In the era of social media we have an infinite number of possibilities for connection but deep, lasting relationships are rare. Here are my top tips for cultivating meaningful relationships (platonic and romantic) in the digital age.
In the digital world, we are constantly bombarded with calls for attention. Social media notifications, product advertisements, and a pile of professional demands can pull our attention in 5 different directions.
One moment we can see a notification pop up on our phone and feel a blip of excitement, and in the next, our excitement can morph to anxiety as 10 new work emails catch our eye and social media FOMO sets in. This is clearly a case of – Notification Induced Stress.
The world is digitally more connected than ever. Still, on a personal level, many of us are left feeling alone and unseen when people show more interest in an airbrushed image rather than investing in getting to know our core identity. Unfortunately, this leads many people to adventure and experience for attention on social media rather than being present.
Anyone who knows me is well aware that I have a particular distaste for social media for this reason. I value deep relationships where I can show my unfiltered self. Practicing the art of presence has been one of the largest contributors to my overall wellbeing and productivity. I’m definitely still learning, but if I could only give one point of advice, it would be to ignore the “clutter” in your environment. Give yourself space and time to focus on cultivating deep relationships and engaging in the deep work that will ignite your productivity.
I worry that the digital age, with all its convenience, has also introduced distractions to our social environments that restrain us from connecting on a deeper level with each other.
Our digital environment is engineered so that we feel that everything is a priority. In particular, social media can lead you to subconsciously believe that a stranger’s highlight reel is an emergency to share, retweet, or like. But 99% of all notifications are not emergencies. The constant barrage of attention-seeking notification keep us in fight or flight mode and pile on to the existing stress of true priorities.
While a beautiful Instagram feed can be a mildly entertaining form of escapism, you don’t establish the social connections that nourish your soul while chasing likes on social media. I doubt I’m the only one who is left with a depressing sense of emptiness after realizing they wasted an hour of their life scrolling through memes.
It feels second nature to pull out our phones and numb our boredom with our devices’ instant gratification – probably because our digital environment is intentionally engineered to hold our attention. Since we’re accustomed to deferring to digital distractions when we are bored or feel awkward and socially acceptable, it can be easy to forget that our greatest assets are time and attention.
There’s no problem spending your time and attention on activities that you truly love and bring value to our lives. But absently flitting around on your phone is typically out of habit and spending your most valuable asset without conscious thought. If finding the end of the news feed is on your bucket list – all the power to you, and please include a lengthy description of how social media has positively impacted your life. I could use a new perspective – everyone keeps telling me I’ve gotten rather bitter in my old age.
I have really benefited from digital minimalism.
So, without further adieu – here are my top tips on the art of ignoring people: how an introvert makes friends and became a productivity queen.
Filter Out the News Drama
Assuming you’re up to date with the news, this year has felt like a real-life dystopian society. I’m sure that my seasonal/lockdown depression would have spiraled into something darker if I allowed myself to read every anxiety-provoking news article.
I try to stay up to date, but I also try not to ruminate over world events. Being an informed citizen can quickly turn from a productive to a distractive habit when you are allowing negative world events to affect your own mental wellbeing.
I think email newsletters can be a great alternative to tuning into the morning news every day. Subscriptions like morning brew, Robinhood snacks, and Vox sentences distal the daily news into key highlights that you review in 5 or 10 minutes in the morning.
Optimize Your Digital Space
I didn’t delete any apps to make this screen recording, I promise! I have intentionally made my phone into the most boring place to be so I don’t waste my life looking at a screen – I do enough of that at work.
If you’re interested in transforming your phone from a distraction into a tool, here are my top tips:
- Turn off notifications (I allow through phone calls, reminders, calendar notifications and some … text conversations)
- Keep your phone on silent (not just vibrate mode)
- Get to know your screen time app – delete apps from your phone that are particularly distracting
- social media
- shopping apps
- mindless games
- Unsubscribe from mailing list you’ve lost interest in
- Unless it’s essential to your work – don’t download your work email or messenger apps
Set time windows for your phone to be in do not disturb mode. I like to have a notification-free time in the morning after I get up and at night before I go to bed. This helps me sleep better at night and not get overwhelmed with my task list right when I wake up.
You can even turn your phone to grayscale, some people say that helps, but I actually think it makes it harder to read.
These are just some suggestions, but managing life’s distractions is the first step to creating the space to be more productive.
Minimalism shifts focus away from noise and distractions to focus on what is truly important.
Maybe this will mostly resonate with introverts, but some of my greatest memories are not from extravagant parties or big events but in the smaller moments where I felt a deep connection with someone – when I felt seen and heard such that I could show my full self and feel accepted.
Once you’ve created space from digital distractions, it’s easier to see what brings value to your life and how you can improve others’ lives.
Focus intently on what and who that matters – everything else is clutter.
The act of being present is a powerful skill in a highly distracted world. There is a finite number of things that you can do in a given day – there is an even smaller number of things you can do well. The more you split your attention, the more you sacrifice the quality of your work and the depth of your social connections.
What is important in this very moment
I love spending time with myself. Alone time is a very high priority for me because I know that I very quickly turn from bubbly to bitchy if I’ve been pretending to be a social butterfly. I’m most productive at work when I can focus on one thing at a time and shut myself in a quiet room. So, as you might imagine, I have felt quite productive in quarantine. But I don’t only need this alone time to get my task list done – I also need it to recharge to bring my best self to work meetings, family time, and girls’ night.
I embrace my inner introvert – and will make time for a bubble bath far into adulthood. I started to realize this when I was in university and even more when I started my career, but people will control your schedule if you let them. I’m admittedly selfish with my time, but it’s the most precious resource we have, and if you have a vision for what you want, you have to constantly reprioritize work and life obligations so that your actions are in line with your goals.
After I read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, I began to think of solo-tasking as an important skill for my mental health and as the key to productivity.
There is a cultural misconception that our productivity is measured but how any tasks we can juggle. But “I’m busy” isn’t a badge of honor – I think it shows a lack of focus. We are truly productive when we can complete tasks, developed our skillset, and focus our energy on the right thing. In reality, multitasking is really task-switching, and I will link some interesting studies that outline the productivity loss that comes from multitasking in the below.
If you have to finish a paper for school, meet a work deadline, or build meaningful relationships, the most effective way to do this is to put down your distractions and focus on the task at hand. It doesn’t sound as sexy as being able to take on an entire army by yourself … but 300 Spartans inspired me to take on life’s battles one at a time for the best chance at victory.
😎 Let me know your tips for tuning out distractions. I hope you found this valuable. Remember that just because someone tells you something is a priority – that doesn’t make it your priority.