The paradox of my life as a social media researcher and columnist is that using Facebook, Twitter and other platforms makes it harder for me to write.
How can this be so? After all, “to write about social media with credibility, I must immerse myself in it,” or so I used to think.
Every Monday night I start to get the twitch of horror and anticipation that precedes my weekly musings and, instead of opening a new document and recording my thoughts, I do what many other writers do: I check my social media feeds.
I look to see who’s out and about. I scan events happening around me. I read news and reactions to the big stories of the day.
According to Statista, the daily average time a person spent on social media in 2017 was 135 minutes. If that’s so, I use at least 134 of these minutes screwing around while my deadline for this column approaches.
The only comfort I have is in the knowledge that I’m not alone. A quick web search of “writers,” “social media,” and “distractions” results in thousands of columns by fellow writers facing the same dilemma.
So, in an attempt to focus less on deadlines and more on my readers, I’ve started using strategies advocated by these fellow writers.
First, as with everything, there’s an app that does most of the hard work – at least when I’m on my laptop.
Freedom is software that comes in the form of a download for your Mac or Windows-enabled device. It’s also available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
According to Freedom’s description, “every time you check email, a social feed or respond to a notification, your mind requires 23 minutes of re-focus time to get back on task.”
Freedom helps control those distractions by blocking sites I tell it to, for time periods I specify. Even if I try to visit Twitter after blocking access, that little reminder that I’ve blocked it is often all I need to refocus on an important task.
Second, I bought a brand new legal pad and sharpened a box of No. 2 pencils.
According to productivity experts, writing longhand has several benefits beyond getting me away from my laptop and smartphone.
Writing longhand stimulates parts of the brain similar to those activated by meditation. Another benefit is that I write much slower than I type. This slower pace is linked to better thinking and more creativity.
In the end, few people would suggest we give up social media altogether.
But the next time you need to pull away from social media to complete a task – whether it’s a column, a term paper, or the next best-selling novel – remember that a little help and self-discipline go a long way to beating deadlines.
Editor’s note: Adam submitted this 12 hours before his scheduled deadline.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.