Sunday, May 29, 2016

Why I'm Consciously Unplugging from Social Media

The secret is out.

Actually, it's not a secret. We've all seen the impact the internet, and consequently social media, has had on almost every aspect of our lives. Most people have embraced social media while others have refused to go near it. I was, for the longest time, cynical when it came to social media. Why? Because watching how people around me approached social media and its use, I wanted nothing to do with it. What was it that scared me off? This ... People walking down the street, their gazes fixed on their cell phones as they text, unconcerned about what's in front of them or what/who they may bump into. Here in Ontario, despite a hefty fine, drivers still use their cell phones while driving. And I’m not sure which is worse, the distracted driver or the distracted walker …? Walking into a restaurant and looking at the people at the tables around me. So many of them are constantly checking e-mail or updating their status on Facebook and Twitter. The person in front of me in the checkout line talking on their cell phone and annoyed when the cashier asks them a question. When did everything become so important? What's driving us to be connected all the time? So, for as long as I could, I “ignored” social media, tried to live without.

There came a moment a few months ago when I realized that, as a writer, I could no longer ignore social media and decided to learn more about it. Specifically, how I should approach social media as a writer. OMG! There's a plethora of advice out there to be consumed. To be successful, we're told we must be on Twitter and Facebook, have a website, create trailers for our books, have a complete profile on social media sites, and more. The advice goes even deeper, telling us how often we should tweet and the percentage of our tweets that should be our own original content. We're told how to build our following, create a mailing list, or drive traffic to our blog, another must-have. We're encouraged to figure out the best time to tweet or post on Facebook to optimize our engagement with our followers.

Is your head spinning yet? Mine is!

There are many, many, resources out there, and many more individuals offering their expertise. I was, am, overwhelmed. I was eager to gobble up as much information as possible and often let myself be lured in by the offer of a free ebook. I'd click on the link and would then have to submit my e-mail address in order to receive the ebook. No surprise, I was also adding myself to someone's mailing list. Scouring the internet, of course my interest peaked when I stumbled across a blog post or article with a title like, “How to Increase Book Sales on [fill in the appropriate social media site]” or “How to Make Money from [fill in the blank]” or “7 Habits that Will [fill in the blank].” Those type of titles resonate because so much information I've read is generic; it speaks to the masses and may not be helpful in telling you what you have to do to generate more traffic, sales or revenue. You need to first set your own goals and objectives, and go from there. That may not even be enough. I was trying to sift through so much information, separate the relevant from the non-relevant, that it was always difficult not to sign up for that one (and there's more than one) ebook that promised to be the ultimate guide that will give you the secrets and tools to succeed. The lure is too good, so what do I do? One more time, I sign up with my e-mail. Does any of this sound familiar?

Before I knew it, I had signed up for countless mailing lists because I was (and still am) eager to learn more about social media. At the same time, my inbox exploded with more free ebook or free webinar offers. Like I said, a lot of the information I've found is generic and repetitive, but it has helped me to gain insights into social media. I've also learned that nothing's ever free because at some point the sales pitch is coming. Case in point, the last three “free” webinars I attended. In each webinar, about 40% of the time was dedicated to the webinar's theme; the host used the remaining 60% to try and sell their products or services. Maybe that's fair, given that we're all trying to make a living, and maybe that goes part and parcel with today's marketing strategies. In any case, it's made me hesitant about attending future “free” webinars.

I sought out this information and attended webinars because I recognize the importance of social media for us, as writers (and as artists in general) to promote our books and our writing. In short, our brand. Learning about social media and implementing what I learned, I was quick to notice something. It was this: My productivity began to slide. I was constantly checking Twitter to see how a tweet performed. Did I tweet at the right time? How many retweets or likes did it receive? Did the hashtags boost engagement? How many new followers and unfollowers? I did the same for Facebook and my blog. I knew I was letting social media distract me, and tried variations on the Pomodoro Technique. Even so, my productivity improved slightly, and only temporarily at that. It never took long for me to relapse. Something had to give because to have books, and for that matter a brand, to promote, there's one essential task I must faithfully execute: I must write. Daily. Consistently. With love and excitement for each word.

There is something oddly addictive about social media, and I don't think it matters if you have 619 followers or 100,000 followers. It's like we're now, in part, trying to measure our success via social media. A high number of followers, or retweets, or likes, seems (erroneously?) like an appropriate measure of success. Or is it, perhaps, a warped sense of validation? As a writer, success to me isn't just about the next big book contract or topping the best sellers list on Amazon. Success is about finishing that novel, the series of paintings, the concerto. It's taking a goal ― whatever that goal is ― and seeing it through to completion. And being proud of what we've created. For me, that means choosing to either create or indulge in activities that distract me from what I really want to do, or what I tell myself that I want to do and achieve.

That's why I've decided to consciously unplug. I'm not abandoning social media. I'm deciding to use social media more mindfully. My conscious unplugging involves using the extension for Google Chrome called, StayFocusd. I'm limiting the amount of time I can spend checking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to a combined total of 60 minutes each day. Not just that. Those sites are completely blocked during my creative time, which is 6:30 am to 2:00 pm. And I love StayFocusd's nuclear option when I can restrict access to the entire internet.

I'm doing this, consciously unplugging, because while I'm generally happy with my life, I'm unhappy where I am creatively. I know I can do more, and do better. Removing the distractions that hinder my creativity and productivity are reinforcing other positive habits that are helping me to build a more effective daily routine.

I'm finding my focus. That means learning to be more mindful in my use of social media and knowing myself. I can read countless blogs and articles about how to generate traffic, promote my brand, gain more followers or even how long a blog post should be. Or I can write, create the products that will encompass my brand ― focus on what matters most. I think that's the first step.

This is the path I'm taking for myself. It's the best move for me. And, believe me, it's making a difference.

You'll have to choose the path that works best for you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, or that you have to do it this way or that way. Find your niche, create your own process, and hone it, make it your own and own it. It's the best way for you to be your best you.

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