social media detox

I did a social media detox. Should you?

As I write this, I’ve just returned from a 6-week detox from social media.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least!

So I’d like to talk a bit about my time away from social media and how it has given me some new perspective on this whole ‘online world’.

So wait… a social media detox? Why?

The whole idea of a social media detox came about because a number of people I respect were doing them. A friend from the circus arts community. Several entrepreneurs. People I know from the Buddhist community. Everyone was saying how much of a difference this made in their lives.

I was intrigued.

But on a personal level, I’d been noticing my own struggle with being On The Internets so much. I’d work long hours on work stuff yet still spend hours each day surfing social media, both to check in with friends as well as to rather obsessively check my likes/shares/etc.

And then it happened: one day I looked at my screen and suddenly felt ill. It’s hard to quantify it in words, but suffice it to say I realized I needed to get off the computer. I could see that instead of spending time on things that mattered to me, I was getting lost in things that shouldn’t. I wrote a bit about those things back when I signed off social media for the summer.

When I told people I was going to be going off social media for an extended period of time, reactions were mostly very positive. Some really wanted to follow me but felt they couldn’t due to personal or business connections they have to maintain. Some wondered how long I’d last. Others were curious about my reasons why and wondered if they too had to think about their own use.

This was not my intention when thinking about doing this! But I really appreciated the dialogue created with other people. How do we use social media? How much should we be using it? Is it more stress than it is worth? Does it really matter?

This was an exploration of what being online means to me, both as a person and as a business. The only way to see how much it affected me was to remove it from my life for a while and see what changed.

Signing off

So on July 15th, I logged into Facebook and made sure all notifications of any kind were shut off. I did the same on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

I removed all bookmarks and quick links to those social media sites from my browsers. After posting a quick update to various social media platforms to let folks know I was ok, just taking an extended break, I logged out and closed them, too.

Then, I shut down Tweetbot on my Mac. I moved all my social media apps into what I called the “App Jail” on both my iPad and my iPhone. The “App Jail” was a folder that said DO NOT TOUCH. That message would glare back at me if I tried to use any of the apps while on my break.

And then, it was done. I was off social media for 6 weeks.

Or so I thought.

The trouble with social media

I (perhaps naively) thought I’d be completely away from those apps for the full 6 weeks. But as it turns out, this wasn’t so easy.

Within the first few days came two lessons from this experiment:

  1. People actually expect you to be on social media, and
  2. Local businesses/organizations use Facebook or Instagram as their only way of keeping people up-to-date on things like business hours or dates for events.

Perhaps ironically, the day after I went on this detox thing I attended a brush lettering workshop. Now, if you’ve never done brush lettering, it’s a very ‘Instagrammable’ activity.

While I was there, the instructors mentioned social media a number of times: how we could add them on Twitter or Instagram, how they’d post photos from the class on Instagram, and what accounts to follow for inspiration. Not once was it even considered that people might not actually be on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. Given my detox, it was surreal (to say the least).

Then, a couple of days in, I decided I wanted to start investigating local-to-me running groups. Almost every group I found used Facebook as their way of keeping everyone up-to-date on runs days, meeting locations, and other really important things if you’re going to join a group activity. It was a bit frustrating, but I also understood why they’d do things that way.

So to be totally honest, I cheated. I logged into Facebook to check out a few groups before logging back out. I felt kind of gross doing it; the Facebook notifications box was glaring at me letting me know how many notifications I had missed. Really, I was on a detox because I needed to spend more time away from the computer. This cheating thing wasn’t really going to fly.

Social media for businesses?

From a business perspective, this really made me pause. Sure, maybe Facebook or Instagram are preferred platforms for these people and they aren’t ready or willing to build a website and keep it up-to-date. But I think it’s important to ask yourself if you’re really reaching everyone in your audience if you rely too heavily (or solely) on social media.

Expecting everyone who is interested in your business to have a Facebook account might not be a bad assumption, given that they report they have 1.71 billion monthly active users. But stats aside, there are plenty of people who just aren’t using the platform, or aren’t using social media in general. You aren’t doing yourself any favours by choosing a platform that requires signing up for an account as your sole means of communicating with your audience.

How the social media detox changed me

Observations about businesses aside, this was a rather eye-opening experience.

As time went on, I noticed my habits shifting. When I started, I’d grab my phone many times a day and flip through the screens mindlessly. Then I’d quickly realize I was doing it out of habit because I usually do that to check my notifications/likes/tweets. So I’d put the phone away again. Funny enough, a side benefit of this was that I needed to charge my phone less. Usually, I’d get a day out of one full charge, but now I was getting two.

This was great on a personal level, but what about my business? Several people close to me pointed out that since I run a business that is almost completely online, going off social media would make things difficult.

They weren’t wrong in that assumption! However, I did plan for that. That’s why I chose the summer, a historically slower time of year for my business, to do this detox. It’s also why I knew it was going to be for a limited time, as reasonably speaking I couldn’t just walk away from things for good (nor did I really want to).

What did I learn?

Those things aside, I had a few big lessons around using social media and my business.

The first was that running a business that relies heavily on social media is strange and somewhat difficult when you’re not on social media. That much is true. However, my business didn’t suffer all that much. In fact, in some ways it grew! I had more people sign up for my email newsletter and the number of people listening to my weekly podcast went up. Other entrepreneurs who have done this social media detox thing have reported the same thing. It’s strange but true! Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps?

The second thing was that I realized I had created a lot of bad habits around using social media to waste time during the day. Now that those escape mechanisms were off the table, I was able to focus more on my day-to-day work, and was able to get more work done in less time. That’s probably not a huge surprise. But as well, I had a number of great new ideas for my business jump out at me when I least expected it. Not filling my brain with extra things allowed my creative side to sift those kinds of things to the surface.

The third and probably most important thing was the fact that I had to untangle the success of my work from the ‘success’ of my life. Now, I really do believe that you need to make your work part of your life (because it is part of your life!), but it’s easy to lose yourself in that and think you are your work. This is especially true for small business, entrepreneur types. Putting time and energy into our work is vital for success, true. But it’s just as important to put time and energy into all the other things we do. Like sitting in the sun on a beautiful late summer morning. Having a cup of coffee with a trusted friend. Cleaning your house. Picking your kids up from swimming practice. It’s all important.

The road from here

Am I going to stay away from social media completely? No. I have wonderful friends and family who I connect with there – some of whom I actually met online. That’s just the way we communicate these days, and that’s fine with me. My business also greatly benefits from sharing my work on social media, and that’s cool too.

But this whole process has made me examine the ways that I use social media and how I can do things much more effectively, without wasting hours surfing YouTube for cute videos of cats, or reading the latest political debate on twitter. I think my business is going to be healthier for it.

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People on their cellphones. Image for Pinterest use.

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