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Blogging Lifestyle design Productivity Work-Life Balance

I Cured My Social Media Addiction by 70% in 2 Months. Here’s How:

Why

I started my Facebook account around July of 2007. If I remember correctly, 2006-2009 was a time when people were using Orkut (ha!) and later moved to Facebook. It’s been more than 12+ years for me and millions of others, being on Facebook. Since then, tech-giants have poured enormous resources to build many similar social platforms – fighting for our attention span and making money in the process.

Social platform landscape comparing major players

Cut to 2019, we now have more social platforms than we actually need to stay connected. Facebook these days feels like a black hole to kill time. Instagram feels like a machine built to churn more pretentious and narcissistic humans. Twitter has everyone converse to look intellectually superior. 

Facebook these days feels like a black hole to kill time. Instagram feels like a machine built to churn more pretentious and narcissistic humans. Twitter has everyone converse to look intellectually superior. 

Given our use case, the pros of being on one of these social platforms under-weigh the cons.

External WHYs

For the last 2 years, my social media usage has gone up to about 2+ hours/day. While I shared something on a daily basis and it only took a few mins to post, I kept going back to check activity, many times a day. Sometimes it’s a ping from a friend. Sometimes it’s the curiosity of who’s liked or commented on my photo. Sometimes it’s just to refresh my brain with memes. But most of the time, it is my brain that has re-wired to grab my phone or computer and open one of these sites to check what’s new.

When I looked at the data (screenshot below) I found out that I spend over 1400+ hours every month on social media sites. That’s a lot of hours. That’s largely FOMO at play.

My social media usage during the month of November 2019 – logged via RescueTime

In recent years, a lot of research, interviews, and articles on social media companies have shed light on the dark practices that go inside to keep us hooked.

New notification types like “A photo of you from a year back”, “someone ABC visited your profile”, “People you follow have posted an image”, etc are all deployed to bring us back and spend more time. Instagram at one point (for a few months) started showing a red badge (indicating something unread or new) beside the “Open Facebook” CTA on Instagram – which was completely irrelevant to Instagram users and is a prime example of dark design pattern to bring users back by any means.

Dark design applied on Instagram’s mobile app: Open Facebook CTA

Internal WHYs

The addiction to open social apps follows us everywhere. When traveling, I noticed that I am spending more time sharing photos rather than enjoying the new country, getting to know the local people or experiencing their culture. Although I did enjoy going to places and was only spending about 30-60 mins posting photos each day, I do feel that I should have used that time to enjoy the place more vs. spending my travel time posting updates online.

Photos can always be shared later, no?

Furthermore, I realized that my addiction to social apps is also hampering my professional life. A few months back, I started reading this book called “Deep work” and just within 20-30 pages, the book made it very clear that in order to produce high-quality work, to think and solve complex problems, to build a focused mind, one MUST have a distractive free environment – leading to a focused and attentive brain.

Me enjoying social media a few months back – definitely yes.
Calmer and focused brain – definitely not.

– Photo by brother Shaleen Sinha

The research is clear on how using social media apps on a regular basis rewires our brain to have a shorter span of focus time. We start finding it harder to sit and focus on the task at hand for more than a few minutes. At the same time, we also start craving smaller sets of dopamine hits more and more. Soon, we find ourselves constantly switching tabs, jumping apps to see activity, chatting with multiple people at once, watching short clips on YouTube, etc. While all that “work-&-play” in today’s startup culture might sound fun at the beginning, the damage it’s doing is really serious. 

For example, I have been wanting to redo my portfolio website for 3+ years now. Every year, I add it to my to-do list but hardly make any progress. This is largely due to the fact that my focus is not my priority and hence my priorities are not in focus. I am spending too much time posting micro-life updates, checking who’s commenting or liking pictures and then repeating the cycle again by planning what updates should be next. It’s not that I haven’t tried bringing my focus back to important goals, but as I mentioned earlier, a lack of shorter attention span and being focused way too much on my “social-media life” has hampered my attention span quite a lot. So much so that I can’t even sit for 1-2 hours straight and see through things at a stretch.

My focus is not my priority and hence my priorities are not in focus.

