Ask any online entrepreneur how much time they spend on social media each day, and I think they would be embarrassed to admit it.
I know I would.
And when the topic came up recently in my Facebook group, several of us had to admit that we were regularly, habitually, spending more time accessing social media on our devices than we were comfortable with.
Experts have been saying for several years that we should be limiting our time online. And we can see the negative effects of excessive screen time all too clearly in our day to day lives.
It sucks up our attention and draws us away from meaningful relationships with the people around us.
It takes everyday interactions that should be carried out verbally and makes them non-verbal. We can ‘talk’ to people for hours on social media without actually saying a word, which over time turns us ‘in on ourselves’. We are trapped inside our own heads and can end up starved of ‘real’ outward interaction – eye contact, expressions, spontaneity. Emotions that are more complex than just ‘like’, ‘love’, ‘wow’, ‘angry’, ‘sad’. Sentences that cannot be edited once we’ve put them into words, or deleted so no one hears them.
It gives us constant ammunition to negatively compare ourselves with others – do we have more friends, likes, shares that the people around us? If we use social media for a business, are we as ‘visible’ as other entrepreneurs? How do we stack up compared to the rest of the world out there?
For me, social media is both a positive and highly negative part of my life.
I get so much from it – clients, friends, a platform for my business.
But it costs me so much in terms of time, concentration, and increasingly, relationships with the people around me.
If you’re a parent reading this, you’ll probably be able to relate when I say that my kids have made me acutely aware of my weakness in this area.
I have a 3 year old and a 9 month old, and in the last month there have been a few incidents that have made me realise how much my phone takes up more of my attention than I would like.
My 3 year old will often talk on his pretend phone, or ask to play with my phone.
Or he’ll run over to give me my phone, because he has learnt that mummy constantly needs to have her phone either in her hand or within easy reach.
But the most difficult has been a recent development. He often says ‘Mummy will you play with me?’. To which the answer is almost always, ‘yes, but I just need to finish this first’. Sometimes I say it without even looking up from my phone, because I just need to finish writing a message, or a social media post, or a comment on someone else’s social media post.
Recently, I couldn’t find my phone at home. This was a surprise, firstly because I rarely, if ever, lose anything. But also because my phone is always where I can see it, and I usually leave it out of reach of little hands.
I searched all the usual places. All the rooms in the house.
There was no sign, so I eventually logged onto my computer and remotely switched on the ‘Find My iPhone’ app. I made my phone play a sound so we could discover where on earth it had got to.
We heard the noise but it took a while to locate it, because someone had posted it behind the sofa.
The sofa in question is too heavy for me to move unassisted, so I had to wait for my husband to get home so we could perform a phone rescue operation.
The next day I asked my son if he had dropped my phone behind the sofa, and he is still at the stage where he doesn’t have any problem with blatant honesty so he just said, ‘yes Mummy. I hid it.’ And ran off to play.
And then the same thing happened again later that week.
One of the biggest surprises for me has been that in a way I’m glad that this keeps happening.
I’m in a co-dependent relationship with my phone, and even my 3 year old knows it.
It’s with me all the time. And I can justify that with no problem – what if I needed to call the emergency services and I couldn’t find my phone? We don’t have a landline at home any more, so it could be terrible if I couldn’t locate it quickly.
And Google is such a useful tool – if I ever need to find out where something is, or what time it closes, or what to do in any given situation, I can get the answer immediately.
But alongside that is all the other stuff that gets thrown in to the mix.
I use social media to promote my business, and if my phone is within reach all the time, I can dip in and out all the time. Work/life balance in action, right??
But the problem with this is that all too often, I don’t ‘dip in’, I dive down the rabbit hole and it takes me a long time to get back out.
And in the process I am sending a clear message to my 3 year old that my most prized possession is my phone, and that if I’m not careful, this will, over time, be the message that I will happily choose my phone over time with him.
Clearly, some kind of intervention is needed, so here is how I’ve been creating some distance in this unhealthy relationship I seem to have with technology and social media.
I am getting better at noticing how much time I actually spend on social media. The thought of tracking software that can tell me the amount of time in hours and minutes still makes me pretty uncomfortable, but I am becoming more intentional about when I do and don’t use my phone.
And questioning myself when I pick up my phone to check social media, without really knowing why I am doing it. Do you really need to do this now? Wouldn’t you rather do something with the kids instead?
My cover story for the amount of time I spend on social media is my business. But if you’re an online entrepreneur like me, you’ll know that businesses tend to expand to fill the space you allow them to.
And it is a tricky balance – several of my paying clients have come from chance encounters on social media. They posted about a problem they were having, I responded with a possible solution and the relationship developed from there.
