As I prepared to return to work in October after maternity leave, I wanted to find ways to be more productive. I've read a lot about productivity in the past as I have tried to be more effective at work, and am decent at putting first things first and not multitasking. What I wanted now was to free up as much time as possible to be most effective during the day at work and present with my family at night and on the weekend.
As I evaluated where I spent my time, I realized that I was multitasking more than I realized. For example, I often had the television on in the background while I was making dinner or cleaning; or I scrolled through social media while getting ready for the day. While I never considered this to be multitasking before, these distractions resulted in the task at hand taking longer.
I also learned of studies on the effects of television on the brain. I read a terrifying outlook on television in Fast Company:
A lot of research has been done around TV viewing and children, and Adam Lipson, a neurosurgeon with IGEA Brain & Spine, says one of the best studies is from Tohoku University in Japan. “They noted thickening of the frontopolar cortex, which is related to verbal reasoning ability, and also correlated with a drop in IQ in proportion to the number of hours of television watching,” he says. “In addition, they noted thickening in the visual cortex in the occipital lobe, and in the hypothalamus, which may correlate with aggression.”
If that isn't enough of a reason to limit or quit television, I don't know what is.
A fan of extremes, I decided to eliminate all television and social media for a month. I deleted social media apps from my phone to avoid the temptation of aimlessly scrolling when I had a few extra minutes. And while I did not take as extreme an action with the televisions in my house, I still committed to avoiding them. I anticipated that cutting out television would be easier for me; I went six years without setting up cable after college to save money and do not watch much tv anyways (except Law & Order SVU - that was tough to give up).
Three months later, I am proud to say I not only survived my productivity experiment, but have also continued it. I'm more productive -- but more importantly -- I am a happier, more joyful person as a result.
Social media has been touted as a means to connect people across geographies and all walks of life. And it is - through social media, you can efficiently share and view glimpses of life with friends and family. These glimpses are snapshots in time, and are often cropped, edited, filtered, and captioned to create an image that is a shiny, polished version of reality. Depending what you are watching, television can be similar. Even "reality" television is edited with a slant for what will attract an audience.
For me, spending time seeing images and videos of other people living a different life than I was in my postpartum days created a sense of discontent that I was not okay with feeling. I hated the fact that I felt envious of a friend who took a trip overseas, or another friend whose baby was a few months older and made being a mom look so easy on Instagram. In reality, I was in a different season of life and wanted to enjoy that rather than look back to life before baby or look ahead to when baby was older.
Eliminating the source of my discontent - social media and (to a lesser degree) television - helps me to be more present in the time I have at work and with my family, which has translated to greater productivity as well as (and more importantly) greater feelings of contentment and joy. I relish actual moments of life and accomplish more of the things that are important to me (family time, work, hobbies, running, etc) rather than comparing my life to what I see online or on tv. And I have more moments to relish because I am not scrolling through Facebook when I have a quick break during the day or flipping through channels to find background noise to fill the quiet at night or on the weekends.
I'm learning to appreciate, and even crave, quiet.