Worth noting that a lot of people can sit for a longer period of time but that isn’t the proxy of their non-addiction with social media apps. Shorter attention span is just one of the many side-effects of being addicted to social media. Some can’t focus. Some become narcissistic. Some have no real social life. Some start spending $$$ to look cooler online. The list just goes on.

What others have to say about the side-effects of social media

Another big reason why I felt like taking a step back from using social media was that I didn’t want my morning to start with other people’s posts, pictures, and news. I want my mornings to start with a fresh mind, without any biases or discomfort by looking at an endless feed of 200+ people. I want to experience where my thoughts go and maybe just journal them. 

Side note – Journaling helps in channeling one’s thoughts, gives thoughts a structure on paper, and results in a calmer and a lot less chaotic mind in the long run.

And that’s what I want my brain to be. Calmer and less chaotic.

Lastly, a recent conversation with one of my friends also pushed me to think more about my immense love for social media and to start tackling the problem seriously. We were discussing our thoughts on our overuse of social media and he made a funny yet applicable comment about this habit of ours of posting life updates quite frequently on social apps. He commented:

Your life is not an Uber ride that you need to notify people that frequently

I knew right at that moment what sort of updates he’s drawing parallels with the ride app, Uber. Just like our Uber app/driver sends us messages at every turn like, “Hey, I have arrived” or “Hey, your ride has started”, etc., we’re also sending our life updates in a similar fashion.

Example of frequent updates by Uber app

For example, when we go to a new city, we send updates “Hey, arrived in xyz city”. When we’re hanging out in a cafe/restaurant, we add stories on Instagram “Having an amazing time at this cafe/restaurant”. There’s an update for every breath we take these days. It is endless, it is tiring, and it is non-value adding action, to say the least. This doesn’t mean that we should not share news/updates about our lives but I think we need to be asking ourselves the real reason we’re doing it for and then be discreet in how often we share these little-valued updates.

How

2 months ago, when all the WHYs finally sank in and I accepted that I was and am addicted to social media, I decided to take measures to cut back on my social media consumption. Below I am listing down a few ways I cut down my social media time. Worth noting that the general outline of these action items was “OUT OF SIGHT = OUT OF MIND”.

“OUT OF SIGHT = OUT OF MIND” can be explained as – If something addictive is NOT in front of you, it’s more likely that you’ll NOT crave and reach out for it.

For example, if you like smoking and see a pack of cigarettes lying around or someone else taking a puff, chances of you picking up that cigarette are more likely. So trick here is to keep the pack of cigarettes out of the sight.

Similarly, If you’re obese (or not) and just trying to cut back on fat, having that sweet cookie or fried snack at your dining table won’t let you achieve your goal so easily. Again, if it’s easily accessible, it’s harder to resist. And when it comes to breaking old habits, our willpower is usually weaker at the beginning but improves as we keep at it.

On that note, here are the actionable items that have helped me for 2+ months now in cutting back social media time:

  • I started using a different phone for social apps. While auditing my screen time, I realized that I am mostly accessing my social accounts using my smartphone and less via my computer’s browser. Hence, I deleted all the social apps from my main phone and installed them on a spare OnePlus phone. Once that’s done, I am keeping the OnePlus phone inside my wardrobe’s drawer, making it even harder to be in my viewport.

  • Turned off my notifications on both phones. Keeping the phone in a completely different room and a drawer is just half work done. To actually make my OnePlus phone unnoticeable, I turned off all notifications from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Gmail, so I don’t get any sort of reminder that I have a phone full of distractions in my closet.

  • Setting a usage time every day. Creating rules are important while trying to form a new habit and breaking old ones. So rule #3 was to only use social apps during my evening time, after work hours and before going to bed. That is usually between 10 PM – 11 PM for me. Initially, I ended up going to my bedroom and using the phone to check notifications during the day too, but the urge slowly passed away as I progressed in this experiment.

    Tip: Blocking your calendar just to check social apps can also help set the tone for this.

