Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fighting Social Media Addiction Using e.ggtimer.com

You probably have ADHD and if you don't, it's been induced by the constant flow of small bits of information.  It's like candy.  It's sitting there on your desk, so you can reach out for just one more bite.  Even if it's bad for you and rots your teeth and keeps you from getting anything done.  (It's not a perfect metaphor.)

I never seem to get started writing.  I'm always in a state of "get caught up on Twitter".  Just need to check that Tumblr post, read that article on HuffPo, reply to some comments on a blog.  Check email one more time.  And don't get me started on Facebook!  (Which is why I never get started on Facebook.)

Social media may be lowering our attention spans from minutes to seconds.  There has been some criticism about the data used on that inforgraphic, but anecdotally, I know this to be true.  On a busy social media day, I give every piece of information about 7 seconds, and if it fails to interest me, I'm on to the next thing.

When I finally do get caught up, I open a blank Word document to get started on the next story.  I give that white page a whole 7 seconds.  When nothing happens, I check Twitter.

Fact: It takes more than 7 seconds to write a story.

Usually it takes way more than 7 seconds to even put down the first line.  This goes for most other writing tasks, like editing, revisions, reading, critiquing, outlining, brainstorming, and even blog-post-writing.

About the only activity that doesn't suffer is research.  Online research.  And only on Wikipedia pages that are shorter than 500 words.

To solve this problem, I first moved my writing area away from my "fun computer".  I made a rule to check Twitter only on the fun computer or on my phone.  So I started checking it on my phone.

I thought about getting a productivity tool, like LeechBlock, to filter my internet usage or even shutting off the internet during work hours, but I really do need to bop off for quick research checks mid-writing.  I also don't like the idea, the very appalling idea, that I'm not strong enough to resist on my own.

So what helped the most?

e.ggtimer.com is a simple timer website.  Enter a time, either in hours or minutes or even a time of day or a date.  The time becomes part of the link, so you can bookmark it.  At the end of the configured time, there's a loud beep.

Once I'm ready to start my writing day, I set the timer to 60 minutes.  During that hour, I'm not allowed, at all, to check Twitter, email, or anything unrelated to the writing.  My only goal is to not do anything unrelated to the writing for a whole hour.

Even if that means staring out the window the entire time.

(I do allow myself to quickly tweet ideas, snippets of prose, reports on how the writing is going, or links to interesting things I find while researching.  But even then I need to keep myself reigned in or I let too much of the energy out of my project.)

What happens is my attention span gets the message real quick.  During that hour, writing becomes the only interesting thing worth doing.  The ideas flow, and so do the words.

My daily goal is four hours.  They don't need to be grouped together.  After one hour, I'm allowed to do some social networking, but what I find is I'm in the middle of a typing frenzy when the browser beeps. The timer is really easy to restart -- just click in the address bar and hit enter.

It is much easier to tell how long I've been writing this way.  How many times have I reset the timer?  Four? Six?  I can't remember I reset it so many times?  That makes me feel productive.

Sometimes I get interrupted by life and have to stop the timer mid-hour.  For that reason, I almost wish e.ggtimer had a pause feature.  I've thought of sending that as a request (I am related to the author of the site), but I hesitate.  I'm afraid that if I can pause, I'll do it every five minutes so I can back to checking Twitter...

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