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“I wonder how this 5 minute long video of text over still images about veteran dogs and their companion goats will end?” said no one in their right mind, ever.
But that’s the crazy genius thing about social media, particularly Facebook. It sucks you down rabbit holes and before you know it, you’ve been scrolling for an hour. And all you have to show for it is three goat videos and a timelapse on how to make those cake pops that you’re never going to make.
TV is similarly insidious with autoplay features leading from one show about glamorous lives accessorized with a killer white cashmere coat and a huge goblet of wine to the next.
All of these things are fine once in a while, but I found I was spending nearly all of my free time consuming this media candy. After years of battling, I made it my mission to watch less TV and spend less time on Facebook. I finally succeeded. Here’s how I got my evenings back.
Get Real on How Much Media You Are Consuming
I had a rough idea of how much TV I was watching. But the pie chart I did of how I spend my days as part of a recent goal setting exercise was illuminating and a little bit horrifying.
TV ate up half of my free time. After checking my iPhone settings, I found that Facebook was eating up the other half.
No wonder I couldn’t get anything accomplished and wasn’t making progress on my goals. I thought I had to wake up at 5:30am to get anything done! Turns out I just had to watch less TV and control the scroll.
Ask, Is It Serving You?
So here’s the thing. I loved TV. Or at least I thought I did. I loved to lay down on the couch with a cup of tea and watch Scandal. In fact, after wrangling the littles all.damn.day, all I wanted to do was collapse after baby bedtime.
So I would lay down, check out with TV, and pretend to be doing something productive by scrolling Facebook at the same time. All my aspirations would lay fallow with me. That is until the next day when I told myself I would watch less TV so I could accomplish more. But we all know the next night I would fall into the same coma, vaguely hoping tomorrow would be different. And on and on.
Maybe you think “media addiction” is too strong of a phrase. But an addiction is something we do compulsively and to the exclusion of things we’d rather be doing. I’d rather be going to bed at a reasonable hour. I’d rather finish my day reading a fun novel than scrambling to do all the chores I suddenly remembered at 11pm. I’d rather be making progress on my big goals and have something tangible to show for my day.
Here’s the thing about happiness: it doesn’t mean we’re happy in every moment. TV gives me the appearance of happiness in the moment, but long term, it makes me sad. Making incremental progress on life goals can be frustrating. But long term, accomplishing those goals is what’s going to bring me happiness.True happiness doesn't mean we're happy in every moment.Click To Tweet
TV and Facebook were not serving me in the quantities I was consuming. But I’d tried so many times to watch less TV before. How would this time be different?
The Inconvenient Truth: Watch Less TV by Making it Hard to Access
I went back to my habits spirit guide Gretchen Rubin, and one of my noble truths. I am an abstainer, not a moderator. I do best when I totally abstain from something I want to avoid rather than try to moderate it. To abstain, I need things out of sight and out of mind.
So I floated an extreme idea to my husband – maybe we could pack up the TV and put it in the garage for a while. I am blessed with a very supportive husband who has been wanting to help me watch less TV for a while so he gamely entertained the idea. It helped that baseball season hadn’t started yet. But it did feel extreme. Where would my daughter watch Frozen for the 800th time? What would we do in April for baseball season?
Then I realized that mostly what I loved at the end of the night was laying down for a bit to recharge. Maybe if the TV wasn’t in front of the most comfortable spot in the house I could avoid it.
We don’t have a huge house but we do have an extra guest room / office where the TV would fit. The futon in there is not nearly as comfortable as a couch. The room itself is tucked in the back of the house so it’s pretty antisocial to go in there. All of these points made accessing the TV just inconvenient enough that I haven’t slipped once in months.
Lest you think I’m a saint, I did allow myself one exemption. I used Rubin’s strategy of pairing to link watching TV with folding laundry. When I’m done with the laundry, I’m done watching TV. This way, I’m much less likely to binge watch.
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Use Facebook as a Tool, Not An Escape
So Facebook, oh Facebook, how I love and loathe thee. It is so integrated into my life that I don’t think I can quit it outright. And making it inconvenient just annoys the heck out of me. I use Facebook to access my mothers’ group events and sales groups to declutter my house. Facebook helps me feel connected and informed which is difficult in this solitary work-at-home mom life with no officemates.
The problem is that I don’t stop scrolling at connected and informed. Instead, I keep scrolling until I’m mind-numbed and zombie-like. Before I know it, my baby’s nap time is over and I’ve done nothing productive. That means I have so much to do at night that I can’t do anything to recharge. Cue sadness, frustration and guilt.
So here’s the thing. I only go on Facebook if I have a purpose. Just as an addict can be around people who drink if they have another reason for being there besides drinking, I make sure that if I’m on Facebook, it’s to use it as a tool instead of an escape.
If my purpose is to connect with friends, then I stop scrolling when the cat videos start rolling. When I need to check on an event or sale, I do that and then log off. If I need to ask one of my blog groups a question, I do that, get back to work and check in later for the answer.
Facebook is a powerful tool, but a terrible master. This targeted purposeful approach with Facebook has cut my usage time in half.How to control the scroll on Facebook: scroll with a purpose. Use it as a tool instead of a master.Click To Tweet
What could you do with an extra few hours a day? Would you write a book? Plan out amazing activities for your kids? Try out new recipes?
It has been three months since I made this change to watch less TV and spend less time on social media. I love my evenings now. I still curl up on the couch but instead of TV, I watch the fire we light every night. Reading my fluffy fantasy book for a bit recharges me enough that I soon feel capable of engaging on a deeper level.
I was so worried that I would miss it terribly, or not have energy to do anything at night. But I have more energy because I’m excited about what I do in the evenings. I’m getting more sleep because I’m not sucked into a time wasting activity instead of doing what I need to do to be done for the day.
What about you all? How do you control the various time-sucks of our 21st century lives so you can use your time how you want? Any hacks out there or just pure willpower? Let me know in the comments!
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