  • Delete shortcuts. Even after removing apps from my phone, installing them in a new phone, hiding the new phone in a closet, there was still a way that I could access these sites i.e. via my computer’s web browser. I had the shortcuts added on the Bookmark’s bar earlier for easy access, so I removed as them well.

  • Log out of social sites from my work and personal laptop. Along with removing the shortcuts from my Bookmark’s bar, I logged out of all the sites and deleted all saved passwords as well – ensuring it’s even harder for me to go to these sites on my computer and typing in passwords every time.

What

I’ve been trying to stay off of social media for about 2+ months now. It was hard at the beginning but the temptation to check activity has decreased a lot.

Earlier in November 2019, my overall monthly usage was around 1400+ hours. In 2 months, i.e. January 2020, I’ve managed to bring it down to under 400 hours.

Scorecard here is about a 73% decrease in social media usage over a period of 2 months. 🎉

My social media usage during the month of January 2020 – logged via RescueTime

One strategy that really helped in executing the above-mentioned methods was that I intentionally started this experiment when I was on a 3-week vacation – visiting family members.

Vacation time was a good time because I wasn’t expected to work and didn’t need a laptop. I also promised myself that I won’t work on any tech-based side project during that time. All I was doing during this time was hanging out with my cousins and just reading on my Kindle.

When I was back to my usual routine after 3 weeks of vacation, the benefits started to surface:

  • I felt more confident in resisting social media
  • I felt more present during my vacation time and even after coming back
  • My mornings, in random order, started feeling like a bliss. It kept going on-and-off but I definitely felt lighter and less cluttered mentally.
  • Since I am not spending 2+ hours every day on social media apps, I’ve allocated this time just to sit back and just do one activity during this time. For example, I’ll just sit back and drink tea, or call an old friend and catch up, or lie down on the sofa and just let my thoughts wander and watch them passively. 
  • The feeling of FOMO has dialed down automatically. This has definitely decreased my anxiety levels. I am much calmer now.
  • And lastly, I am happy about the less screen-time I am able to achieve because of this – giving my eyes it’s own resting time.

Supplementary reading:

Apart from my personal reasons, I kept coming across materials online which kept educating me on the side-effects of using social media apps on a regular basis. I am compiling the quotes/statements that stood out and convinced me further to reduce my usage of social media apps:

This TED talk on Social Media Addiction by – Leslie Coutterand
  • Dream conditioning – Paraphrasing, Leslie Coutterand here – she mentions that “through these social apps we see other people’s lives, where they’re eating, where they’re traveling to, which car they bought, what home they have, etc. All these pictures subconsciously affect our goals in the long run. Sooner than later, we forget our own dreams/desires/goals in life and start chasing goals or lifestyle that is socially validated or cheered.”
  • “If one is lacking acceptance, confidence, and security in their life, they get transfixed on getting a celebrity-like lifestyle because that’s how you get respect and attention according to media or social apps.” She calls it “media-driven dreams and ambitions to heal” one’s lack of self-worth.
  • “Social apps generate a feeling of need, lack and competition” – again, resulting in us doing things to prove our worth online.

This TED talk by Deep Work’s author Cal New Port on Quitting Social media
  • “These services are engineered to be addictive – robbing time and attention from activities that more directly support your professional and personal goals.”

This compilation video of side-effects of social media on YouTube
  • “Checking your likes is the new smoking”
  • “Tobacco just wanted your lungs, the app store wants your soul”
  • “What we find is the typical persona checks their phone every 15 minutes or less, and half of the time they check their phone, there’s no alert, no notification. It’s coming from inside their head, telling them: I haven’t checked Facebook in a while, I haven’t checked this Twitter feed for a while, I wonder if somebody commented on my Instagram post. That then generates cortisol and it starts to make you conscious and eventually, your goal is to get rid of that anxiety so you check in”

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Blogging Lifestyle design Travel Work-Life Balance Writing

A year in review 2018

Back in 2013, I started this blog to document my professional and personal journey. There was no theme that I wanted to run this blog on. I didn’t want it to be focused too much design, my travel journey or to give “gyan” all the time. I kept doing stuff offline & online that was interesting to me and I just felt like jotting them down so I can keep them somewhere on the web.

