Social Media - The #1 Productivity Killer

We all know that social media sucks up much of our precious time. But did you know that all of those attention breaks throughout the day can permanently reduce your concentration?  

Photo by Robin Worrall on Unsplash

Photo by Robin Worrall on Unsplash

Don’t laugh at this fact about me. Here goes - I didn’t create a Facebook account until 2016 (no, that is not a typo). I actually had to ask my husband to help me set up the account. Once I used it, I could instantly understand why it has become such a source of distraction.

Let’s backtrack a little. During my time as a graduate student, FB was still in its infancy but growing rapidly. At some point, a popular game called Farmville appeared on the scene. Oh, yes - you remember.

Long story short, I would watch friends and lab mates waste huge chunks of their days in FB and Farmville instead of doing their work. What? That 150+ page dissertation that needs to be written before you graduate? Just ignore it and play Farmville while your PCR reaction is running...   

I certainly had my fair share of distractions, but I could tell that social media was not something that I needed to get sucked into while in grad school. So I put my head down and tried to ignore FB and the other new and shiny objects in the world of social media.

Fast forward a decade, and of course you know that now there are more than enough social media platforms to choose from - each one vying for a little piece of your attention. Some have come on to the scene with a flash but then quickly faded into the shadows (remember Periscope?). Some have remained persistent, and they clearly are in it for the long haul.

Getting Hooked on Content

The problem with all of the social media platforms is that they have us quite literally hooked on consuming content. But really, it’s not our fault. Blame it on the dopamine, evolution’s answer for keeping us primed to continually seek out new things in our surroundings. It’s nature’s way of keeping us engaged with the world around us.

Now, dopamine is produced as part of our “wanting” system. This system is actually separate from the “liking” system, which is controlled by natural opioids, i.e. endorphins. The dopamine encourages you to be active while the opioid promotes a sense of satisfaction and theoretically pauses your desire to be active.

However, when your wanting system isn’t shut down from time to time, you can get stuck in an endless feedback loop of wanting to seek and search for new things. This is how we become hooked on the rush that comes from checking the constant updates, sending and receiving messages, liking comments, anticipating the next interaction.

This is where most of us get into trouble…

Freelancers Need to Be Protective of Their Time

Freelancers are especially vulnerable to the lure of social media because they: 1) don’t have the external structure that would normally keep them busy, such as in a corporate setting; and 2) often feel isolated and lonely.  

Studies show that the average American checks their phone about 80 times a day, which is about every 12 minutes during waking hours. About 10% of us are checking our phones once every 4 minutes. Not surprisingly, millennials check their phones nearly 2 times as much - up to 150 times a day.

Whether we like to admit it or not, you, me, everyone - we’re caught up in the ‘dopamine-driven feedback loop’ of social media and it’s an uphill battle to get out of that cycle. Don’t forget that these technologies were developed by attention engineers to boost member engagement.

The constant distraction is an absolute killer of productivity. And when you’re working for yourself as an independent entrepreneur, this affects your bottom line (or at the very least your overall hourly rate if you’re working by project fee).

Maybe a more important point is that these types of constant distractions inhibit our ability to do deep, concentrated thinking - something that is critical for most writers when we are trying to connect the dots in our content or research.  

So, you might be thinking, I need social media for my business. Consider this. In his book Deep Work, Dr. Cal Newport, a professor and computer scientist, makes the argument that producing rare and valuable work is really what is most profitable in the marketplace. In contrast, what the market and the economy does NOT reward are things that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value. (As a freelance writer, you definitely want to be in the rare and valuable category.)

Furthermore, Dr. Newport argues that spending large portions of your day in fragmented attention (i.e. checking email/social media) can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration. So in other words, your fragmented attention can permanently inhibit your ability to do deep, concentrated work - the kind of work that is necessary to stand out in the competitive marketplace of today and the work that is perceived to be the most valuable. That is powerful stuff.

As freelancers, we have to be stewards of our time. If you are working on a project fee basis, rather than an hourly rate, then working at your full potential is absolutely necessary. This is what gives you the power to double or triple your normal hourly rate if you work more efficiently. More importantly, this is what frees up more time to do the other stuff that you love to do. Isn’t that one of the reasons that you started freelancing in the first place?

When we’re distracted, nothing gets done quickly or easily.

Here’s a challenge for you: turn off all of your notifications during working hours.

Is it challenging? Yes.

Can it be done? Yes.

Which will give you a greater sense of accomplishment: checking your social media or finishing that client project faster so that you can blow off work for the afternoon? You decide.

Too extreme? Here are some other tactics that might help you ease into a social media-free zone.

3 Simple Solutions for Increasing Your Productivity:

1. Toggl

First, let’s check to see where your time is actually going. If you don’t really know, try Toggl - a free time tracking software that allows you to track time by projects or clients with the push of a button. One cool option in Toggl is the Timeline feature, which records all website and program usage that’s viewed for 10 seconds or longer.

2. Pomodoro method

Still need to scratch that itch? Try the Pomodoro method, which prompts you for 25 minutes of uninterrupted, hyper-focused work followed by 5 minutes of free time. This technique can certainly help build up your focused attention capacity if you find that it’s not where you’d like it to be. Set a timer on your phone or an online site such as the Tomato Timer. This method also works great if you need a reminder to get up and move around after sitting.

3. Time blocking

Using the Pomodoro method is a good build up to my favorite productivity hack for increasing workflow - time blocking. The basic principle is that you dedicate large chunks of time throughout your day to complete one specific task at a time - multi-tasking is out. So if you know that you’re a more productive writer in the mornings, then assign 9-11 am for writing only. Save the more menial tasks (editing, checking email, bookkeeping) for other times of the day when you know you’re more prone to distractions.

If you struggle with productivity, stay tuned next week for another post on this topic. I’ll talk about hashing out the first draft, a place where many of us can get stuck.

If you haven't done so already, be sure to grab your copy of the free guide, 5 Simple Writing Tweaks to Create Sticky Clients, by entering your info below. Your clients will love you for it :)


Jennifer Gregg