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Using Technology/Social Media Productively and Healthfully

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Data Engineer at Financial Company8 months ago

When I look at my life, there's a lot of social media and technology services I use:

  • At work - Outlook and Teams
  • Keeping up with Tech Content - LinkedIn, YouTube, and Newsletters
  • Personal - Whatsapp, Facebook, SMS, Spotify
  • General - Phone and Gmail

I'm trying to develop healthy habits around technology use to facilitate deep work. This involves limiting my exposure to technology.

One strategy I think is a good one is batching checking these things. So only check content sites weekly. A more extreme strategy and one I'm not yet prepared to make is getting rid of my smartphone so I can't check content as often.

Do people have other strategies/habits which work for them or can describe their relationships with these services?

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Discussion

(8 comments)
  • 17
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    One strategy I think is a good one is batching checking these things. So only check content sites weekly. A more extreme strategy and one I'm not yet prepared to make is getting rid of my smartphone so I can't check content as often.

    This is a great strategy! In general, batching is really effective. Group similar types of work and activities together, so you can maximize momentum and flow state. Focus blocks are the main reason I'm ever able to get anything done, and this has been true across Meta, Robinhood, and now Taro for me. I talk about focus blocks in-depth here: A Powerful Tool For Software Engineer Productivity - Focus Blocks

    I'm not a fan of a complete digital cleanse with nuking your smartphone, but that's a call for you to make (I wouldn't try it unless all other options have failed).

    Do people have other strategies/habits which work for them or can describe their relationships with these services?

    • I just straight up don't use social media - Ironic I know given that I worked at Meta for 4 years.
    • I use focus mode on my Android phone to turn off distracting work apps like Slack after work hours - So I'm sort of doing the inverse of what it wants haha. But the general idea is the same: Keep myself from getting sucked into rabbit-holes when I really shouldn't. I imagine iPhones have a similar feature. Here's the Google blog post announcing it: https://blog.google/products/android/android-focus-mode/
    • Close/mute stuff aggressively - Phone notifications in particular are annoying: I have a very strict policy with what apps I allow notifications for. Every mobile app will try to send you notifications, even something that will literally never be urgent like the McDonald's app. The second I see a non-urgent notification from a non-critical app, I mute the app's notifications permanently on the OS level. For Taro specifically, I will close Slack a lot when I need to focus - It's just too tempting to respond to DMs and help community members, haha. But that breaks my focus, so I need to resist temptation!
  • 5
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    Data Engineer [OP]
    Financial Company
    8 months ago

    Thanks for the response, Alex!

    I also mute apps aggressively. The apps I receive notifications for on my phone are messages (i.e. friends and family are contacting me) and gmail (also specific to me). The only app I have that I allow notifications from that isn't specific to me is Taro :) You guys don't spam, so it's nice to see the important questions you flag.

    With regard to keeping up to date with industry developments, do you not use any of the resources that I mentioned? Youtube, LinkedIn, and email/substack newsletters? If not, how do you keep pace with new things?

  • 15
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    With regard to keeping up to date with industry developments, do you not use any of the resources that I mentioned?

    Here's what I do with those resources:

    • So a product I probably use way too much is Google Discover, which is a Google news feed product. On Google Pixels (which I switched to from Samsung 6 years ago), it's built in natively into the home experience - Just swipe over to the left screen from home to see the feed. Google knows everything about all of us, so it's really good at recommending me tech industry news (layoffs, industry trends, what kind of startups are getting funded, etc). This is my main resource to stay "up-to-date".
    • LinkedIn can help with all this too, but it's primarily noise. On my work laptop, I actually installed a Chrome extension that dynamically blocks the entire LinkedIn home feed whenever I visit the site.
    • I hone down my YouTube to just non-work stuff - If a tech video makes its way into my recommended feed, I tell YouTube to block the channel entirely.
    • I have worked in Silicon Valley for 10 years, my dad is a software engineer, and I grew up in the SF Bay Area. If I somehow missed a genuinely major tech shift, somebody I know will tell me. 😂

    At a high-level though, I don't think it's worth it to stay up-to-date with "industry developments". There's always an infinite amount of stuff going on, and only a tiny fraction is going to be relevant to you. Instead of feeling the pressure to proactively be "in the know", I think it's better to take a nimble, quickly reactive stance. Just focus on what you need to know to create value, and weave in new stuff as it comes in if you feel like it would help. Also, Taro will tell you, haha.

  • 17
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    Tech Lead, Senior Software Engineer [L5] at Google
    8 months ago

    I totally get what you mean when it comes to wanting to reduce exposure to social media and content services more generally to facilitate deep work, and my own relationship with this has shifted over the years.

