Can you introduce yourself to our listeners and readers?
Hi, I’m Sam, and I’ve been working for myself for 13 years, mainly as a social media trainer. My career journey has been very heavily focused on being my own boss. Over the years, I’ve seen social media change drastically, which led me to switch my focus to digital well-being. I help people manage their relationships with technology, including social media, by avoiding mindless scrolling and using it in a way that adds value to their life. It’s been an interesting journey, from using social media as a marketing tool to helping people use it in a healthy way.
I find it fascinating how new technologies like social media require new ecosystems and safeguarding. People may know about Nir Eyal’s work on how technology hooks us, but it’s important to also detach from it.
It is really interesting, as my role has had to develop into a fully immersed trainer as I began helping people get on social media and use social media as a marketing tool, and now I’m helping people manage their relationship with it, and use it in a way that actually adds value to their life rather than takes it away.
As a social media trainer, I used to feel like I had to have a solid presence on social media to prove that I was an expert in the field. However, I found myself becoming more and more disenchanted with social media and didn’t want to log in anymore. When I spoke to business owners, I found that many of them felt the same way. I started to realise that social media wasn’t the be-all and end-all of marketing and began to focus more on teaching people how to manage their time on it, so they could get the most out of it without being on there as much. As someone with a background in psychology, I found it interesting to explore why people were questioning social media’s value and why some businesses were wasting so much time on it. I’ve noticed a shift in people’s perceptions of social media, but I still find myself spending hours scrolling on it because it’s designed to be addictive.
I’ve noticed that many people, especially my ambitious listeners, are talking about the importance of boundaries and protecting their time, energy, productivity, and high performance. While we understand that social media can be a major drain on our time, I’m also interested in exploring the negative effects it has on our mental well-being. What have you discovered about this aspect of social media use?
The link between smartphone use and mental health decline is huge, especially with social media. Seeing other people’s lives and comparing ourselves to them can damage our self-esteem and lead to imposter syndrome. The news on social media can also affect our mental health, as we can’t avoid the bad news and people’s opinions on it. Using our smartphones for four hours a day can also lower our productivity and make us feel flat and low at the end of the day. This amounts to two whole months a year, which is a lot of time lost.
While I’m not against smartphones and love my own, it’s important to be mindful of how much time we spend on them and whether it’s adding value to our lives or not. I encourage people to halve their phone use as even that can give them an extra month each year to work on their goals and resolutions. Although it’s not easy, taking steps towards a healthier relationship with our phones is definitely possible.
What are your tips for reducing the time spent on our phones?
Remember, your phone is designed to be addictive, like cigarettes to a smoker. Turning off notifications is an easy way to reduce phone use since seeing your phone light up distracts you from work and leads to wasted time. Even if you don’t pick up your phone, it can still impact productivity. Turning off notifications will help reduce the number of times you pick up your phone and is an easy step to take.
For example, I don’t have WhatsApp
notifications on but at points through the day, I will open my WhatsApp and check if have I got any messages.
Another way to reduce phone usage is to keep your phone away from you, as we’re usually never more than a meter away from it. For instance, don’t keep it next to you while watching a show because you might end up scrolling instead of watching. Similarly, don’t keep it on your desk at work or while studying because it’s too tempting to pick it up. Instead, keep it in the same room but in a less accessible spot, like on a shelf, so you have to get up and walk to it. This way, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly scroll. Another tip is to keep your hands busy with activities like crafts or activities to reduce the urge to pick up your phone out of boredom.
How do social media and phone scrolling tie into mental health?
When you’re feeling depressed, you tend to use your phone more and more, and this became apparent to me during the pandemic. I realised how addicted I was to my phone and how it was impacting my mental health. My husband was lucky enough to be able to leave the house for work every day, but I was left at home with our three young children trying to run a business. It was incredibly difficult and I relied on my phone to get work done while taking care of the kids. My five-year-old daughter even pointed out that I was always on my phone and not paying attention to her. It was a wake-up call for me.
It’s just a piece of equipment, but to my daughter, it felt like I was ignoring her for my phone. We were in lockdown together all day, every day, and it was hard for her. So, I decided to delete all my social media apps and take a break for about a month. Within days, I felt my mood improving. I realised that social media was really affecting me, especially when I saw other trainers posting about how easy the pandemic was for them without kids. Now, I regularly take breaks from social media, even though I use it for promoting digital well-being and social media training.
It’s really important to have boundaries, whether you’re a parent or not. As a parent, it’s especially important to be a good role model. My eldest is almost nine, and soon she’ll have her own phone. I want it to be the norm that phones aren’t allowed in bedrooms, since we don’t have them in our bedrooms either. I also want it to be the norm that we don’t use our phones while eating, and we only use one screen at a time. These habits can be established before your children even start using technology, so it becomes the norm rather than an enforced rule.
Many parents have approached me since I started promoting digital well-being, expressing concern about their teenagers spending too much time on their phones. However, upon reflection, they realise they too spend hours scrolling on their phones before bed or while watching a movie. We are all guilty of this behaviour to some extent, even as we try to enforce healthy boundaries for our children.
What was the pivotal moment when you decided to include social well-being in your offering?
Initially, it started as an interest in reducing phone use, which led me to read books and listen to podcasts about the impact of smart tech on our ability to focus. I became disenchanted with social media and realised that my values didn’t align with the amount of time I was spending on it. During my walks with my dog, I realised that many people were likely struggling with the same issue, so I decided to help by spreading the message and assisting businesses in managing their teams’ relationships with technology. As someone who works for a tech company and mostly operates online, I realised that I was too plugged in and needed to take time off to disconnect. Removing apps and notifications allowed me to have a more peaceful existence. While email is back, I control the notifications and only check when necessary. In emergencies, people can reach me through other means.
When you finish work for the day, whether it’s leaving the physical workplace or shutting down your computer for remote work, it’s important to take that time to rest, prepare for the next day, and enjoy your personal life. However, the rise of technology has made it difficult to truly disconnect from work. Even if you don’t check your work phone or email, notifications and reminders can keep you thinking about work outside of business hours, leading to burnout. Businesses that expect employees to work outside of contracted hours without compensation risk lower productivity and engagement from their workforce. This issue starts with management, who should consider the impact of sending work-related emails or messages outside of business hours.
It’s important to remember that work should be a part of our lives, not our entire lives. Unfortunately, in today’s ever-connected world, it’s becoming more and more difficult to separate work from personal time. In France, there is legislation in place that allows employees to prosecute companies that expect them to respond to emails after 7pm. This is a positive step, and hopefully, it will spread the message that it’s not healthy to be always available for work. The constant interruptions from Slack
messages or emails can be detrimental to productivity, as it can take up to 24 minutes to get back on task after an interruption. Research has shown that a four-day working week can actually increase productivity and lead to more fulfilled lives for employees. It’s important for managers to recognize the negative impact of expecting employees to always be available and to encourage their teams to switch off and prioritize their personal time.
What do you want to leave with our ambitious audience today?
Focus on goals as it can help differentiate between consciously and unconsciously using technology. I encourage everyone to reflect on their phone and app usage, including social media and data, and shift from mindless scrolling to a conscious state. Ask yourself if what you’re seeing aligns with your 2023 goals, and if not, consider putting your phone down.