Productivity isn’t about what you do. It’s about what you don’t do.
I don’t know who first came up with this quote, but after this week I know it is true. As you might have noticed from my distinct lack of tweeting, I quit Twitter. Again. And in the meantime, I filled my empty days with a lot more work and a lot less worrying.
The problem is, I trick myself into thinking my time on Twitter is productive. Especially now that I have more than 7,000 followers and get a lot of likes. I live for those likes and it isn’t healthy. It feeds into my anxiety and I get that giddy, empty feeling every time I scroll.
Last time I quit Twitter, I vowed to limit my time on it. That did not happen. In 2017, I spent 485 hours on social media, and I spent more time on Twitter than any other social website! Last year I also made less money than I wanted to, and never seemed to have enough time in the day. I knew where this was going, so it was time to, once again, go cold turkey.
Here’s how this past week went:
I woke up early and immediately checked Twitter. Everybody was talking about Otaku Coin: Chris MacDonald, my employer at Anime News Network, was serving on the same advisory board as Palmer Luckey. I don’t know what Luckey’s views are, but he funded a pro-Trump group that posted white supremacist and anti-Semitic material on social media. I thought I was going to need to cut ties with Anime News Network right away.
I felt like I was having a heart attack while I was scrolling and tweeting, trying to learn more and distance myself at the same time. And at the end of it? Chris said he had no idea who Luckey was when he agreed to the project, and upon finding out said he wouldn’t serve on a board with him. (Later in the week, I Googled for articles on the scandal, and there were none. This was a panic limited to Twitter alone.)
I was so deeply invested in what turned out to be speculation that it ruined my mood for a whole day. That’s when I realized it was time for me to take a break and get back in touch with reality.
The first thing I did was limit Twitter to 5 minutes a day on my StayFocusd app. When you use the app to limit time on a site, it counts down and eventually blocks it from you completely for the rest of the day. I kept 5 minutes so I could still promote new blog posts on Twitter. But I told myself I would use my profile page while I did that—so I couldn’t see other peoples’ tweets. I only stuck with that until Wednesday.
I kept accidentally navigating to Tweetdeck. It’s sort of second nature. I realized I’m not even thinking about any particular purpose when I go to check Twitter. When I was feeling anxious or fidgety, my fingers would just navigate there.
Every time I sat down to do anything at all on my computer, from checking the weather to writing a blog post, I would impulsively try to go to the Twitter page first. That’s when I realized I had a bigger addiction problem than I thought.
Monday is my blog posting day, so I went to Twitter to promote my new Gunpla 101 and Otaku Journalist posts. I posted and closed the window as quickly as possible to avoid temptation.
I managed to resist, but my thoughts for the day took the form of tweets. That morning I found out that the trick to making really fluffy pancakes was to sour the milk with vinegar first, and I wanted to tweet that. I learned I had a stash of Bitcoin from 2013 that I’d forgotten about (it was only 0.50 cents at the time) and I wanted to share my discovery. Even though I spent the day doing stuff with John and a friend, without my Twitter followers I was weirdly kind of lonely.
I woke up feeling terrible—headache, fatigue, muscle aches. Withdrawal symptoms. Not from Twitter obviously, but from caffeine. I forgot to mention that, in a supremely terrible bout of decision making, I decided to quit coffee and Twitter in the same week. Anything to get rid of that jittery heart-attack sensation I’d been feeling so often of late.
I wasn’t too productive but I managed to get dressed and show up on time for my Japanese study group. Usually, I run a bit late even when I feel fantastic. I think it had to do with the loneliness factor—I am a person who works from home and rarely sees people aside from John. Twitter is a great replacement for a social life, and you don’t even need to leave your house! Without it, I need to try harder. To connect with other people, I have to go out to my study group. I have to text my friends or my sisters, painfully aware that my witty thoughts are only going to be heard by one person. This seems so basic, but it was infuriating. Before, I could be heard by 1,000 different people at once.
I got an email from Twitter telling me that it existed and I should go on Twitter. “See all sides of the story. Join the conversation,” it said. This may be a coincidence, but I have all email alerts turned off and I haven’t gotten an email from Twitter in years.
That email should have made it easier to avoid Twitter because I am contrary, but I couldn’t resist going back on Twitter after promoting my Forbes post. Minutes after I published a list of the Anime Awards nominees, the PR person emailed me and told me Crunchyroll had altered the list again, and some of the categories she’d given me previously were no longer accurate. It sucked because this story was under embargo for days, and only after the story went live were there new changes.
