5 Practical Ways to Create Space for Silence
Digital noise is killing us all.
It’s been building for a while now, but in the last few months it seems like a lot of us have reached a breaking point with the constant roar of social media. I know I have.
Scrolling through Twitter makes me feel constantly angry at ignorant people doing dumb shit that is entirely out of my control. Reading Facebook overwhelms me with a thousand voices in a cacophony of chaos. Even when I turn off my phone and walk away, I can still hear the never-ending chatter ringing in my ears.
And the stuff I’ve been reading isn’t all bad. I follow a lot of brilliant people who have wise and fascinating and hilarious things to say. But I’ve reached a point where it feels overwhelming and claustrophobic, so I’ve been working to create more and more space in my life this year — space where it’s quiet, space where I can hear myself think, space where I don’t have to engage the opinions of anyone I can’t see with my real eyeballs.
Here are a few tools I’ve used to create space in my life this year. Maybe they’ll help you too:
1. Turn off Notifications
Your attention is a hella valuable resource. And every time your phone vibrates, it’s making a demand for your attention. It doesn’t care if you’re in the middle of writing a blog post, eating a cheeseburger, or hanging out with the people you love — it just says “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me now!”
So look at your apps, and then ask yourself, “Does this thing deserve my attention? More than blogging? More than cheeseburgers? More than the people I love?”
For me, the answer is almost always no.
The only thing that gets to interrupt me is text messages, phone calls, reminders of shit I have to do, and alerts that somebody sent me money. Everything else I can live without.
Somebody commented on a picture I commented on? Who gives a shit. A new podcast episode? If I need it, I’ll find it. Some bullshit promotion from Pandora? Just shut up and play dubstep. Somebody posted on Instagram? I’ll see it next time I poop.
Even email has to be quiet and wait until I’m ready. I’ll go and check it several times a day, but it’s when I want it, on my terms. Email is not the boss of me. It doesn’t have to be the boss of you either.
After a while with your notifications turned off, you’ll even lose the phantom vibrations — that feeling that your phone is ringing when it’s not. It’s a real thing.
2. Download Freedom
For me, getting rid of notifications wasn’t enough. I was still opening up Facebook and Twitter and scrolling through page after page of stuff that made me feel angry, sad, and anxious. I deleted the apps, but found that breaking the habit wasn’t so easy; I just used the internet browser to go to the same sites anyways. I needed something stronger.
Freedom is an app that blocks any website you want for however long you want. You can set it to block social media during the day so you can be productive, or come on in the evening to help you be present. I set it to run from 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. every day so that I can be free all the damn time.
It’s slightly inconvenient not being able to get Facebook messages on my phone, but other than that it has only made my life better. Being unable to tune into the din of Facebook has calmed the noise inside my skull, and not having Twitter everywhere I go has taught me how to just be where I am with the people who are there.
Click here to try Freedom. You won’t regret it.
3. Get Rid of Facebook
Even after ditching notifications and social media on my phone, I found myself opening my laptop several times a day to see what the masses were howling about at any given time. I still could hear the voices of a thousand people ringing in my ears. I needed something more.
I was on the verge of deleting my Facebook account altogether — it’s what I really wanted to do — but are were a few groups and pages that are essential to my day-to-day business and I don’t think I could just bail on those without complicating my life in other ways.
Fortunately, I found an even better solution.
With an easy-to-install plugin I downloaded here, I disabled my Facebook newsfeed. I can go to individual profiles and pages, see groups, and get messages — but the never-ending scream of content content content has been silenced.
I still find myself clicking over to Facebook (out of muscle memory more than anything else) and instantly upon arriving realizing “Oh wait there’s nothing here. I guess I’ll get back to work.”
I’ve also noticed that since ditching the News Feed a few weeks ago, I tend to post less. Facebook is becoming less and less of an unavoidable presence and more like a casual acquaintance you text on holidays but don’t ever actually talk to. I don’t miss him.
Download Quiet Facebook here, install it in the preferences of your browser (Chrome, Safari, or Firefox), and enjoy the sweet sweet sound of Not Reading Facebook.
4. Install Focus
If you’re a person who has to do of work on a computer — for school or business or top-secret super-villain schemes or whatever — you probably spend a solid orange slice of your pie chart clicking around on meaningless websites.
If you don’t have enough self-control to quit that habit (and if you’re a human, you probably don’t. it’s ok.), Focus can help.
Focus is basically like that Freedom app I told you about in #2, except for your computer. It blocks all the interesting websites so you can get shit done. You can schedule it for daily chunks of productivity, or use the timer for smaller work-bursts. I like to set it for 25 minutes and work really hard, reward myself with 5 minutes of browsing bullshit, and then go back to work for another 25 minutes.
Click here to download Focus and get shit done. It costs a few dollars, but it’s worth it. (Focus only works on Mac, but there are a bunch of similar programs for Windows. Hit the Google machine and find one that works for you.)
5. Unsubscribe from Emails
Once upon a time email was a technological marvel, a life-saving miracle sent from God Herself. But over time, its bright potential has darkened and twisted and now our once-beautiful technology has become a cruel overlord.
There are two things that make email awful: The first is correspondence demanding actions from you, actions upon which you’d rather procrastinate. I cannot help you with that. But the second thing that makes email awful is all the random crap we don’t need. Every company and corporation has become like that one person you went on a date with two months ago who won’t stop texting you even though you both know it was a one-time thing.
Here’s good news: you don’t have to keep getting mass emails you don’t want.
Unroll.Me will show you all the stuff you’re currently subscribed to and let you unsubscribe in seconds. It’s honestly pretty impressive.
Hell, you can even unsubscribe from my mailing list. I won’t be mad.
I want you to find some space to breathe this year. So we whether you use all five of these tools or only one, start somewhere.
Learn to listen to silence again. You’ll enjoy it.