Reader Question: Social Media

Wendy asked:

How do you keep social media from taking away time from writing? I guess I’m asking how do you focus strictly on the writing without feeling like you are in a jail from the rest of the world? I get distracted easily because of Facebook and Twitter.

That’s a great question!

Social media has gotten deceptively faster to duck in and out of. I mean, what’s a tweet? Five seconds? A few minutes to skim up your timeline? A three-second reply to someone?

But those moments add up, and it’s easy to get lost in the conversation. There’s always something fun happening on Twitter, after all!

The other problem, especially for me, is that I can convince myself that it’ll be two seconds to do something on Facebook or Twitter or whatever — and that may be true, but even if I do manage to drag myself away from the fun before I’ve lost an hour of my life, I’ve shattered my focus. Whatever I was working on? Gone. I have no idea what that sentence was supposed to say. Or what I was making for dinner.

The key for me has been turning them off. And once I’m completely focused and engaged with my writing, I don’t feel like I’m in jail. I’m happy just working. And when I need a break, I take a few minutes to play on Twitter or look at pictures of my nephew on Facebook.

It’s also been important for me to remember that the world will not end if I miss something.* The latest drama, who won whatever award, or what one of my friends had for lunch: it’s okay to miss. Taking a break from social media every now and then reminds me that I survived *mumble* years before it, and I’ll keep on surviving even when I turn it off.

But for everyday, I do have a few tricks.

1. I keep a small follow list on things like Twitter and Tumblr. I made that decision when I joined the sites, because I could too easily see how I’d want to follow everyone and keep up with everything. Small lists means it doesn’t take very long to catch up.

2. With Twitter, I use Twitter for Mac and have all the notifications and things personalized so that I don’t get noises or alerts except for messages I actually need to read — eventually. (Remember how it’s not the end of the world if I miss something.)

Since I actually do try to respond to everyone who tweets me, catching up on Twitter can take longer, but for me, it’s worth it.

3. Facebook isn’t my most favorite social media site, so it’s less of a temptation for me. On it, I focus on saying “happy birthday” to the people on the birthday list, and I go through the first page or two of my newsfeed once or twice a day to like friends’ updates. Though if you’re bad about keeping Facebook open and refreshing all day, this might be for you . . .

4. I use a Google Chrome extension called StayFocused. It’s very customizable. The idea is to limit the time you spend on sites that are timesucks for you. You can give yourself X amount of time a day (with free days, if you want!), and once that time limit is over, the site is blocked.** On days when I feel scattered and will check everything over and over rather than write, I use the “nuclear” option: it blocks the entire internet for however long you set it for. (Just on Chrome. So your Twitter apps and stuff still work.)

5. I use Scrivener to write, and it has a fantastic full-screen mode. You can black out the rest of the screen and all you see is words. Or a blinking cursor.

Overall, not letting myself get distracted by the shinies of social media is about discipline. It’s about retraining myself to focus on one thing at a time. It doesn’t happen overnight, and some days it’s harder than others, but learning to not multitask helps a lot. Because on a scale of one to zombie apocalypse, how important is social media really? (Though on a scale of one to an apartment filled with playpen balls, social media can definitely be playpen balls.)

*Though when the zombie apocalypse happens and Twitter warns me about it — but I’m ignoring Twitter to write a book — I will probably regret those words.
**Obviously you can get around it by using another browser or your phone, but I’m too lazy to do that, personally.

Have a question you want answered on my blog? Feel free to email me. I try to get to everything . . . eventually. ;)