Social Media Fast

I feel this point comes in everyone’s life some time or another…

I’ve found myself becoming increasingly aware of how much time I spend on my social media accounts.

If I were to think through my day and try to guesstimate how much time I spend on Facebook/Twitter, it would look something like this:

Morning phone alarm gets turned off, switch to Facebook, check email: 15 minutes; this usually leads over to the bathroom

Bathroom:  ~5 minutes

“Quick-check” during compiling or other “sit and wait” tasks: about 5-10 minutes throughout the day.

Break at the end of contract hours: 15 minutes

“Quick-check” during personal project “sit and wait” tasks: ~5 minutes

Brushing teeth: 1 minute

In bed: 10-15 minutes (if I don’t decide to read a book instead)

That’s about an hour a day!

While this appears diminutive compared to what various studies are reporting (anywhere from 1.5 – 3 hours a day depending on the reporting source), it’s still an hour a day that’s not just a distraction, it’s likely a detriment to my forward progress.

What I mean by that is that the quick-check distraction not only derails my train of thought, but it prevents me from successfully digesting the complex systems required to quickly get up to speed on new contracts. In my current line of work, I’ve seldom been tasked with creating original code bases; I’m usually working in ones that already exist. I can’t speak for others, but sifting through existing code is usually difficult for me. Game code tennnnnndddds to lean towards the messy side, without much planning or architecture. We programmers have all seen that one monolithic class, I know it. Learning that code base quickly can be a daunting task without real concentration involved.

You’ve (hopefully) come across the various findings that for deep-thinking work like programming or creative content creation, a distraction creates a bigger time sink than the actual distraction itself. I’m sure we’re all familiar with a concept called “flow”. It’s that state of mind where seemingly the planets align and stardust just rams itself into your brain, making that pause button’s click handler be the work of the cosmos itself. It’s actually really pleasurable to be in this state of mind too, those who have experienced it know exactly what I’m talking about. A zen-like state where only you, your thoughts, and your code exist in the universe. Dramatic? Yes!

Then one of your coworkers in your open office environment blurts out something about pizza bagels and… BOOM… you forget the four or five things you had in your short term memory needed to accomplish your task successfully. You also have the pizza bagels jingle stuck in your head now.

Pardon my French, but come le fuck on!

You can probably “”re-rail” your train of thought, but now you need another 15-30 minutes to get back into that flow state (again, depending on the study you cite). Just think of how easy it is to open Facebook or check the front page of reddit. Just think of how easy it is to share some of that click-bait content among your co-workers and get them out of their flow states. I’d consider this a time-sink epidemic for the sake of not being bored. Anyways… slash rant.

I’m targeting social media first because it seems like the easiest distraction to deal with outright. I don’t seem to get the value that I want out of checking it. Seeing my friends’ (both online and real life) accomplishments are really cool, but a picture of what you’re eating for dinner tonight doesn’t add a lot of value to my life. Your food is getting uneaten and I’m sitting here getting hungry looking at it!

It’s also incredibly easy to check. It’s literally three thumb movements from anywhere on my iPhone… Hit the home button twice, then tap on the Facebook or Twitter app. When this becomes second nature to perform, you can mindlessly wander into distraction-land (Note to self: theme park name) at any time.

So, here’s the rules for what I’m going to try; a month long social-media fast!

  1. No Facebook or Twitter on phone or web. Cold Turkey!
  2. Turn off all notifications from these sites. No emails, beeps, dings, or blips. (or boops)
  3. Start date: May 30, end date: June 30
  4. Texts, email, skype, and phone calls are fine
  5. Keep notes on this blog about any noticeable changes or effects

Has anyone else tried this to great effect? Any effect? I’d like to know more. Let me know in the comments! I’m really excited to see the positive effects of this fast.

The Unemployable :: scary music ::

I left my 9-to-5 desk job on July 14, 2015. You know the saying that we “have no control over external pressures, so why should we worry”? We should worry because there’s certainly a point where we can control what external factors affect us. I wanted to control how stress enters my life, and one of the easier stressors to change was my job. Anyways, I had been getting the entrepreneurial itch a few months prior, so leaving my desk job just seemed like the right thing to do. I put in my two-weeks notice on July 1st, 2015.

For me, as long as I could afford to eat hot food, live in my own house, and spend REAL-QUALITY time with my family, then I could be an independent for as long as wanted.

The goal of this post is to detail how I took that jump, and how I learned to fly on the way down. Please keep in mind that this is purely anecdotal, and while I hope that this helps someone out there to take charge of their own lives, I do realize that everyone’s circumstances are different. Your mileage may vary!

Money

The be-all, end-all excuse for most people. When I left my job, I had a little under $10,000 in the bank. That could have afforded me 2 months of living expenses, or perhaps 3 if I wanted to stretch it out. Since I didn’t want to stretch it, I realized I needed a source of income prior to jumping ship. This was Risk #1: Not Enough Savings to Cover Living Expenses.

I’m sorry if you are reading this hoping to figure out my “secret”, or whatever, to make it big out on your own. Unfortunately, I’m incredibly far from “big” or having “made it”. However, I have been living frugally and comfortably for the past five months. I know if my A.D.D. brain can sit still long enough to figure out a personal finance system that works for me and my family, then certainly you can as well.