My goal back then was to just write 1 blog a month but I was never consistent. I barely wrote more than 1 in 2018. So starting this year, I am going to start blogging again. Nothing big, just 1 blog per month. That’s what I promised myself back in 2013 and that’s what I am going to try from now on.

1st blog’s snippet. Back then I had the blog hosted under my portfolio domain ✍

So, on those lines, what’s a better way than to start other than by reflecting on what happened/what kept me busy in 2018. Actually, a lot happened which is worthy of mentioning here, but I think I can bucket them in certain themes and that’s what I’ll highlight in this post. So without further ado, here are a few key moments from 2018. ✌

1. Got a new remote job 👨‍💻

Since college days, I very much liked the idea of working remotely and fancied it more so after reading the book “The 4-Hour Workweek”. It took me a while (around 4 years) to make the switch from a typical corporate job but I think the journey in between helped me gain a better perspective about the job industry which in-turn made the remote job hunting (comparatively) easy.

I’ll complete a year of remote work this month (January 2019) and I’ve really enjoyed every bit of 2018, to say the least. There’s so much happened only because of this remote job that I can spend days jotting them down here. But, it’s just one blog post and I wanted to write only about the major highlights, so…here are a few notable things that happened because of my new remote job/lifestyle:

  • More “me” time. Having a regular 9-to-5 office job means a couple of hours being spent on getting ready, commuting daily, water-cooler conversations, etc., which I don’t have to deal with anymore. I now have more time in my hands which I can use to spend on other activities that I like (or just simply relax more.) 💆‍♂️

  • More traveling. Since the job is remote, I’ve traveled more in a year than I’d have done in 2-3 years combined if I were in a day job. To sum it up, I traveled to 5 countries, 23 cities, and 169 places. That’s Google being meticulous, not me. More on my travels below 🧭
My 2018 travelogue – Summed up by Google
  • Improved communication skills. Since my company is pretty distributed and we have people from all around the world, acing in communication becomes a must have. Although my English wasn’t that bad, but I think it was pretty average. Working with colleagues, communicating with them over Slack day-in-&-out and interacting with them personally face-to-face during team trips have definitely helped me polish my English even more. 💪

  • Better understanding of different cultures. Last year, I traveled in quite a decent amount (work related or otherwise) to meet office colleagues and other remote workers/travelers who come from various ethnic backgrounds. Getting to know about their culture, their way of living, what is acceptable and not acceptable in their cultures, and many other nitty-gritties has enriched and broadened my perspective about the world. Learning about these differences first hand is an undoubtedly valuable and fun experience. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧
The happy SellerCrowd team during our get together in Lisbon, Portugal in 2018
  • Less gossip. I am the kind of person who gets into gossip easily, I admit. So a remote job works best for people like me as I hardly get any chance to gossip about anything with anyone over a Slack chat. Telecommuting just makes it harder to get into stupid habits that a corporate day-job offers by default. 🤐

2. Moved to Bangalore 🏡

So after taking up the remote job in late January 2018, I wanted to stay back in Pune for a while to give myself some time to understand what sort of work routine and lifestyle I’ll have going forward. I had the comfort of a cute small studio apartment, friends from Wingify (my previous company) to have a quality social life and football games going twice every week to stay fit and happy.

My studio apartment in Pune (2016-18) 🏠

But slowly, all my friends started moving out of Pune to join companies in different locations. Gradually, this left me alone in Pune with very few social connections. And also, living in a studio apartment served me well till the time I was working with Wingify. A small house doesn’t bite you when you work in a bigger office throughout the week and you just have to be in your studio apartment for 70-80% of the weekend. But soon the smaller space and lack of friends started biting me, so I decided to move to a bigger house and to a city where I already have my friends.

Bangalore seemed like the default choice for my next home as it already had a few of my friends working there, I liked the city’s urban culture and it already had a well-established design community which wasn’t there in Pune, mostly because Pune didn’t have a decent amount of design-centered IT companies, and Bangalore had plenty.

