PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to deal with the distraction of social media
This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.
These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.
If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better – and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!
Do you find yourself distracted by social media at times? Are you trying to write an abstract, yet veer off to check Twitter a few times in the process? Or do you find yourself tempted to check your phone notifications too many times during the day?
If you are struggling with the pull of social media, this post is for you. First of all, I want to tell you that I totally understand the distraction. I love Twitter. I haven’t left Facebook yet even though usually the amount of fake news there causes my skin to itch. I love scrolling Instagram and seeing pretty things. I like seeing the updates of colleagues on LinkedIn. I also use these tools to share my blog posts and podcasts.
And with that, I’ve already given you the gist of my approach – I consider these websites as tools to communicate. I don’t want to randomly give eyeball time to big tech. I want to consciously use these websites and get out of them what I want. If this sounds like a good and balanced approach to you, here’s a seven-step plan to come to a better approach.
- Take stock of the situation: First of all, you need to know what your current use of social media is. The best way to do this, is by tracking your usage for a week. How many times do you check different social media sites on a daily basis? How much time do you spend on these? You can make a simple tally on sheet of paper, if you check across different devices. If you check always on your phone, you can use the screentime option on iOS or Digital Wellbeing on Android. I have also used Moment for this purpose in the past. If you want to have a good grasp of the situation, then journal for yourself about when and how long you use these sites, how your usage differs during the week and weekend, and -most importantly- what drives you to go check these sites? Do you go and check when you are bored, or is it more something you do to avoid a difficult task? By finding the deeper layer of emotion behind you getting distracted by social media, you can address the root cause.
- Take a break: If you find that social media websites have too much power over you, take a break. Set some rules for your break in advance, so that you know how you will tackle this. Do you want to go cold turkey with all websites? Or do you need some of these websites for work but need to put better boundaries around them? Define what the break means for you. Then, define how long you will take your social media hiatus. You can take a week off, or a month off, or anything in between. Think through potential scenarios where you’d possibly need to use any of these websites to post certain information and how you’d navigate these scenarios. Make sure your game plan is clear, and that you won’t start to renegotiate the terms of your break with yourself.
- Block when you need to focus: If you don’t need a full-fledged break, then perhaps you want to block certain websites during the day, so that you can focus better on your work. I use Leechblock for this purpose. You can either have fixed times during the day when these websites will be blocked, or you can go on a lockdown when you need to accomplish a difficult task. For my phone, I either use Forest, or I simply keep my phone in a different room or in a drawer, so that I can’t access it easily. If you find that social media distracts you when you need to focus, blocking your access can be a good, temporary approach. But, just as I mentioned earlier, you need to find first why you are running off to check social media instead of sitting with the difficult task at hand. Being mindful about your feelings and thought patterns is key here.
- Define how you will use your tools: Once you are ready to go for a more balanced approach in your social media usage, define what you want to get out of each tool. For me, the focus is often on sharing the content I create, as well as connecting with others. So, my logical activities on social media platforms then are: sharing my content, and commenting on the content of others. Mindless scrolling is not on my list of activities. Your definition can be as simple as mine, or it can be more elaborate. Each social media platform my cater a different need for you. If that’s the case, then be clear about each of the platforms you use, and why. If necessary, also identify how much time these activities can take you and how often you will use the platforms. If you have clearly defined how and why you will be using these websites from now on, then you can check in with yourself when you feel draw to use social media just to distract you: do I need to go to this website/app now to do <what I use these websites for>? If not, you can talk back to yourself, park the need, and reply yourself that now is not the time for social media.
- Make a plan for your content: If you use social media to share content, then having a plan for your content can be a good approach. While I’m not advocating here for completely curated feeds, I think that having a bit of a plan for content goes a long way (and eliminates the distraction). For a while, I was doing an IG TV with study tips on Monday, sharing a blog post with comment on Tuesday, sharing a podcast episode with comment on Wednesday, a blog post again on Thursday, and then a Facebook live on Friday. Having such a plan helped me get clear on which tools to use which day.
- Interact more, scroll less: One of my main goals for using social media is to form part of the conversation. So, for me, if I want to go on Twitter, then I make it my task to reach out to one person or comment on one tweet before I leave. I’ve put myself the challenge to interact more and scroll less. To like/favorite less, but to comment more often – and to put the “social” back into social media. Will you join me in this challenge?
- Indulge every now and then: Curated feeds, plans, and goals for social media – all of this is nice and well, but sometimes, a bit of indulgence is fine too. What’s your guilty pleasure? When are you going to indulge in it? As long as you can keep the distraction at bay when you need to focus, a bit of scrolling and indulging in the evening, or on Friday night is fine. You have my full permission to do this once in a while 🙂
Tell me, how do you use social media? What are the positive elements that you want to amplify? What are the distractions you want to limit? How will you use this seven-step plan to come to a more balance usage of social media?