What worked for me is making sure that every purchase was at least 1) a necessity or an important creature-comfort, or 2) something to grow your business. This is so strong in me now that I picked up, then immediately put down Fallout 4 multiple times at the store before finally buying it a few days later. I finally rationalized that fun gaming time is needed after 3-4 months of hard work. Anyways, I cannot explain how difficult that is for someone with A.D.D. Those of you who know me know that I can be impulsive at times… the energy required to combat that impulsiveness is immense. You really, REALLY need to be mindful whenever you pull out your wallet. Otherwise it’s back to a 9-to-5, and no one reading this really wants that. My point is: if I can be mindful of spending, you can be mindful of spending.

Flying Lesson #1: Make a budget/chart for what you need and want, and make sure you have enough to cover that before you jump.

Time

You really can’t read a “What I Learned from Quitting My Job”  article without a Time section, right? Of course not! Time, in this case, is referring to personal time. For me, my most important goal was to be able to keep my 9-to-5 lifestyle without having the 9-to-5. Unfortunately, as a freelancer, that meant I needed to work more hours to bring in same amount of money. Obviously this doesn’t jive with my requirement that I must be able to spend quality time with my wife and doggies. I needed to make time.

Given that we all only have the same 24 hours in a day, time-management became an issue. I couldn’t have personal time if all of my effective hours were being spent on client work.

Here you have Risk #2: Spending All Your Time For Work.

Spending all of your time in development/production meant no strategizing, no working on your own projects, and most importantly, no time with family; the same people who support you in this journey. (My apologies if you don’t have a familial support group, but it’s incredibly beneficial to find emotional support of any kind.)

My strategy to deal with this came from a combination of different lifehacks I’ve stumbled across on the internet. 1) Whatever work-thing I’m doing right now, can I come up with a way to never do it again? and 2) Whatever I’m doing right now, can I just put it off?

As a programmer, obviously this can be a challenge for some things. If code could write itself, we wouldn’t be doing this. However, being programmers, we are allowed to automate many parts of our non-work lives. For example, I’ve set up all of my bills to auto-pay, a google spreadsheet adds up all of my work hours and calculates my fees for invoices, and I even automated watering my garden by running pipes from the lawn sprinkler system. These little things add up. You now have a few extra minutes each week, and also more headspace since you don’t have to worry about all the little things anymore.

As far as procrastinating goes, I’m not saying to shrug off everything and eat bagel-bites all day. I’m saying you need to examine each and every thing you’re doing to see if it’s worth the time. Opportunity cost is incredibly important as an independent; the time spent doing dishes (or doing nothing) could mean you show up at a networking event 10 minutes late and miss that chance to speak with your next big deal. I know, I know, cliché example, but you get the idea. Put off the dishes, or maybe put them in the dishwasher if you absolutely need things tidy!

My goal is to never go back to a 9-to-5. Dishes don’t care about my dreams. Also, is the bagel-bites song stuck in your head yet? Because it’s stuck in mine…

Flying lesson #2: With automation and [smart] procrastination you can actually make a bit more time in your day.

Curiosity

Here’s a new one for these types of posts: curiosity. The thing that makes you look behind curtains, or flip a switch in the hall to see what light it turns on. Without curiosity, I’d just be coding away, never growing. Just….robotic. On a larger scale though, I’d never discover new things that make me happy. For me, being able to learn something new, even in programming, and being able to apply it is hugely satisfying. Curiosity will keep you from becoming stale. The world around us is constantly evolving new ways for us humans to live fuller, happier lives, we just need to take notice.

Risk #3: Not living a fulfilling life.

I know, exploring curiosities can make people feel ignorant about whatever they’re exploring, and that’s uncomfortable. However, as the saying goes, you can either suffer the short-term pain of sacrifice and discipline, or suffer the long term pain of regret. Go out and do something new; if it’s not for you, then it’s not for you. But better to know now than when you’re too old to find out.

To apply this to jumping ship, though, a good example is my current dev contract. The codebase is written in Actionscript, a language that not many gamedevs enjoy. “It’s old, archaic, and dying”, some may say. Some would run with that and not take the contract for that reason alone… It was actually a little anxiety-inducing to sign that contract, I didn’t remember much of what I knew about Actionscript. Plus, I didn’t need the money, why suffer the pain of learning an unpopular skill? One month into the contract, however, I’m finding myself enjoying working with the contract and hope to keep it in my tool-belt for later projects. Even better though, I’ve met new colleagues who are both fun and experienced with making games. I never would have gotten that if I wasn’t open to trying new things.

Flying Lesson #3: Keep your mind open in order to find new and fulfilling experiences.

Conclusion

By focusing on how I spend my time, money, and energy, I’ve been able to keep myself very happy while venturing out on my own. My wife says I’m a completely different person; smiling more and generally more happy. I can feel it. Working for myself is in my blood, and I couldn’t be any happier finding this out now, even in my 30’s. I’m confident crossing “regret” off my list of fears, and I’m hoping you can too.

Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening… humm humm humm supper timeeee.