This is the single most difficult thing about building an online business using social media – it is impossible to go ‘cold turkey’, because at its best, social media is a fantastic tool for growing your business. Organic connections are a brilliant way to grow your client base, even if you are also paying for online advertising.
But the problem is – you have to be available online a lot to make the most of this.
And that’s when major FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) can strike.
I was chatting to another entrepreneur in a Facebook group recently, who was asking how to make sure you don’t miss out on important conversations online.
And the thing is – so many of us cover that base by being online for as long as we can, all day every day.
Doesn’t that make a great cover story? A small fraction of the interactions I have online will turn into revenue for my business, which completely justifies my addiction.
A book on my reading list at the moment is called Escaping Escapism. I haven’t started it yet, but even just the title has given me a much needed kick on the backside. Because so often, although my cover story for excessive social media use is my business, the actual reason is that I just want some space.
I have pre-school children, and life often feels hectic.
Sometimes I long to escape my responsibilities and social media allows me to create a ‘shield’ from thinking about how much laundry there still is to do, and what I’ll cook for dinner, and which bills still need to be paid.
But social media isn’t a good place to escape to because it has a toxicity all of its own.
So often, it’s as much of a distraction to see what other entrepreneurs are doing and creating. A balance can tip and we just feel inadequate, worthless, discouraged.
I am most productive when I shut out the ‘online noise’ and focus on my own business goals, instead of being tossed backwards and forwards by what is ‘trending’ amongst the big names of my industry.
When I first started my business I felt like I had to jump on the bandwagon every time there was a new buzzword circulating around the Facebook groups I’m a part of, but honestly, my business only really got successful once I stopped following the trends and starting writing truthfully about my experiences as an entrepreneur.
One of the reasons we fall into the trap of continuous social media use is we aren’t willing to stop, and this is often when having an online business can turn into a social media addiction.
We either don’t stop because we aren’t seeing any results, or because we want increasingly higher levels of achievement and earnings.
And we know this has been long observed by successful people – as soon as you achieve one goal, within about 20 minutes it is discarded and you want something twice as big. No accolade satisfies us for long.
I struggled with this recently when I launched a new branch of my online business. It was growing steadily but I wanted BIGGER results, and more quickly. Within a matter of days I lost perspective, and convinced myself it was a disaster, when all that was needed was patience and time (and a few tweaks to my sales funnel).
And I see this with my clients often.
The result is we drive ourselves into a sort of frenzy – making our business plans more and more convoluted and adding in multiple layers of strategy to generate more engagement, more revenue.
When what we should be doing is making things more simple and more straightforward.
Unplugging instead of redoubling our efforts online.
Concentrating on our core goals instead of getting distracted and drifting off on a tangent.
Social media is ‘always on’, but part of being human means we cannot keep up with this by ourselves, and we will destroy ourselves if we try to.
So doing better in this area means staying focused on my goals for the day or for the week, and giving myself permission to switch off from social media when I have done enough.
Another key area is doing the right activities online to generate the business leads that we are looking for.
Being smarter when it comes to driving traffic organically, rather than posting repeatedly because some big name told us it’s the ‘magic formula’ for building a successful business in 30 days.
When you have a consistent strategy for your social media activity, you don’t need to be surgically detached from your phone when you finally hit overwhelm, because you are choosing to switch off at regular intervals and allowing your online business to do exactly what it was intended to – generate leads for you while you enjoy the freedom that comes from not having a day job.
Your online business will expand to fill the space you leave for it, so make sure you ‘bookend’ that space and live a full life offline.
Book in time with your kids and/or spouse, and put your phone in a drawer. It isn’t a member of your family, so don’t let it play that role in your life.
Decide what activities are a priority for you, and make sure you are doing them daily, not just ‘when you’ve got through this busy patch’ in your business.
Because I know that my phone is a huge distraction from day to day life, I’ve started to be intentional about NOT having it with me. This may mean that we get a landline phone again – as retro as that now feels!
I delete the apps that interrupt my day with notifications, or switch off the notifications feature.
I also deleted a bunch of apps lately anyway, because it made my phone feel a lot more ‘boring’. This made me realise that I often pick it up when I feel restless and like I need something to do.
I try to notice when I am on my phone because I am bored or lacking interaction, and instead seek out ‘real’ people in my every day life to interact with.
Recently I bought a FitBit which has enough stats to satisfy my need for technology, but isn’t a general purpose broad-spectrum device with multiple uses that can suck me in.
Most of all, I admit to myself that social media is addictive, even dangerously so. Sometimes we will feel addicted to it.
But the key thing is harnessing the power that we have to choose something better.
So the next time my 3 year old drops my phone behind the sofa, I might just leave it there.
How about you?