My First Week Being Somewhat Digitally Minimal
I struggled with what to bring to you this week. I have a list of blog topics and a calendar of scheduled ideas on hand, but the only thing that I feel motivated to discuss with you at this moment is what I’ve discovered during the last seven days. This week I began truly examining and unpacking my technology use and implementing strategies for improvement. My journey toward a life with less distraction, improved mental health, and time spent doing meaningful things of value (to me) has become my new obsession. For better or for worse.
I decided that the best way to communicate this journey is to break it down into individual strategies, my motivation for making these changes, and how they’re working in my real life so far.
Strategy #1: Come up with a plan to minimize social media use.
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. As a business owner, Facebook and Instagram help me network and book new clients. Posting on The Real Life Vegan Wife can be fun and informative, working as a vehicle to discuss veganism and entrepreneurship. But somewhere along the line managing all four of my social media accounts became an arduous chore – the pressure to post has become a nagging stress in the back of my mind at all times. Being constantly present seems almost necessary in the current social media climate we live in, lest you risk disappearing and becoming irrelevant altogether.
The reality is that what I truly want to be doing with my time is build in-person client / community-member relationships and write meaningful content for my blog and other publications. Not feel constant anxiety or distraction from toggling between social media and the real, tangible, valuable things I am producing. And when I do post on social media, I want the content I share to also be real and valuable, not forced or phony.
So what did I do? I decided that the best way to implement strategy for change is to know the conditions I’m currently functioning under. Step 1: Find out how often I am using social media. Step 2: Come up with a strategy to maximize my return on my time invested, therefore enabling me to minimize my time spent with these platforms.
This seems simple enough. Honestly, now that I’m really examining it, it is fairly simple. I determined that between my four accounts I spend about one hour per day on social media. This is actually not as much time as I assumed I spent, so there’s a positive. Using the month of June as our example, that means that in June I will spend thirty hours total on social media. This is over one FULL 24 HOUR DAY of the month spent with social media. In a year that is 360 hours, or FIFTEEN DAYS. For some reason, what our minds consider a harmless hour per day becomes shocking when you realize you just bought yourself a two-week vacation per year if you just quit using Instagram. Or, on a smaller scale, an entire extra day per month. Chances are, that’s where all our time has gone. Or it’s at least a major contributor.
For me personally, it does not make sense to quit social media cold-turkey like my husband did, and truthfully I don’t want to. I want to figure out a way to coexist with these methods of communication without allowing it to waste my time, while communicating meaningful content that produces value for my business, my clients, and my blog. I would argue that if you’re concerned about not having enough time in your life, you have stress and anxiety related to social media, and you’re not producing original content, you should probably just quit it altogether. At that point, it’s value to you may be perceived but not actually real. That’s what my husband determined and did. Instead of going that route, I mapped out the ideal content I would like to post in a month for my business and my blog social media accounts, how much time it should take me to make those meaningful posts, and tallied up the hours – to 8.5 per month. That means that the content is planned, the timing is planned, and the hours I was spending scrolling or wasting time would be reduced by almost 75%. I just bought myself 258 hours a year – almost eleven entire days.
My plan is to take January completely off from all social media and return in February with this strategy as an outline moving forward. Although, after a month off, I may have entirely different ideas and new incite to put into practice.
Strategy #2: Stop using social media for business communications, and funnel all inquiries to my business phone and email.
This strategy may seem counter-intuitive after explaining that social media is actually valuable to my business. But it seems simple to me. When someone has a service or business inquiry, I set up an auto-response on Facebook and a quick-response on Instagram to instruct them to contact the business directly. This is straight-forward, clear and reasonable. It will “weed-out” inquiries that were not serious, or people who want free advice or consultation without going through the appropriate channels of making an appointment for our undivided attention. It ultimately saves me a tremendous amount of time. And ensures that the clients who do choose to make scheduled appointments get the highest quality of service and attention possible, because we are not distracted. This does not mean that I will not get back to you, it means that you need to call my business or send the business an email with a serious inquiry first, and I will get back to you during my posted hours of operation.
Essentially, I’ve determined that social media serves my business when used for networking, event promotion, and portfolio picture positing, but anything more is a waste of time.
Strategy #3: Set client boundaries with tech use.
Strategy #2 falls into this category because I set clear boundaries. I no longer will respond to personal and direct messages at all hours of the day and night because it is convenient for the potential client. I will respond to calls to my business phone and emails to my business email during operating hours. Basically, I am no longer available all the time because I’m unwilling to continue distracting myself from doing other things that produce more value for myself and my business in the long-term. I’d rather give that new client or project my undivided attention.
So, this leaves texting. How do I handle the steady stream of communications coming in? Yesterday my first text from a client came in at 6:42am, but I didn’t know this until 8am because I set up an auto-text response as part of the “do not disturb” feature on my phone. I turn this on manually outside of my business hours so that anyone who texts me before or after hours, or on my weekend will know that I got their message and will respond, but will no longer be available to answer non-urgent inquiries at 6:42am via text message. This is straight-forward, clear, and reasonable.
This takes an enormous amount of stress away from my day-to-day operations, allowing me to check out from communications and enjoy my days off, or evenings and mornings outside the shop. While being reassured that everyone is being taken care of and is clearly informed about my boundaries.
Ultimately, I believe this will make me happier, and better at my job because I will not be distracted by a constant stream of text messages and emails which cause stress and anxiety when I cannot immediately return them. And I can take more time to focus on business improvements.
Strategy #4: Fix the problems created by strategy #3.
This one makes me laugh because it became very apparent early on that this process is going to be full of trial and failure. And although I want 99% of my texts and calls to be filtered until business hours, there are still personal communications that I would like to be able to receive. Additionally, when my phone is on do not disturb with auto-text response, I essentially cannot use it for anything without turning the feature temporarily off, resulting in the flood of texts coming though that I didn’t necessarily want to see until I was back in the shop.
My solution, after doing a heap of research, was to go purchase an Apple Watch, turn it on do not disturb, adjust the setting to not mirror my phone so that I do not get any notifications, and only use it for music, podcasts, audiobooks, and tracking workouts. And oh my goodness it’s fabulous for that.
Essentially I can put my phone on DND with auto-text response, plug it in, and leave it alone until I need it while still using my watch for everything I enjoy and find value in. I added my close family and friends to my favorites list in contacts, so if they need to call me they will get through to my watch. If I absolutely need to look at my calls and texts I can also choose to do so by turning DND off, and seeking out my messages which are not easily accessible. I did it once to make sure it was working, and haven’t looked at it since.
I did not install any apps on my watch except Pandora, security lock and alarm, and my to-do list. My watch face is simple, with music, podcasts, and my workout results being the only easily accessible features. It’s life-changing and it’s been five days.
I feel free from my phone and the expectation to text and email everyone back immediately, but reassured by the fact that Kanan or my sister can still call me and I can still contact the world if need be. Currently I use my watch with my phone on DND with auto-response before work and after work but have not worn it and left my phone at home for entire days out of the shop yet. Today will be the first time and I’m so excited to try it and write about it.
The irony of using technology to correct technology use is not lost of me, but that is why digital minimalism is so much fun. It’s all about picking out the good and letting all the rest go. The next things on my list to quantify and correct are television, random internet use, and news consumption, and I cannot wait. I feel like my mental clarity and stress levels have already decreased dramatically in an extremely short period of time.