I remember when people who wanted to start businesses were told the best thing they could do is to get rid of their TV. TV was time consuming – it was claimed – and could zap away hours of your time through mindless entertainment that apparently added little to your life.
TV has changed significantly since then, of course, with the creation of on-demand (iPlayer) and hard drive recording (Sky+). Both of these models have turned the entertainment paradigm on its head: shifting from a pull rather than push medium. I can watch exactly what I want, when and where I want. No longer do I have to sit around waiting for the 8pm show before watching the 9pm show. As an aspiring productivity ninja, I’ve found that TV does not feature high on my sources of procrastination anymore. In fact, when I do watch TV, I really do want to watch it.
On the other hand, a bunch of other things have filled this void of mindless entertainment, the gulitiest of which is Facebook. Described as the ‘cigarette break’ of the 21st Century, Facebook ‘solves’ a problem in-built into our brains: the need for social connection. Just like a fag break though, while you might get the fun in the short term; in the long run, it’ll be detremential to your health.
To the normal, average person, being on Facebook is for fun. Its about keeping in touch with friends and checking out fun views and links that people have sent. It’s about that bit of fun you have while watching TV, or having a tea break at work.
For the startup founder, things are a bit more lonely – a lot of the time its hard work being on your own: even when you have a small team, you’ll find that a lot of your time is spent managing people and talking to investors/clients etc. and the amount of ‘frivolous’ discussions is not as regular as your normal 9-5er.
Hence, the need for that social bond is greater than ever – especially the desire to feel part of a community that the workplace environment does not necessarily provide. (Facebook fulfils that by having a ready made community of your friends for you to broadcast to.) Now, compounded by the desire to fill the void for mindless entertainment that on-demand TV has eliminated, you get this compound effect where Facebook checking is about as bad for your productivity as TV was back in the olden days: hours and hours of mindless entertainment. To an extent, this type of entertainment is worst: because with the TV kind, at least it provides escapism (unless you’re watching Eastenders, which is just depressing). With Facebook, it is pure mindless entertainment: hours reading through reading what your friends have been upto – even though in reality you haven’t seen that friend for weeks or even months. Do you really care that they’ve posted yet another photo of their vacation/kid/farmville award?
To an extent, I’m in two minds here. On the one hand, I would encourage FB use, especially when you’re on your own and need a set of cheerleaders to help you keep going.
On the other, I find that Facebook has sucked out time that I could have spent doing other more productive things. Whether that’s the numerous blog posts that I haven’t written, or simply some time out during the day to reflect on myself or the company, I have found that Facebook is now my number 1 procrastination tool.
In startup life, there will always be a ton of things that you have to do. It is up to you to create time and carefully decide what to do with it. So if you want the support, take it. If you want the time, take that. I doubt you’ll be able to do both.
For me, I’ve realised that I value time > social (at least for the time being). So for the next month, I’m going to run a little experiment. I’m going to not use Facebook and see whether I find the extra time (that I’ve been concerned that I don’t have) with the result of seeing 1) whether my productivity improves, 2) whether I will spend more time with people physically rather than virtually, and 3) whether I feel less connected.
Would you cut Facebook out of your life? What have been the benefits and negatives? What do you think?