The social media time suck

A recent article by Charles Chu said that in the time we spend on social media, we could read 200 books a year. It’s an awesome article, and you should check it out here.

Chu calculates that we spend 608 hours a year on social media and 1642 watching TV.

I don’t know about you, but those numbers HORRIFY me. But before you scoff at them, do the math: 608 hours a year is about 12 hours a week, or a little less than two hours a day. I would be willing to bet that you spend 1.67 hours on social media per day.

The 1642 hours breaks down to 31 hours a week, or 4.5 hours a day. And before you scoff at that, let me ask you if you’ve ever binge-watched a TV show. (Here’s a 2014 infographic of how long it would take to binge-watch your favorite show. That 31 hours a week looks a little more reasonable now, doesn’t it?)

I consider myself pretty high on the productivity scale. I read about two books a week, and I’ve never had cable–though I do use my ex’s Netflix, my ex’s mom’s HBO Go, and my own Hulu account. I also use my ex’s mom’s cable login for FX. A girl’s gotta watch American Horror Story. Don’t hate.

This past week, I tried to (sort of) keep track of my time in regards to entertainment. I’m not going to say I did a great job, and most of these numbers are estimates, but we’ll go with it.

168 hours in a week
-4o hours at work (most weeks it’s more, but we’ll keep it at 40)
-42 hours sleeping (average 6 hours a night)
-2 hours commuting (I’m very lucky- very short drive to work)
(I’ve used up half my hours at this point)
-2 hours running errands (grocery store, vet, post office)
-8 hours reading (an hour-ish per day)
-5 hours eating/cooking (I cook a lot)
-3 hours with the dogs (sometimes I just watch them do things and I find it hilarious)
-4 hours doing crossword puzzles (I obsessively do NYT crosswords…obsessively)
-6 hours writing (this varies widely–sometimes it’s much more or next to nothing)
-5 hours client work (again, this varies widely–sometimes it’s more like 20)
-10 hours time with friends (dinners, happy hours, boxed wine, whatever)

I’m down to 41 hours left now. And sure, I’m not averaging in the fact that some weeks, I take a lot of long baths, or doctor’s appointments, or the time I spend aimlessly wandering around my house. But even if you cut that down to 30 hours to accommodate random daily tasks…where is that 30 hours going?

Kind of scary, right? How many hours a week can you simply not account for? (This reminds me of Law & Order, where the suspect literally has no clue what they’ve been doing or where they are.) Even if I grossly underestimated on my hours above, I’m still probably missing 20 hours. That’s a part-time job. What am I doing for 20-40 hours a week? 

This should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyways: if I don’t remember what I’m doing, it must not be very important. I don’t think I’m spending that much time aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds or watching old episodes of Sex and the City…but what if I am? Am I really wasting that much of my life?

There are plenty of articles out there on how to reduce your time on social media and make yourself more accountable, so I won’t bore you with the same ideas on how to form habits, how to break habits, and how to make yourself wake up earlier. I’m only going to suggest that you figure out how many hours a week you can’t account for. If that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.


Saying Yes

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”

I read that a few days ago, and I loved it for a few reasons: one, the word hearty is underused; two, it got me thinking about the adventures I’ve turned down and why; and three, I wondered how exactly I was supposed to know when I was being encountered with “my adventure.”

In general, I am a “say yes” type of person. There are very few things and people I’ve said no to, mostly because I just like to see what happens (doesn’t sound like I’m living very intentionally, does it…). I give people way too many chances, I overextend myself by committing to things I don’t really want to do, and I spend a lot of time saying yes to people who don’t say yes to me. This all sounds bad enough, but all the white noise created from saying yes to everything has, I think, probably made me miss out on some pretty important adventures.

