For a creative writer like myself, a productive day mostly looks black and white – black letters on a white document page. However, countless distractions break my days up into a colorful kaleidoscope of news, chats, and social media posts.
A few months ago, I started feeling overwhelmed with all the information that’s flooding my brain and senses. I noticed a feeling of guilt when I didn’t have time to respond to a message. I also realized that all my breaks at work were dedicated to checking social media and answering messages.
This is how I interact with social media, daily:
- I’m involved in 10-12 conversations or group chats on Messenger and Whatsapp
- I’m exposed to tens of Facebook posts, news, and events
- I’m spending approximately 20 minutes to browse photos and stories on Instagram – including from people I don’t know personally
At which point did I turn from a hip millennial – always reachable, always in the loop – into a hectic, stressed person, switching between conversations and tasks, but rarely going “all in” on any of them? Even at work I struggled to take a break from my smartphone – it was attached to me like an extra limb.
Something had to change.
Since I suspected that my productivity was suffering due to the lure of social media, I decided to start by transforming the way I work. I signed myself up for an experiment – over the period of a month, I would block distracting apps and observe the changes in my mood and productivity.
About the experiment
First, I created a Freedom account and started making my distractions blocklist. For this, I needed to define the unproductive apps that steal my attention. This was easy to do thanks to the DeskTime time-tracking app that I use daily to measure my productivity. This software tracks time spent using productive and unproductive apps and websites as well as time spent away from the computer.
According to DeskTime, these were the top 5 apps and websites taking away the majority of my productive time:
- Facebook & Messenger
Then I added these apps to a Freedom blocklist on my computer and phone. I decided to divide my workday into several 90 or 120 minutes blocking sessions followed by 10-minute breaks for checking my social networks and answering messages. The blocking sessions didn’t mean I couldn’t have a coffee or bathroom break – I simply couldn’t browse social networks while I’m at it.
Changes in productivity
Before the experiment, I had noticed that Facebook and messaging apps on my phone often distract me from my tasks. I felt a pinch of annoyance every time my phone buzzed, but still, I couldn’t help but pick it up and check my message.
It’s therefore not a big surprise that my productivity stats started growing in May – the month I used Freedom – compared to the months before. (And this increase happened in spite of the wonderful weather that lasted all May.)
On average, my productivity increased by 14% meaning that about 93% of my time at the computer was dedicated to the use of productive applications.
Moreover, it was much easier to concentrate during a Freedom session. A few weeks into the experiment, I noticed that I’ve managed to get more work done – namely, I needed significantly less time to finish long, in-depth tasks.
This graph shows my productivity on a typical workday before the experiment. The green represents time spent on productive apps and sites. The orange dips that occur throughout the day represent time spent on unproductive apps and sites like social media. Finally, the grey dips represent time spent on neutral apps and the white blanks represent time spent away from the computer.
During my experiment, I increased the concentration periods to 90 or 120 minutes. This is a graph for a workday with Freedom blocking sessions. You can see that I accessed social networks only for a brief time during my designated breaks.
Changes in my mood
Already a few days into the experiment, I started noticing positive changes in my mood and mindset. Most importantly, the less time I spent chatting during the day, the less I felt the need to browse my social networks in my free time as well. I felt relieved as I was slowly leaving the vicious circle of constantly answering messages and receiving replies.
Some more positive changes I noticed:
- As I started each blocking session, I instantly felt at peace because nobody could distract me – and those that really matter will call. (In fact, I told my family and closest friends to send me a text message or call if something urgent came up.)
- When I felt that I needed a diversion from intensive work, I found more qualitative distractions, like exploring an interesting topic or reading latest trends articles – as opposed to simply going on Facebook and chatting.
- As the end of each blocking session was approaching, I felt a tingle of excitement – like viewing my social networks would be an earned prize for the productive work session.
- During my short coffee breaks, I started noticing more things around me and talking to colleagues instead of staring into my phone.
I also encountered a few issues that I had to deal with or get used to:
- Sometimes there was a work-related need to enter social media – for example, some clients prefer to chat on WhatsApp, and many companies have Facebook pages I need to check. If I had to enter Facebook for work, I was automatically distracted by other messages and notifications that pop up on the app.
- Sometimes I felt that the time when I needed a break didn’t match with the length of the session. In order to improve my productivity even further, I would adapt my future Freedom sessions to my natural breaks that can be shorter or longer depending on the situation.
My single greatest benefit from the Freedom experiment was learning to discipline myself – instead of being a slave to social media. Even if the blocking sessions felt a bit forced at the beginning, very soon they became natural. In fact, I sometimes caught myself looking forward to the next blocking session.
My experiment made me wonder – why do we cling to our phones if being without them feels so liberating?
I believe the solution to this problem is finding the right balance. Social media certainly has its benefits, but we should strive to use it in a controlled manner rather than compulsively.
We are all unique in terms of how we live and work. However, if you feel you need some time off from your phone or social media in general, I suggest doing a similar experiment yourself!
As for me, I’m still learning to keep my phone at a distance, but my Freedom experiment has set a new standard of focus I want to maintain during my workday. In fact, I decided to continue using Freedom blocking sessions daily. And when my workdays are liberated, I’ll be ready to extend that freedom to my spare time.