It’s tempting to label time spent surfing social media each day as “productive” and “healthy.”
- You find tips to improve your life…
- You read up on breaking news…
- You connect and share with your community…
…therefore it seems like a positive activity that nourishes and sustains you, right?
Three kinds of time
You see, in an average day you likely spend three different kinds of time.
- Focused Time (your “on” switch): This is time you spend actively focusing on the things you need to get done in a day: finishing a project your boss assigned you, teaching a class, doing a hard workout at the gym, helping your kid with their homework.
- Unfocused Time (your “off” switch): This is time you spend unwinding after all that focused time, when you give your brain a big, fat break. Unfocused time is when you do stuff with your brain on autopilot like binge-watching a series on Netflix, playing Candy Crush on your phone, or chatting with friends.
- Defocused Time (your recharge mode): As Srini Pillay, author of “Tinker Dabble, Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind,” defines it, defocused time is when you relax and recharge your brain by “pondering, mucking about, and trying things out.” Defocused activities include things like showering, doodling, walking, knitting, gardening, making art, listening to music, daydreaming, or meditating. It’s time you spend both resting your brain AND giving it room to run free — it’s special.
The time you spend surfing social media that you’d like to believe is recharging and inspiring you? I’d argue that’s actually unfocused time. It’s candy.
- It has a fun wrapper…
- It goes down easy…
- It gives you an immediate hit of energy and excitement…
…but it’s likely NOT giving your brain space and energy to run free. It’s not nourishing you.
The value of veggies
I’m not saying social media is bad. Big business happens in the midst of all that candy, people connect, information circulates. I’m simply suggesting defocused time is more valuable — like vegetables instead of candy — and you likely don’t have enough of it in your life.
Think I’m exaggerating? Reflect back on the last time you were waiting for something… anything. What did you do with that time? Switch to a defocused state (like observe the room or daydream) or take out your phone and start clicking?
(That’s a trick question. Your phone was already out.)
The reality is people don’t really sit and ponder anymore. In fact, some folks take active steps to avoid it, bringing their screens everywhere — into the bathroom, on a walk, in the kitchen. They fill ALL of their quiet moments each day with noise, which can be just as unproductive as filling your belly each day with candy.
Logging huge amounts of unfocused time each day can actually deprive you of the space you need to create any movement or change in your life.
In other words, you could use your down time today to read a hundred posts on changing your life, but if you don’t also create space for your brain to synthesize and process the information in those posts, you probably won’t actually make any of those changes.
You’ll feel full, but you’ll still be empty.
So, the next time you’re tempted to reach your hand into that bowl of sweet candy that’s always at your fingertips, always being refilled…
- Stop a moment.
- Ponder a moment.
- Create a moment.
Don’t forget to make space too for something leafy, wild, and magical.