DesignUp 2017 @Bangalore with these lovely designers from Wingify 👨‍👨‍👧‍👦

Thankfully I wasn’t making the switch blindly based on what I had heard about the design community in Bangalore. In 2017, I came to Bangalore for a 2-day trip to attend this design event called DesignUp which literally convinced me to make the move. The sheer presence of the designers (and other IT professionals) was amazingly vibrant and supportive. I had to be in Bangalore. ✊

Finally, I made the move to Bangalore in June last year, shifted to a bigger house and was busy setting up the house which is functional for a remote employee like me. Along those lines, “How to set up a house which allows remote work” is a bigger topic that I will cover in a separate blog post.

BTW, here are a few quick snapshot of how my life looks like around my new house in Bangalore 😬

3. Traveled quite a lot 🗺

Working for a remote company allows you to just be anywhere. All you need is a good working internet connection and laptop (+most of your work on the cloud). This allowed me to experiment with my travel plans exactly how I imagined after reading the book “4 Hour Workweek”. Here are a few highlights:

  • Traveled to Madrid, Spain: My 2018’s travel journey kicked off by flying to Madrid, Spain for my company’s get together. The day I was flying to Madrid was the day I was joining my new company and It was definitely a first for me i.e. to be able to fly and get on-boarded in a new country, in your new job and on your first day. 🤯
More Madrid pictures here: Instagram album 📸
  • Traveled to Ooty, India: After Madrid, I traveled and worked from Ooty with my brother for about 10 days.
More Ooty pictures here: Instagram album 📸
  • Went home twice this year for 2+ weeks/visit: Again, I think going back to your hometown for straight 2+ weeks in one go is something that is highly unlikely to be allowed by most companies in India. Here, we do have policies like “WFH” and/or “Unlimited leaves”, but they’re mostly a marketing tactic to attract talent and never let anyone reap the benefits. And being remote gives you this location freedom by default. 🎒
My work setup, back at my parent’s place 💻
  • Lived outside India for about 1.5 months: This was my first outside-India experiment where I traveled to a new country/city and worked. It wasn’t a vacation but it sure looked/felt like one. I was traveling with my friend who’s also a remote worker to de-risk the cons of traveling alone for the first time (if any). It was amazing and I’ll be doing it this year as well. If you’re interested, you can check the pictures from the trip here.

More Malaysia / Singapore pictures here: Instagram album 📸

  • Lastly, traveled to Lisbon, Portugal: I spent my first few weeks of December 2018 in Lisbon. It was for another team get together for 3 weeks. Loved Lisbon more than Madrid as it has a different vibe and felt more homely. 🧡
More Lisbon pictures here: Instagram album 📸

I don’t think any day-job would offer this flexibility of being able to work from anywhere and anytime you want. Hence, I’ve come to believe that having a lifestyle that you desire is something is only possible for remote workers, freelancers and/or a CEO/people at executive positions in companies.

4. Made yoga somewhat a habit 🧘‍♂️

I started doing yoga after going remote. I was used to moving a lot when I was in Wingify as they had pretty big office there. But after going remote and working from home, comparatively, you move quite less. To tackle that, I started doing yoga in Pune but was less frequent there. After moving to Bangalore, I have tried doing yoga at least 4-5 times a week which is quite a good start IMHO.

5. Became completely debt free 💸

I studied Automotive Engg. on an education loan but didn’t finish my college degree. Irrespective of that, I had to pay the loan and it was a hefty amount. This year in April, I finished off my education loan by fast-tracking the payout. The feeling of clearing that debt can’t be expressed in words. 🙂

With that feeling of financial freedom, I decided right at that moment that I am not going to take any big loans in near future. Past few years of working towards paying out my education loan acted (and still acts) as a good reminder of how life can be less flexible when you have a big loan on your head. You can’t leave your job to relax a bit, you can’t start a business if you want, you can’t take another loan, so on and so forth. In short, you become risk-averse. So yeah, no more loans in foreseeable future and I am quite proud of getting that debt off. 🤠


Other than that, in 2018, there are things that happened in between, small and big. But I don’t want to write about everything here. I do post regularly on my social channels and if you’re interested, you can follow me there.

