Cal Newport is a busy man: He's an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, the author of several successful books and also runs a widely-read blog.

But you won't find Newport tweeting about his work or sharing it on Facebook.

Why not?

Because he believes it's a waste of time. More specifically, he argues social media reduces anyone's ability to produce something of value.

"The ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it's engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it's designed to be used--persistently throughout your waking hours--the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won't tolerate such a long period without a fix. Indeed, part of my own rejection of social media comes from this fear that these services will diminish my ability to concentrate -- the skill on which I make my living.

The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you're serious about creating things that matter."

Newport acknowledges that this claim runs counter to our current understanding of social media's role in the professional world. Many say maintaining your brand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is vital to gaining access to opportunities you might otherwise miss and helps you build the diverse contact network you need to get ahead.

But Newport argues this behavior is misguided. "Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable," he writes. "Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business."

What should you do instead?

Newport quotes Steve Martin, who often advised aspiring entertainers: "Be so good they can't ignore you."

"The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about, writes Newport. "If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following."

My Experience

There's a lot of truth to Newport's opinion.

As one who's active on Twitter and LinkedIn, I've found certain benefits--but those benefits are often outweighed by the negative. I've also seen firsthand the power of social media--but not from my own accounts. The more I'm focused on producing something of value--which I attempt through my writing--the more others share my work...and the more opportunities come to me.

Some argue that you need to take control of your brand, lest others do it for you. But that's not true: The best brands are those we find to be authentic and transparent, not some type of fabricated image. If you focus on creating value, your message will spread.

And people will always come back to the source.

As a caveat to this advice, I've cultivated a number of mutually beneficial relationships that began on social media. For that reason, I don't plan on quitting outright.

However, Newport's essay has inspired me to reevaluate how I use social media--and to make sure I'm maximizing the use of my time.

Because when it comes to doing great work, every second counts.

Published on: Nov 21, 2016
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