Optimize your distractions
14 January, 2021
I’m not a “systems” person.
It’s not like I never tried - making schedules, using a Pomodoro timer,<insert productivity “hack”> - they didn’t work because I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
What I ended up doing was instead of focusing on optimising the time I spent productively - i.e. the “deep work” part (which happened rather spontaneously independent of whether I’m on a productivity hack or not) - I decided to focus on the time that was not “deep work” i.e. time spent on ‘distractions’ or entertainment.
I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time in a day on Instagram where the feed was mostly filled with memes. I also used Quora/Twitter a lot.
Consuming content is easy. Like junk food. It's almost embedded in our reflexes.
But here’s the thing - you can easily turn your distractions to things that can benefit you.
Start with cutting off distractions that have too much noise i.e. do not give you a good return of investment on your time in any of the following:
- Specific knowledge/skills
- Specific insight
- Accessing and leveraging a network
For the ones that remain, optimise the shit out of them.
For me, that meant Instagram was instantly off the list. Twitter and Quora were okay, but I had a long way to go.
Optimising your feed
Social media “feed”. What comes to your mind when you think of the word - “feed”?
This comes to my mind when I think “feed”
Our minds are literally “fed” content.
“We are what we eat” - this doesn’t just stand for physical, tangible food - it applies to the digital content we feed our mind with.
I want you to take this literally because we take our attention for granted. In a digital economy run by monetising attention - it will naturally be full of noise.
Most of the content we read or watch is optimised solely for capturing our attention and clicks. More times than not, you don’t need something that is being shown to you. You will be perfectly fine without knowing it existed. Yep, sounds crazy but it is true.
I’m not trying to say social media is bad. Social media is an amplifier of all there is - of both the good stuff and the bad. It is an amplifier of your primal instincts so if you don’t proactively weed out the bad stuff from your feed regularly, you are going to get sick. Really sick.
What that means is, with some conscious effort you can filter out your feed to keep only the things that benefit you. Here’s how:
Don’t follow brands. Follow people.
I’ll bring the sheep here, again.
When I imagine a brand account, I imagine the shepherd.
And all of the 100-200-500k followers as the sheep.
The only reason brand accounts exist is to convince you - in obvious or non-obvious ways - that you need their product in some way or the other. 99-100% of brand accounts posts are pure marketing. You do not need them. It’s like bombarding your own feed with their ads - full time - with your full consent. Especially so if you are already consuming a brand’s product. Why?!
Who should you follow then?
Follow people. Now, you might argue that people themselves can be brands and you are absolutely right - avoid them too. This goes for popular celebrities, sportspeople, singers etc. Around half the time, you are probably going to see marketing stuff from them as well. Not all are like that of course, apply your judgement. I respect a lot of celebrities but I don’t follow them because I simply don’t need their opinion in my feed - I couldn’t care any less - they are artists, I liked their art, I liked how they performed but that doesn’t mean I like their opinion nor do I need to listen to them on every single issue there is. At the end of the day, including every celebrity or band or anything in your feed just increases the “distraction” score in your feed.
Okay. Brands are out. Brand people are out. What next?
Follow thinkers. Follow do-ers. Follow people who are creating something.
This is a subjective list, of course, but the idea remains the same: when you scroll - scroll to think, not to react. The posts/tweets in your feed should stop and make you think. If they enable only a reaction like rage or anxiety - remove it.
A simple heuristic to clean your social media feed:— Akhil (@akhlkg) January 6, 2021
Scroll to think, not to react
Reduce content that enables only a reaction.
Increase content that stops and makes you think.
When something is trending and it doesn’t really matter to you much, mute all the words/hashtags/etc related to it. The “Explore” section in Twitter is a black hole of distractions. Twitter will try to shove you up with random stuff all the time in your feed - but mute/block/ignore them all - this takes conscious effort but is well worth it.
If it's a trending event you do genuinely care about and you must “react” to it - here’s my two step strategy:
Ignore ‘the first wave’
The first wave is the most emotional one. The purpose of the first wave, knowingly or unknowingly, is to polarise. There is no place for rationality in the first wave of posts, trends, articles, etc. You are likely going to see the same type/flavour of content - over and over from all sorts of people which essentially just convey the same thing in different shades of rage. There is nothing against the stream, yet. Mute ‘em all.
Assess the aftermath
Once the first wave is gone and the hashtags die, start looking around. This can be anywhere from 1 week to several months depending on the issue. You are searching for truth, so don’t look at the news - if you’re reading articles online, don’t just look at one publisher, read on the same article by different publishers. Remember, each publishing house has a “flavour” of twisting things. An easy way to cancel the bias out is to read from many publishers and see what remains common. Now analyse the common facts - those are the fundamental facts that supposedly happened and anything above that, is just an opinion.
You can also look if the “thinkers” are reacting. If so, see what they are saying. It takes effort to get to the truth and navigate through the noise, so I don’t end up doing this a lot of times because I simply didn't care about the event as much as I thought. And it looks like I end up doing okay.
That’s about it. In theory, you can apply these principles to any social media platform. I tested and developed these on Twitter but the fundamental idea remains the same: scroll to think, not to react.
And this fundamental idea helped me a lot. Twitter taught me a lot of things that form a core part of who I am now - staying healthy, strength training, mental models, entrepreneurship, making money online, writing.
You can use your distractions to literally change your life - and I really hope you do!