As I progress through my health coaching education, I am obviously learning a lot about the benefits of balancing the macronutrients in every meal as well as obtaining nourishment from other sources, outside of our diet. Keeping this in mind, I knew I had to face my digital consumption and the nourishment (or lack thereof) that it provided.
Prior to lockdown, I used social media (Instagram and Facebook) more than I necessarily want to admit, but I did consume the news at an acceptable rate. Once or twice a day, and maybe more if I was particularly interested in a developing story or news. But after the first week of March 2020, everything changed. It made sense to keep up with the current news and discussions about the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as catch up with how my family, friends, and others were dealing with the new reality, in real-time.
But what I noticed is that I went from getting updates and checking in, to an obsession that could not be controlled. It felt like I was feeding a monster that was never satisfied. The more I consumed, the hungrier I became for newer news. I wanted to read other people’s opinions and feel their emotions like I was part of a bigger conversation, so I would scroll through the endless supply of posts on Facebook. I would then switch back to the major news outlets to see what had been updated since the last time I checked, which was probably an hour ago. I would also switch between news outlets to maybe catch other stories not published on the other sites. And then, there is the Worldmeters website. I would visit that website several times a day, to see the latest data on the number of new cases and the curves…that looks like a peak, I would think to myself. I was suddenly an overnight epidemiologist.
It was an unhealthy addiction and I knew it. At the end of the day, I wasn’t necessarily more informed, I was left with less time and motivation to do more productive tasks. I felt a sense of loss and remorse for the time that I couldn’t get back. I would then promise myself to do better, only to repeat the behavior all over again the next day.
I discussed this with my friends and it seemed like I wasn’t alone. I tried an approach from a friend, which was to only check once a day, just to keep up-to-date and no more. That seemed disciplined and responsible and I wanted to embrace that mindset. Tomorrow, I would check the news outlets and Worldmeters website once in the morning, and then I’ll be done with it. And so I did, first thing in the morning and closed the browser. But I checked again an hour later, and before too long, I found myself lost in the endless stream of Facebook posts, buried neck-deep in the comment section of a controversial post. Yeah, so that didn’t work 🙁
As the days turned into weeks, I continued to exchange my time for something that did not offer an equal return in value. More than just wishing this habit away, or promising myself tomorrow would be different I knew I had to come up with a different strategy to reclaim my time.
Then I had an idea. Staying within the digital space, I searched for programs that I could install on my computer and phone to (1) Track the number of sites that I visited and the time I spent on each and (2) Block me from visiting sites that I choose to be blocked from.
The first chrome extension that I downloaded was Block site. It is very simple. You download the extension and then add websites directly to your account. When you go to that website, you get this message below
I also like that you can set it up to sync up with your phone and it blocks the sites there too.
The second one is called Webtime Tracker and it is basically a simple chrome extension that tracks where you have visited and presents it to you in a beautiful pie chart. What I like about this is that it’s a free tool that also respects your privacy. No data is transmitted anywhere. Everything stays in your browser. Here are my results below, from the first 11 days.
I have continued to use them both, but I cheated a few times. For example, If I am on my computer and I really wanted to check the news, I could easily just use my other browser without the extension. But it did the trick, as overtime, my overall usage decreased significantly because I had to make an effort to use the alternative which wasn’t my preferred route. I periodically peaked at webtime tracker to continue to
shame encourage me to stay productive.
Finally, my plan is to read the book digital minimalism by Carl Newport, sometime this year. I started the new year by reading his book deep work. He is an excellent writer and I can’t wait to read another of his best sellers.
So, what strategies, tips, and tools have you used during this time, or other times to decrease your digital consumption? Please share your tips below