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Dribbble

So that was it! A recap of good big things that happened in 2018 which made me really happy, content and a little wiser. So, here’s to a good writing start to 2019 and much more to follow. 🥂👋


P.S.: The blog cover is heavily inspired by Matt‘s latest YouTube video thumbnail.

Categories
Design DIY To-dos

DIY : Smartphone holder

A few months back my phone (Blackberry Z10) started being buggy, slow and non-responsive, so I had to buy a new phone. I bought a OnePlus 3.

For some context, I have also started working towards designing a clean and functional workspace since last 2 years. Here’s what my current workspace looks like (long way to go though):

desk-1

desk-2

More on the history and love of designing a great workspace in a separate blog post. Moving on, I wanted a phone holder for my new phone because of these reasons:

  1. I spend most my time on my desk when I work on design/non-design related projects. So picking up my phone every time some notification has come up takes time and is annoying after a couple of times.
  2. Just peeking what has come and moving along (if it’s not important) with the work that I am doing is preferred
  3. I like things organized and clean around me

So I decided to make a phone holder instead of buying as I didn’t want to spend Rs. 500 or more in a good and sturdy phone holder. Below you’ll find steps to design your own phone holder and how much it can cost you. Here’s what the final model will look like:

finished-look

So, here are the steps to design your own phone holder:

  1. Sketch your design. Here’s mine:
    step-1-sketch
  2. Stuff you need to design the product:
    step-2-things

    • Mount board x 2 – Rs. 50
    • Long Scissor x 1 – Rs. 150
    • Long scale (30 cm preferred) x 1 – Rs. 150
    • Fevicol (100 gms) x 1 – Rs. 50
    • Feviquick 3 gms x 5 packs – Rs. 50
    • Binder Clip (6 pieces) – Rs. 100
    • Total will be Rs. 300-400 if you have few items like Ruler and Scissor at your home. Otherwise, the cost will go around Rs. 500 or below
  3. Cut long sheet to create the base (6 cm wide and 42 cm long):
    step-3-cut-long
  4. Fold from the middle and glue them together to make the stand sturdy:
    step-4-fold-to-make-strong
  5. Glue the board together with the help of Fevicol and clip them with the help of a Binder clip to make sure that all the sides are glued evenly:
    step-5-glue-them-together-and-clip
  6. Fold them around the middle so that one side is 12 cm and other is 9 cm or less. The 12 cm will be the base of holder:
    step-6-fold-from-the-middle
  7. Add bridges. The bridges should be the width of 1-2 cm length depending upon your speaker/charging port placement at the bottom of the phone. Bridges will be used to rest the phone:
    step-7-add-bridges-for-the-back-support
  8. Cut one more mount board with same width i.e. 6 cm and glue it with the rest. The length will depend upon the angle you want for the holder. I used 6 cm for the bottom and 8 cm for the top:
    step-8-connect-with-the-rest-1step-8-connect-with-the-rest-2
  9. Put a bit of Fevicol and Feviquick around the joints to make the bond stronger:
    step-9-put-fevicol-on-the-joints-to-make-them-sturdy
  10. Here’s how it’ll look like once gluing is done:
    step-10-heres-how-itll-look
  11. I also made two, one bigger for my OnePlus 3 which is 5.5” and a smaller one for my BlackBerry z10 (if I use it ever):
    step-11-made-two
  12. Put a little more Fevicol on the sides to smooth the edges out:
    step-12-smooth-out-the-sides-by-using-fevicol
  13. Once you’re satisfied with the edges and overall finish in terms of smoothness, paint them with any wood paint color. I chose white:step-13-paint-them
  14. Here’s what it’ll look once painted well. Remember to add 1-2 layers of paint to make it look more glossy. Here’s the bigger model:
    step-14-finsihed-bigger
  15. Here’s the small one:
    step-15-finished-small
  16. Here’s the top view of my workspace now 😀
    step-16-finished-top

Hope the steps are enough to give you a gist of the process and can be helpful if you decide to make one yourself.

Tip: Use Feviquick smartly and don’t let it touch your skin, or else your hands will look like this:
zhands

Let me know if you have any thoughts/comments about this DIY smartphone holder. Happy creating! 🙂