Part of living with intention is knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing. Why you said yes to this and no to that. Why you chose X instead of Y. It’s actually being able to expound reasons for your actions. Moreover, living with intention is being able to have GOOD reasons. Saying yes for the sake of saying yes is not a good reason. And I have definitely spent years of my life saying yes simply because I didn’t want to say no. What, god forbid, if I missed out on something? Guess what–fear of missing out is not a reason to do something. It’s an idea precipitated by we millennials that is probably rooted in social media. I’ve gone on a lot of dates with guys simply because I thought I might be missing out on something, when really I should have told myself, “wait, I am an adult woman, and if I don’t think there’s anything there–then there isn’t.” I’ve also said yes to clients and projects that I knew I wouldn’t be invested in…for what reason, I have no idea. Just said yes for the hell of it.

When I think about the adventures I’ve openly said no to–and truthfully, there are very few–I said no because I was concerned about what someone in my life would think or feel about it. Another way of putting that is FEAR. Fear is dumb. I don’t have many regrets, but wow, I’ve turned down some adventures I’ll never get back.

enhanced-13593-1395329522-8I’ve always really liked this Natalie Goldberg quote (if she sounds familiar, it’s because she wrote the monumental Writing Down the Bones) because in order to write anything meaningful, you have to get over that fear of splitting yourself open. You have to get over the fear of what someone else might think, you have to get over the fear of sucking, you have to get over the fear of being wrong, and you have to get over the fear of not meeting your own expectations. For some reason, I’ve always taken that advice when it comes to writing, but never about life.

So this is a problem, right? I say yes too much, and thus fail at living intentionally. I have said no to things out of pure fear–worse, not even my own fear at doing those things, it’s been the fear of what someone else might think. All of this has led me to miss out on some things that I know would have been monumental in my life. How can I be sure that when that big adventure comes, I will be ready to get it that hearty yes?

I think the biggest thing I need to do is quiet the noise. Cut out the people who don’t contribute anything meaningful. Cut out projects that aren’t fulfilling. Doing those two things will give me fewer opportunities to say yes to stupid stuff, and those important queries will come through a little louder. The second thing, and the harder thing, is to push past the fear. Send the letter, take the job, break up with someone, tell someone you love them. What do you have to lose?  If you’ve been vulnerable and open in your life and your decisions, then you have nothing to lose by pushing past your residual fear.

The third and final thing I need to do–and maybe it’s what you need to do, too–is to be really honest about what kind of adventure I want. What do I want my big adventure to look like? Is it about love? A career? A journey? Is it an amalgamation of those things? If I had to choose, which would be the most important? When you determine what kind of adventure you’re hoping comes knocking, it’s going to be  a lot easier to say that hearty yes.

Making Time For Everything

The thing I hear most from friends, family, and the guys I date is “you don’t have enough time.”

What they mean is “you don’t have enough time for what I want you to have time for.”

The easy way out would be for me to say that we all make time for what we want to make time for. And yeah, it a very basic level, that’s absolutely true: if you want to do something badly enough, you will make time for it. Of course, organizing your life and budgeting your time is more nuanced than just “want to do” versus “don’t want to do.”

To be clear, I didn’t always live my life this way. When I got out of a long-term relationship and my ex moved out, I made a concerted effort to really live my life how I wanted to. That meant pushing myself, learning more, working more, and creating a schedule that worked for me consistently. I had let a lot of my life go when I was in that relationship, and I was determined not to let that continue.

So, this is what works for me. But honestly, it probably won’t work for you. Productivity and routines are different for everyone. For example, I really like this blog, but what she does would never work for me.

1. Sleep less. Seriously, this is the #1 reason I am productive. It’s not that I am wildly efficient in the hours that I have, it’s that I just have more of them than you do. During the week, I sleep 4-5 hours a night. I get up around 2 hours before I need to be at work, and those hours are for either completing a project when I’m on deadline or for doing housework, laundry, etc.

2. To expand on that, get out of bed if you wake up before your alarm. If I wake up at 4, I’m gonna get up at 4 and I will use that extra hour.

3. The last point on sleep: if you’re not tired, don’t go to bed. That sounds so silly, but if it’s 1 a.m. and I’m not tired, I will keep doing whatever it is that I want to do.

4. Teach yourself to “put the blinders on.” I work best when I plow through something all at once. When I’m writing copy or doing a big project, I simply cannot do it in small chunks. I waste so much time starting and stopping. Being able to put the blinders on and finish a project in one sitting makes me infinitely more productive.

