningless. And the kinds of people who get hung up on it aren’t the type of people I want to associate with anymore. I want a real life. I want to spend as much quality time with my family, friends, girlfriend and cat as possible. So that’s what I’m off to do.
On a “side note” my Edinburgh Fringe show is on a lot of these themes / topics. I’ve quite a few preview dates [full list here] coming up. The next one is Saturday 18th April at the Blue Posts in Soho London from 8pm onwards. It’s free but if you sign up here for a ticket you’ll be guaranteed a seat.