I made the required changes, but I was terrified that people who’d see my article before it was updated were confused and maybe replying to my tweet promoting it. I checked my Twitter mentions, telling myself it was for work, and people were indeed confused. I even responded to somebody who was confused about it and let them know what was up. I did notice that while I did damage control, the now-unfamiliar heart-attack sensation came back. Nothing I could do about it in this case—it really was for work. But better not to feel that way about non-work interactions.
Later, John asked me if I’d seen something on Twitter earlier, and I reminded him why I definitely had not, so he told me about Nintendo making toys out of cardboard. I thought he was joking.
This was my most productive day of the week, if not my life! I usually get three major tasks done in a day. On Thursday I got six done big things before Japanese class. I even finished a project I’d been putting off since mid-December.
I realized I get things done a lot more quickly without Twitter. Doubly so if my sisters and friends aren’t around on Gchat (I’ve sort of been using them as a Twitter replacement, sharing some of the stuff I’d much rather tweet). All I could think was that my RescueTime report for this week is going to look fantastic—it ranks my productive and unproductive time and shows it to me in an infographic. (It’s a great app for being regularly horrified by your own habits.)
I had free time today because I got so much done on Thursday. I got a haircut at the mall and chatted with my hairdresser who is pretty cool—we follow each other on Instagram. (Somehow I’ve never felt addicted to Instagram though, maybe because I post rarely and have so few followers.) When I was finished, I ran some errands like getting my wedding ring inspected for loose gems (I’m supposed to do that every six months but it had been four years) and consulting a makeup artist at Sephora about updating my skincare routine now that I’m over 30.
Usually, I hate this kind of stuff but the idea of having opportunities to talk to people, even strangers, was especially appealing to me this week. And that’s the reason I simply have never been able to stick with quitting Twitter. With Twitter, I can tell myself I have 7,000 adoring fans hanging on my every inane thought (though I know half of them are bots and most of the humans don’t actually care). Without Twitter, I am just a lonely, aging woman who spends a lot of time at her computer.
I started learning what I had missed when I wasn’t on Twitter. I saw Buzzfeed’s The 29 Stages Of A Twitterstorm In 2018, in which people got mad about an awful T-shirt, culminating in armed police and protesters at the home of an innocent birdwatcher (he has a Twitter name that’s similar to that of the company that made the bad shirt).
I immediately noticed how the people who first raised awareness were cheated out of their likes, Twitter’s currency—even though they’re not worth a dime. But I remember getting furious when other Twitter accounts would steal my jokes. What did “likes” ever get me?
And secondly, how much of the story was turned into sausage for the Online News factory. That used to be the bulk of my work at the Daily Dot—taking Twitter-manufactured outrage and turning it into a researched article. How mad people always were when I asked for interviews. They were already mad about the thing I was asking them about to begin with. Twitter is a really good place to feel mad about stuff, and remembering that kept me away for another day.
I logged onto Tweetdeck. I expected to have missed everything important for a week. But it was amazing how few mentions I had—because I wasn’t tweeting, nobody was responding to me. Twitter went on as usual without my participation, and why wouldn’t it? This site is huge and constantly active—it would take me months to notice a friend I used to tweet at has left.
What did I learn from all this? That Twitter is perfectly engineered to feed into my need for approval and praise. It’s an easy replacement for a social life. Heck, it’s an easy replacement for work—when I’m part of the Twitter discourse I feel like I’m enacting real change. No wonder one study discovered that Twitter is harder to resist than alcohol or cigarettes! And as you might know, I tried to quit Twitter in 2015. And failed.
I can’t trust my attention-seeking lizard brain, so this doesn’t end here. I still have Twitter set to a 10-minute daily limit with StayFocusd. I’m still going to limit my tweets to promoting posts from Otaku Journalist, Gunpla 101, and Forbes. That’s going to be especially hard: it isn’t going on Twitter itself that is my addiction, it’s the tweet-and-response feedback loop.
Twitter is a great way to communicate for a lot of people, and I’m not suggesting that you quit Twitter. I know I’m an extreme case. I think you can tell from this post that I’ve been using an inane social media service as a bad coping mechanism and that needs to stop.
My hope is that limiting my Twitter use will actually help you to hear from me more often—through regular blogging, reporting, and my newsletter. Even without the instant gratification of Twitter, I still want to share. I’ll just have to work a little harder to do it.
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