5. Be active. At least 30 minutes a day. Preferably in the morning. Or at least at the same time every day. Everyone gives this advice, but it’s true.

6. Recharge. Literally, put your phone on the charger and then don’t look at it for XX hours. I don’t care if it’s 1 hour or 6, but not having a small electronic device controlling your life for awhile is super helpful. You can’t look at Twitter if your phone is upstairs!

7. Recharge, part two: I try to give myself one night a week where I have NOTHING on my calendar. And no one gets that time. Doesn’t matter how much I like you. I absolutely 100% need time without humans.


8. Use your car time wisely. I schedule conference calls for when I’ll be driving. I also only return calls when I’m driving. Then I’m not just sitting at my kitchen table, on the phone, annoyed.

9. Figure out when you’re naturally most productive. For me, it’s definitely the hours between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. Once noon hits, my productivity starts waning. By 4 p.m., I’m totally worthless. My creativity, speed, focus, etc, all peak in the morning. I used to think I was a night owl, and to some extent I am, but that’s not when I am most productive. I just like reading and hanging out at night.

10. Schedule out all your time. This sounds extreme, but anything I want to do gets put on my calendar. If I want to play piano tonight, I’ll literally put it on my calendar. If I want to finish a book by a certain date, I put that on the calendar too. I know that my entire life is in my iPhone calendar–due dates for every bill, everyone’s birthday, holidays, every event, whatever. It gives me a realistic idea of how much time I actually have each day, and that’s super helpful.

11. Be realistic and be honest. If you only have an hour to give someone, tell them 45 minutes and then make sure you’re out door in 60 minutes. If you don’t have any time until next Tuesday, make a date for next Tuesday and do your best to stick with it. When you’re with them, make sure they feel like they are the #1 priority while you’re there!

12. Decide what (and who) is worth canceling for. If I cancel plans with you, you can be damn sure that it’s something important. For me to break plans or not show up to a meeting, it’s one of three things– work crisis, health issue, friend/family crisis. The end. And at this age, yeah, work comes first a lot of the time.

13. Remember that consistency is different for everyone. There are very few things I do every single day. I go to work, I’m active, and I write for at least an hour. If it’s shitty, that’s okay. But I do it. It’s part of the routine. Eventually, I’ll write out all the stupid shit and it’ll be good. But some people need a strict routine. I know that some days of the week are different than others for me, so I plan accordingly.

14. Know what factors make you unproductive. Food, music, TV, whatever it is, know what makes you unproductive and learn to eliminate it. I absolutely can’t eat while I work. It slows me down and makes me tired. I can listen to music, but not to podcasts. Definitely no TV. However, I can work just about anywhere–bedroom, kitchen, public park. If you know that you suck on Fridays, then frontload your week and take the pressure off of Friday. If you usually have a meeting or activity on Tuesdays, then take the pressure off of Wednesday. Instead of trying to push through and make yourself feel bad/unproductive/lazy, schedule that less-productive time into your week.

15. Lastly, keep improving. When I do the above 14 things really consistently, I typically have more free time to do whatever I want (though, let’s be honest, I typically schedule out my free time too). But by “keep improving,” I really mean to keep improving your process so that it stays fresh and applicable. For me, I need to always be working on a project just for me–whether that’s learning something new or home improvement. I have to make time for that, otherwise I will get burned out.

Honorable mention…just know that some days will suck. You’ll be hung over, you’ll just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you’ll get dumped, whatever. It’s okay for some days to be a total wash. It happens. The next day is a new day.

Creativity: The Dark Side

I’ve read a lot lately about what Harvard Business Review calls the “dark side of creativity.” Menacing, right? Creative people are more likely to be dishonest, more negative, more narcissistic, and more impulsive. Sounds about right.

