Focus on the Important: My Social Media Sabbatical

Jul 14, 2011 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Attitude, Three Actors

I did it. The unthinkable. I deactivated Facebook. Okay, I only did it for two weeks, but I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg is still pissed somewhere. Not only that, I stopped checking Twitter for two weeks as well. I’m a rebel, I know.

Why

For the 7 years that I went to high school and college (I was still a homeschooled cowboy in 9th grade) almost every minute of every day was structured. In college I’d be in class from eight or nine until about three in the afternoon, then meetings until six, rehearsal ’til midnight, then home to write essays until four or five am, then do it all over again…every week for four years. The nice thing was that as long as I showed up (still not entirely sure how I managed to do that) everything got done. I completed my majors, took part in roughly two bazillion theatre productions, started a few student groups, yadda yadda. In a sense, all I had to do was set my schedule at the beginning of the semester and I was off to the races.

CUT TO: Post-graduation

After I graduated, I went from about 97% structure in my life to somewhere closer to 1.5%. Poof. All the rigidity, deadlines, and accountability gone. I own my own business, and as my own boss I’d say I’m rather lackadaisical about deadlines. Sure I’m somewhat accountable to my clients and my business partners, but there are no real deadlines or serious consequences if I miss them on occasion. Beyond that, as any artist can attest to, there is no penalty for not pursuing your career. Sure you won’t accomplish the things you want to or have the success you’ve always dreamed of, but you can’t get fired from being an actor (though maybe it would be better if you could), and the only person who’s going to yell at you for not working on your reel today is you.

All this to say that I’ve spent the three years since I’ve graduated endeavoring to put systems, structures, tools, habits, and motivation in my life to actually hold myself accountable. Putting a pause on social media was the end of this leg of the journey.

The Important

I’d had Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art sitting on my shelf for some time, but a few weeks ago at the behest of a 1:30am email from Bonnie Gillespie I picked up the book and started reading. An hour and a half later my life was changed. <plug> Here’s a picture of the book which is also an amazon link so you can go buy it right now:

</plug> Among myriad other things, Pressfield’s book reminded me the importance of focusing on the things that are important. Sounds simple, right? The problem is that especially on today’s society, things that are urgent masquerade as important. With every facebook notification, new tweet, or email ping, our brains literally get a hit of dopamine, and we become addicted to the immediate. Tragically, the projects, communications, meetings, and tasks that could most move us forward in our careers are drowned out by the noise of everything else. We lose sight of the goals we set and get caught up in “life.”

The Battle

I was feeling stressed. I needed to catch up. I was feeling behind and constantly putting off the most important things I needed to do. Emails that once completed, would literally result in a check in my bank account. Web sites I’d spent months on, needing only a few hours of work to be complete, yielding my final payout. I’d been doing a lot better, but the mere presence of consistent stress meant that I wasn’t there just yet. Determined to eliminate the source of stress, one night at about 2:30am I figured out all the projects, emails, and tasks that were outstanding and causing me the most stress. I wrote them on the white board next to my desk. There were nine of them.

Next, I wrote down next to them how many minutes or hours I thought it would take to accomplish each one of them. The grand total? Twenty-five stinkin’ hours. Three freakin’ business days of work to eliminate ALL the major stress points in my life. Crazy. It was time for war. Without hesitation (okay, I did check to make sure I could get Facebook back…) I went and deactivated facebook and removed all the shortcuts to twitter, tweetdeck, facebook, etc. on my computers and my phone. I then went to my calendar and cancelled any engagement I had for the next two weeks that wasn’t directly related to solving my nine “death list” items.

Sans Distractions

I’m the first person to extol the benefits of social networking, being caught up on the news, and reading articles of all topics (I got my first agent in LA via twitter for cryin’ out loud). However, these things can all become a distraction, and they were keeping me from my next important actions. Once I’d eliminated the most egregious of distractions, my procrastination habits had to shift. Without facebook or twitter to quickly check, in order to procrastinate my nine items I then started going through the (still important) emails that had piled up. But one day into my social media sabbatical I was down to zero emails…a goal I’d been attempting to achieve for a year (and my new habits have kept me at zero emails every few days). With that out of the way, the only thing I had left to do was start knocking out the “death list.” And, over the course of 14 days, wouldn’t you know that I got all of them done.

The Reward

I’m not a particularly stressed-out person, but at the end of this two-week experiment I found a new calm and peace in my life. The pangs of stress that would randomly pop up were gone, and the level of focus I was able to bring to the task at hand saw dramatic improvements. I now had the mental capacity to start focusing on things I wanted to do next. To re-asses where I am with my career, what I actually want, and begin to look forward rather than backwards.

Final Thoughts

Out of the thousands and facebook friends and twitter followers I have, three contacted me during my time away from social media, curious where I had gone. Three. Now I never expected that everyone would freak out because I wasn’t online, but what I realized is that everyone uses social media for themselves, to accomplish their goals, and connect with the people they most care about. In some sense, it’s a rather selfish endeavor. That’s fine, but the takeaway point is that nothing bad will happen if you take a leave of absence from your online life. Beyond that, imagine how truly spectacular you would feel if you cut out all distractions, focused, and completed the reel you’ve been putting off; finally went through your database and sent out the postcards about your upcoming show; or finished the last four pages of that script you’ve been working on for months. Talk about a status update… 😉


Ben Whitehair is the Los Angeles contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view his materials on his website, or read the rest of his blog posts.