By whose standards?

Three years ago, I was managing a project to teach young people digital skills. One aspect that we invariably touched upon was healthy use of social media. Social media has evolved to become a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s useful for staying in touch with family and friends, receiving quick information and for advertising products. On the other hand, social networks can be huge time wasters, have contributed to decreasing attention spans and can give people a very warped sense of what life is like. Perhaps the most insidious harm social media can do is to create the illusion that other people are achieving great deeds within short periods of time and everyone else who isn’t is a failure.

How do you tell fact from fiction?
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Mornings are not for social media

You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is check your phone. You will not even check if your legs are working.

Whatsapp Status

Are you the person who hits the snooze button five times before giving up and going back to sleep for three hours? Do you feel the urge to lie in bed and check social media for one hour after getting up? The first hour of your day has a disproportionate effect on how you carry out tasks for the rest of the day. What you do immediately after waking up sends a powerful message to your brain about the kind of person you are and the things you value the most.

Mobile phone snooz
You snooze, You lose
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How many cellphone-hours in a day?

“Well we really do spend most of our time on our phones. I personally would have to strike a balance.”

Comment left by a reader of last week’s post

The birth of the smartphone changed the way we live. Prior to that, cellphones were just miniature telephones. You could use one to send text messages and some of them came with pre-installed games but their primary function was to make calls.

As technology advanced, the cellphone became capable of much more than making calls. The birth of social media and mobile applications turned smartphones into the equivalent of a playground or office you could carry in your pocket. Eventually, the smartphone replaced the pocket calculator, camera, calendar, post office and even the banking hall.

There’s an app for everything
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Reply when you can

A reply email icon

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend. He was complaining about the expectation people have of receiving an instant reply whenever they send out a message. Although he and I laughed about it and joked about people who check whatsapp once a week, the conversation stayed in my head. My friend was making a very valid point: we feel the need to stay connected to data all the time and share the expectation that everyone else is. As a result, people expect you to reply messages as soon as they send them.

The problem with thinking that way is people get annoyed when they don’t get replies a few seconds after sending a message (especially if the app says the recipient is online). This would be funny except it has real world consequences for relationships. Everyone has a friend who is notorious for never replying messages on time. The one who fails to confirm they are available for the weekend hangout you planned and shows up at the last minute. We blame that friend for ruining our weekend plans. You all know of a couple who had a fight because one of them failed to reply a message until two hours later.

An open envelope with a loudspeaker coming out of it
You might as well shout “Reply when you see this.”

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Your tech habits could be the reason you aren’t getting anything done

A glitzy image of internet connected devices

Technology is supposed to make life easier. You are able to read this article on your device thanks to technology. I have a list of favourite productivity apps that wouldn’t exist today without advances in technology. Used properly, technology can be your best friend as you work towards achieving a more productive life.

Technology, however, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have apps and resources that can help with your productivity. On the other hand, you have social media and addictive games that are productivity traps.

A laptop, a tablet, a mobile phone and a camera on a table
How do you use your devices?

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What is distracting you today?

This is a distraction, ignore it and get back to kicking ass

Distractions are a part of life. When your neighbour says hi while you are in the middle of a complex calculation and you stop to say hi back only to find that you have forgotten what step you were on and have to start again from the beginning, that is a distraction. It is impossible to eliminate distractions from your life. You can’t stop your friendly neighbour saying hi when you’d rather work in peace. You also can’t predict when your children will try to get your attention with the latest picture they have drawn. What you can do is choose how you manage distractions.

Broadly speaking, the distractions we have to manage fall into two categories: internal and external. An internal distraction is you suddenly curious to find out the year popcorn was invented while doing your business accounting. An external distraction is that phone call from your friend while you are in a meeting.

Social media icons
Social distraction, sorry, media

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Put your phone in a drawer (and learn to leave it there)

A magnifying glass focusing on a passage

How many hours could you go without peeking at your phone? So many people experience anxiety if they had to stay away from their internet enabled devices for a long time. Whatsapp notifications that run in the thousands and ever refreshing social media profiles have made it very difficult for some people to stay focused. Every notification is a distraction and even when they turn off data, the fear of missing out ensures at least some of their brain power stays thinking about what they could be missing. This is good for social media companies but bad for productivity. The ability to get focused and stay focused is becoming a rare skill just at the time when being able to stay focused can provide you with a huge advantage at work.

An arrow stuck in a bullseye
Focus is a moving target

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Are all those whatsapp groups adding value to your life?

The Whatsapp logo cancelled

How many whatsapp groups are you in? How many add value to your life? How many were you added to without your consent? A lot of people are in whatsapp groups they would rather not be in simply because they can’t leave without other group members knowing and they want to avoid hurting the group admin’s feelings.

From extended family groups to project team groups to the group your friend created to discuss the latest MMM type scam, whatsapp groups are becoming a huge distraction. Even when a group has been set up for a valid purpose, it’s hard to stop members making irrelevant posts. Some members now post irrelevant content and immediately apologise saying it was sent in error. These “accidents” have become all too common for some people.

Silhouette of a crowd. The whatsapp icon is coming out of their heads
It takes a village to make a whatsapp group

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What’s distracting you from work this week? (ii)

Icons of popular social media platforms

Welcome to part 2 of this month’s posts about dealing with distractions. If you didn’t read part 1, it’s available here. This week’s post will focus on how to deal with online distractions, with an emphasis on social media.

The majority of distractions most people encounter during the day come from social media. In an era of ever refreshing newsfeeds and blinking notification lights, you can be caught at the mercy of your phone. There are so many people making posts that there is absolutely no way you could read it all. Social media companies rely on you being online to make money. They need data about your social media habits so they have designed their platforms to catch your attention and keep you coming back. Do you have a report to write this morning, resist the urge to pop into facebook? Turn off your notifications, exit your email client. A friend of mine once referred to social media as “weapons of mass distraction.” It sounds like overkill but If you have ever found yourself laughing at a funny video when you were supposed to be working yet can’t remember how you got there, you understand the danger he was referring too.

Block print that reads "Distraction" many times over
Found everywhere

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Take Control of Social Media before it takes over your Life

Picture of a soldier saluting against a backdrop of social media icons

Let me ask you a quick question: How many hours a day do you spend on social media? One? Two? Three? Not sure? According to statista, the worldwide daily average usage of social media in 2017 was 135 minutes. Here’s an easier one: How many social media platforms are you on? According to GlobalWebIndex, the average person has 7.6 social media accounts. Social media is here to stay. People using it to catch up on the latest gossip, stay in touch with friends, network with professionals in the same line of work as you or to advertise your latest product or service. Used properly, social media can have a positive impact on your life. It becomes a problem when you allow social media to take over? If you’re always itching to refresh your newsfeed or constantly thinking about the posts you haven’t seen, then your productivity is definitely being affected.

A collection of icons of seven popular social media platforms
Which social media platforms are you on?

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