An average teenager will end up spending 15-20 years of his or her life on social media

I’ve written a lot about how we spend money on ‘stuff’ that do not add any real value to our lives. The same line of thinking can be extended to spending our ‘time’….which is our most precious resource. The amount of time an average individual spends in doing things that have zero (or in fact negative) effect on their overall well-being is staggering. We are anyway surrounded by abundant distractions, and as if that is not enough, being glued to our biggest source of instant gratification – our smartphone, seem to be nowadays a perfectly accepted social behavior. We of course at times come across ‘weirdos’ who are trying to look around making eye-contact with other people :-).

I don’t need a Harvard or an MIT research study to do a simple arithmetic… average adult spends over 3 hours of his/her day on some kind of social media on smartphones,  and this works out to over 5 years in a lifetime. Imagine spending 5 years of a lifetime doing absolutely nothing productive….now if I look at the same stats for the teenagers, the number becomes scary….an average teenager will end up spending 15-20 years of his or her life staring at a smartphone (over and above its legit usage)… Wow!

Tim Urban (author of the blog waitbutwhy) came up with a brilliant depiction of Instant gratification…the single biggest cause of ‘Procrastination’, keeping us from achieving our most important goals. With his kind permission, I have reproduced his illustration of ‘The Instant Gratification Monkey’. I find no other analysis of the subject as appropriate as Tim’s portrayal. Make it a point to watch his TED Talk

(source credits: Tim Urban, waitbutwhy)

So when I realized how easily I gave in to common distractions like Facebook or WhatsApp (my instant gratification monkey), I knew I had to save myself from these massive time sucks. To an extent, we all are conscious of this and this blog is not supposed to be a lecture on ill effects of social media. On the contrary, they are great ways of keeping in touch with old friends. I am definitely not proposing or planning to completely shun Facebook or WhatsApp. However, I was determined to cut down the incessant hum of ‘noise’ surrounding me….emanating from these various social sources.

I just knew I had to bring down these distractions to be able to enhance my productivity and win over my procrastination. I set out to cut down dramatically on these sites/apps. Whether it was Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other social media that wasn’t directly contributing to my productivity. I wanted to come up with self-imposed time restrictions. In the beginning, I thought it was working well, but when I checked my battery stats on my smartphone (it shows the distribution of time spent on different apps and can be quite insightful), I saw that I was still using these applications much more than I thought I was. What was going on?

This is when I realized that over and above the consciously allocated time slots, there were also times (in the middle of work) when I would just instinctively open up the applications upon seeing a notification. The solution became clear to me then. I had to make it impossible for me to see these notifications without actually going out of my way to check the app. I had used the same tip before to reduce email noises so that I could focus without constantly being interrupted by new emails coming in. The same method applied to Skype message notifications. It was a crusade against ‘the hypnotic effect of being notified’. To fix this problem, I tried a very simple experiment….all I had to do was move all these social applications from the home-screen of my smartphone to the last screen, and turn off all push notifications. This way I would never see any red notification circle announcing 25 un-browsed ‘earth shattering events’ (at the corner of the app icon)….and never open the applications unless I absolutely planned to. No more instinctual browsing of Facebook or Twitter unless it is during my planned leisure time!

Technology has made it possible for us to accomplish so much more with our lives, but we need to make sure we master it rather than accepting it as our master. Right now, too many people are low on focus and attention because of the way they choose to use their time. The lowest priority stuff fills up their time leaving no room for the important ones. By trying this simple trick of just moving your social media off your main screen and limiting app notifications, you can actually start to accomplish much more in a day. I have tried this successful experiment on myself and I am happy about keeping my instant gratification monkey caged (maybe not always but definitely most of the time).

“Were all the geniuses of history to focus on this single theme, they could never fully express their bafflement at the darkness of the human mind. No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay; yet we easily let others encroach on our lives — worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tightfisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” — Seneca