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How To Take a Social Media Time-Out To Get Your Creative Groove Back

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andipantz/Getty Images,

by Kara Baskin

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Sure, social media is wonderful: It helps you engage with others in your field, keep current with news, and promote your own personal brand. The downside? It can be incredibly addictive, and if you’re not using it smartly, whether it’s a Facebook page or a tweet, it can sabotage your business. Maybe you’re too distracted by it to focus; maybe you begin over-posting and over-sharing, muddying your message; maybe you’re spending too much time watching what your colleagues are saying and not enough time honing your own messaging. 

“I can tell when it’s time to take a break,” says Washington, D.C.-based public relations and branding strategist Carol Blymire. “I scroll through Instagram rather than getting work done when I’m hours away from a deadline. I peruse Facebook photos of friends of friends of friends and wonder aloud why their bridesmaids had such hideous dresses. I try to get my nephew to say funny things just so I can Tweet about it,” she (half) jokes.

Taking a break from your social network can replenish your creative fire and renew your focus. Here are Blymire’s best practices for unplugging—for a day or more.

Say it, don’t spray it. “Before going off the social media grid for an extended period of time, let your clients and colleagues know. That way, if you rely on social media as a news feed like I do, others can flag articles or other posts you need to know about so you can handle it when you’re back in action. You can even put “on a short social media break” on your Twitter and Facebook bios so people know what’s what. But don’t be one of those people who dramatically announces a social media break for the world to see. As much as we think everyone in the world is hanging on our every Tweet or Facebook comment, they’re not. Chances are, no one will really notice you’re gone and that’s OK,” she says.

Take a weekly social media sabbath. “My clients know that, once a week, I take a full day away from social media (and email and television)—usually Friday night through Saturday night or Sunday morning. I read, go for an aimless walk around town, see friends, cook delicious food, listen to podcasts, and putter around the house cleaning and organizing. When my brain gets a break, it’s amazing what great ideas pop up. If there’s a work emergency, clients and colleagues know to text me. But otherwise, my apps and email stay closed,” she says. No, the world won’t fall apart if you go off the grid for a day. In fact, your clients and colleagues might respect you more.

If you find yourself mindlessly opening Snapchat while you’re standing in line, just stop. Put your phone away, get a drink of water, stretch and focus on your surroundings.

Retrain that habit. “If you find yourself mindlessly opening Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook on your phone while you’re standing in line, eating lunch, or on the train, just stop. Put your phone away or step away from the computer and get a drink of water, stretch, and focus on your surroundings instead,” Blymire suggests. “I like to make up stories in my head about what people around me are up to. Is the woman in line in front of me a novelist? Is that dude over there in the CIA? Will that screaming kid grow up to be president? Being there in the moment, even the boring ones, makes us more connected as humans and as a community. Let your imagination run wild, and have fun with those moments, rather than having your face glued to a screen.” In the end, it could make you more creative.

Sabbaticals aren’t just for professors. Find a way to take extended time away. “It’s so important to give our brains a break from time to time. If you’re like me, you never really take vacation, because the thought of totally unplugging is more stressful than work itself,” Blymire says. (Sound familiar?) But a few years ago, with lots of planning with clients, she took a three-week sabbatical, leaving her political PR life in Washington and tending a garden in California.

“Planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables, where no one cares what color Kylie Jenner’s hair is or what the senator said to the vice president, was the break I needed. Physical labor, being outside all day, and needing my phone just for restaurant emergencies (‘we need more wild arugula!’) was the greatest gift I could’ve given myself. I came back to work and life happy, healthy, and a refreshed outlook on what mattered to me most,” she recalls.

Write it down. “When you take a break from social media, you’ll find some fantastic ideas come rocketing out of your brain when you least expect it. There’s great neuroscience research about the positive effects of making notes with good old pen and paper rather than typing or dictating them. Pick up a couple of Field Notes or Baron Fig notebooks, a nice pen, and have them around for your electronic down time and scribble away when the mood strikes. Who knows? You might come up with the next big idea for your clients or yourself!” she says.