    In 2017 I discovered and read Deep Work; and then I decided to go on a social media ban, in part to help me with deep focus, in part to help me feel more secure. I deleted all social media apps from my phone, installed newsfeed blocker on all my devices, with only Facebook Messenger available to talk to friends. I basically stopped consuming content entirely from social media during this time. The only form of career content I consumed during these times were... books.

    I am now reconnecting with some of the platforms, like LinkedIn and Taro, and have a different appreciation of them than I had before. Here's my takeaways from this personal journey, but YMMV.

    Social media is a powerful tool for connection, not consumption

    The 5 year social media hiatus I took taught me that the best part about social media isn't the media you get fed by the algorithm. Instead, it's the possibility you can form genuine connections w/ strangers - the social aspect - that makes social media platforms so special.

    In my experience, social media is most useful for broadcasting the message of who you are and/or what you are all about to a huge amount of people, in the hope you find a fellow like-minded individuals with whom you can help each other achieve your goals. Those relationships are going to be meaningful to you even when you leave the platform.

    So in my opinion, unless you are actively building relationships and are actively signaling your unique brand by producing content on these platforms, it's usually not worth using them passively just to consume content.

    A cynical way of looking at this is that you are just consuming content, you and your attention span just being captured and sold to advertisers for $$ and you are likely not benefiting a lot from that exchange. Creators intentionally say things like "Join the XXX engineers getting exponential better than everyone else, subscribe to this newsletter!" to stroke your insecurities and make you think you need their content to succeed. It's part of the marketing. We obviously aim to create useful content, but content is really only useful to you if it leads to actual improvement.

    The positive spin on this is that clearly other people think your attention is valuable! So, you can treat it like it is, and control what you spend it on.

    When you are working on self-improvement, taking action is more important than having more knowledge

    Presumably, you are consuming content (especially on platforms like LinkedIn, Newsletters, Taro) to improve yourself. But too often, I have found myself and others are overwhelmed by the multitude of wisdoms that dot the internet. But there's no way I have the time to consume all of the good stuff and apply it too.

    Ultimately, self-improvement happens via actions and consistency. Just reading and watching stuff is just the start of it. When we are taking action, more content telling us what to do is going to simply distract us from implementing change and reaching our goals. In fact... reading content is probably one of the best way to procrastinate on actually taking actions for self-improvement because it feels "productive".

    You are probably going to learn a lot more applying every lesson from just one source (say, Deep Work) over the course of a year, than reading 100 books and thousands of newsletters. There's many ways to curate your sources, but focus is key in helping you translate what you consume into what you live and breath everyday.

  • 4
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    Data Engineer [OP]
    Financial Company
    8 months ago

    Thanks Kuan! This is a great answer! You are absolutely right that I use these sites as a procrastination tool. Furthe, I am passive on these sites rather than active.

    I guess the takeaway is I should really be on these sites much less. It's really easy, when I have a couple minutes here and there, to take out my phone and check out if the people I follow on LinkedIn or Youtube have posted anything but the whole point Cal Newport makes in Deep Work is this is a negative impulse and shouldn't be fed.

    As a practical matter, one thing I can do is unfollow the people I currently do. For some of them (e.g. Alex and Rahul on LinkedIn), there's duplication in the content I consume since I'm part of Taro and I also follow Rahul on Youtube, so it's not like unfollowing on LinkedIn eliminates my exposure to them completely. For others (e.g. Zach Wilson for data engineering), I subscribe to his newsletter so I can also unfollow him on LinkedIn.

    Big takeaway is, I can probably eliminate LinkedIn as something I check completely. I found the extension Alex referenced here so I will use that. I might be able to do the same for Youtube. Newsletters would be the next step, although since they tend to be weekly, I feel like there's is less harm in them since they batch themselves.

    Appreciate the advice and if either of you have any other tips, would love to keep learning and implementing!

  • 4
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    Tech Lead, Senior Software Engineer [L5] at Google
    8 months ago

    These sounds like great first steps. Please update us on how you feel in 3-6 months!

  • 1
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    Data Engineer [OP]
    Financial Company
    8 months ago

    Will do!

  • 1
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    Data Engineer [OP]
    Financial Company
    3 months ago

    Just want to follow up here as I said I would. Check LinkedIn now roughly weekly and can say I'm happy doing so. Also only listen to podcasts on the weekend, and that's been good as well. When I'm on the subway, I try to do nothing too. My Youtube use is also way down as I've unsubscribed from basically everyone I used to follow.

    Bottom line, the advice given here has paid off and will continue to :)