I am generally a fan of creating small challenges for myself. Sometimes they are to grow in a specific area, sometimes they are just to see if I can do something for a prolonged period of time. Some of the challenges I have done in the past few years:
- fitness challenge, where I exercised six or seven days a week for six months
- publishing more with a writing group
- keeping track of streaks of habits
- eating two meals or less from restaurant per week challenge
- writing 1000 words each day
The Social Media Challenge
Last year, I realized that I was spending more time than I wanted to on Twitter, Facebook, and the like. These sites would often link to posts that I would also read, and ended up being a huge time sink.
Certainly there is value in finding new articles that I wouldn’t have normally read, but on the whole the time was not very well spent. How many of the random articles that I read had something of substance or that I could later recite even a single noteworthy fact from? I found myself trapped in a self-inflicted filter bubble / echo chamber.
Miles tweeted this post:
I’m going to half-unplug for April; no Facebook, no Reddit, no HN, limited-to-no [various sportsball sites]. Wanna join me? Peer pressure!— Miles Z. Sterrett (@mileszs) March 31, 2015
I figured this was a good of a time as any, and emailed him with a slightly formalized challenge. It was partially based on the fitness challenge experience and some previous attempts to do something like this:
If you want, I’d be up for a $10 April Social Media ban contest.
Parameters: You get one ten minute block per week for essentials (facebook event checking for social events, twitter responses that are important.) Ten minutes is use it or lose it, ending Sunday at midnight local time. If you check Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, HN, Google News(?) for more than ten minutes total during the week, you lose the bet for the month.
If we both lose or neither lose, nothing exchanged. Square cash any difference. :)
Your call if you want to do this or not, just let me know. We can recruit others if you want.
Anthony “/etc/hosts willpower” Panozzo
(Spirit of the game / honor clause / Rescuetime for whether you succeeded during the week or not.)
Miles was interested, and we clarified various parameters of the challenge over email as time progressed. Mostly which sites were in play or not, and so forth. But overall the point was to limit these as much as possible.
Challenge design considerations
One of the things that I thought was useful with this experiment was having a small time budget for social media. I think cutting it out entirely would be a little too extreme, since I often post things (via asocial media) and have responses or I want to check Facebook events for directions.
The fitness challenge had the concept of a “skip day” once per week for the daily exercises. I think when creating habits that if you give yourself a flexible cheat period that it really helps with overall compliance. Allowing you to pick when to use it also helps. Do I want to skip this day, or save it for the future when I might be feeling even worse or have no time?
While I think the financial incentive was useful, I think that having a $10 bet per week would have been better. If you lose one of the weeks early, you had no incentive to continue doing the challenge. So that is something I would probably try to change if I did it again. We ended up making it ten minutes average over the weeks instead of ten minutes each week to compensate for this design issue.
The early days
We both noted that we had a habit to semi-consciously navigate to distracting things when we got stuck or found our minds wandering.
Miles: “I have found that, when I find my mind wandering, my fingers will CMD+Tab and type reddi-Tab Enter. Thankfully I have that redirected to localhost for now.”
Me: “I am in the exact same boat w/ being in the browser, getting stumped, and then command-t and start typing
I’d say the first few days were the hardest, after that the muscle memory seems to fade.
One advantage was that we started the challenge in April, so we missed most of the April Fools jokes that consume a lot of time.
A bonus of unplugging is missing most of the April Fool’s BS.— Miles Z. Sterrett (@mileszs) March 31, 2015
Miles suggested using RescueTime screenshots as an accountability measure, and I thought this was useful. We sent each other these at the end of each week. Here is my summary from the month before we did the challenge:
Not terrible, but not great either. Then for the month that we did the challenge:
Fantastic! The next month I was very productive again, although in that month I suffered a back injury that affected my sleeping and sent me into a pretty negative spiral. :( But overall I feel that doing this challenge was useful.
I felt like the urgency of checking various websites was greatly reduced. It was like turning down the volume.
I went a bit over some of my guidelines, and I think Miles hit all of his. So I sent him $10. I consider it money well spent considering how much more work I was able to get done.
When’s the next one?
If we did something like this, would you be interested? Email me at (this domain minus the com)@gmail.com and if we do it again I will notify you. Or just comment on this post!