As Nietzsche once noted: “One must have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” On average, people who are very emotionally stable may be too happy to feel the need to create.

quotes-creativity-robert-bresson-600x411There is, without a doubt, a dark side to creativity. It’s the idea that you can only create out of the void, out of the dark places. Whenever I get through a rough patch or heartbreak and start to feel normal again, I feel my creativity wane. I don’t feel the natural urges to write, play the piano, sew, or cook. I cope with problems by letting them out in those venues. When the problems are resolved, I’m less motivated. I constantly struggle to keep the motivation going without slipping back into a negative place. It’s almost like I want to hold onto heartbreak. (Because, of course, creative people are naturally more depressive, too.)

Even positive attributes of creative people become negative because they’re quickly taken to extremes (because, again, creative people are often extreme)–people like “spontaneous” until it becomes disruptively impulsive, people like “charismatic” until it becomes manipulative. People like “risk taking” until it becomes dangerous, addictive, etc. There’s this idea behind art and creativity that you have to suffer for it, or be an alcoholic. There’s no proven link between creativity and addiction (interesting read on that here), but the researcher admits that “there is a link between addiction and things which are a prerequisite for creativity” due to low dopamine function (ie, you feel pleasure less strongly than other people). He continues:

Genetic variants make for a low-functioning dopamine system, specifically D2 receptors. If you carry those variants, you are more likely to be more risk-taking, novelty-seeking and compulsive. None of which are explicitly creative, but they are things that get to creativity. So novelty-seeking might be a spur to creativity. Risk-taking might lead you to go more out on a limb. If you’re compulsive, you might be more motivated to get your art, science idea or novel out into the world. These traits that come from having low dopamine function have an upside. These traits can contribute to people having great success in the world, like business leaders.

So there we have it. I always struggled with terming myself “creative,” probably because I am not naturally emotive and veer towards rationality. But it is what it is. This is definitely my natural personality type, and, frankly, what I’m good at. I dropped my math/chem degrees and stuck with English and writing. But how do I circumnavigate all the dark sides of creativity and my personality? I’m guilty of all those things: being impulsive, depressive, narcissistic… Most disturbing to me is my predilection for staying in the dark places, all in the name of productivity.

HBR (can you tell I’m obsessed…I actually pay for a subscription) had another article called “To Get More Creative, Become Less Productive.” This is the basis of it:

Productive people move through the tasks they have to accomplish in a systematic way. They make steady and measurable progress toward their goals. They make effective and efficient use of their time.

Creativity… doesn’t.

Creativity needs time and space to grow. Although we can systematically engage in activities that are related to creativity, it is hard to systematize creativity itself. In particular, creativity is fundamentally about knowledge.

Overall, I disagree with the idea that creative people don’t make effective and efficient use of their time, or that creativity doesn’t grow under those parameters. I completely agree that creativity is about knowledge, but that doesn’t mean that schedules and systems don’t work. Maybe I’m totally weird, but my creativity thrives when I’m on a consistent schedule. It allows my “me time” or my “creative time” to actually be free because I’m untethered to other commitments.

Yes, you absolutely have to make time to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake. But I think that “free time” should be scheduled to an extent. You cannot give yourself too much freedom, because that oftentimes leads nowhere. If I have eight hours to just do as I please, nothing gets done at all. I just mess around all day, and it’s not a productive kind of messing around. I have to tell myself, “from 10-12 you will clean the house. At 12 you will each lunch. After that…” Etc, etc, etc. That’s not to say that I don’t have down time, but for the most part, I do schedule out my time. It allows me to balance productivity and creativity. I can still do my daily “deep dives” (where I just read as much as I can about something random and super specific), and I can still read for pleasure, and I can still do the things I enjoy…but within a greater framework geared towards productivity. If my brain is busy, my creative wheels are turning, too.

I think that’s almost certainly a personal preference. There isn’t a one-size-fits all for creativity OR productivity. I lacked framework in my life for, well, most of my life. When I figured out around 26 that I was happier and more productive when I was busy/scheduled, and that I wasn’t losing any creative time–I adjusted my life accordingly. Work is done with it’s done. Cleaning time is over when it’s over. Sticking to a schedule allows, ultimately, for greater freedom in my case. I’m always interested in hearing about others’ struggles with productivity, creativity, schedules, and more… Please let me know what works for you!


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