by Niall Doherty

I wrote briefly in my last site progress report about quitting Twitter. I’ll expand on my reason for doing so below.

As an experiment, I gave up using Twitter in January. Once February hit I found I wasn’t missing it at all, so I decided not to start using the service again. I wasn’t an especially heavy Twitter user before, but I would check in most days, responding to messages and posting a few updates. I do still promote my blog posts on Twitter, but I no longer monitor my stream or see any messages directed at me.

I mainly wanted to experiment with leaving Twitter because I felt it had become something of a chore, one more information stream that I had to busy myself keeping up with. Between Twitter, Facebook, email and blog comments, I was feeling overwhelmed.

Objectively, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Twitter. And I’d say the same about Facebook, email, and blog comments. I look at all these things as tools. None of them are inherently good or bad. It’s how you use them that matters. You can use Facebook for positive things like staying in touch with friends and family, building your business, and sharing helpful information. Or, you can use Facebook to troll, distract and procrastinate.

It’s good to step back from your tools every so often and do a cost-benefit analysis. Go through them one at a time and ask if each tool empowers or weakens you. Are you using the tool, or is it using you? Are you the master or the slave?

With Twitter, I felt more like a slave than a master. Giving it up for a month confirmed this. The benefits of quitting were greater than the costs. I also experimented with shutting off blog comments for the month of January, but quickly found that there were more cons than pros with that experiment. So I turned them back on.

Again, there’s nothing inherently bad about Twitter or blog comments. It’s your relationship to them that matters. I expect many of you reading this get great value from Twitter, in which case I say carry on using it.

I look at many other things as tools as well. Alcohol for example. I don’t think alcohol is inherently good or bad either, but I gave up drinking almost 2.5 years ago. I gave it up for the same reason I gave up Twitter: On balance, I felt drinking alcohol weakened more than empowered me. I know plenty of folks though who can maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol, and to them I raise a glass of apple juice and say carry on.

Have a look around your own life and identify the tools you use most. How about your car? Does that empower or weaken you? If you’re sitting in traffic for hours a day and spending a hefty sum on insurance or loan repayments, it’s probably the latter. But if it’s not costing you too much and shaves a good chunk of time off your commute, allowing you to spend more time on worthwhile pursuits, then it’s probably the former.

Other tools you may want to consider…

  • Exercise
  • Fast food
  • The Internet
  • Your job
  • Meditation
  • Your phone
  • Television
  • Video games
  • Your wardrobe
  • Writing

You may consider the above and realize you do indeed have an unhealthy relationship with some, but you can’t imagine giving them up (or taking them on). Nobody says you have to quit though. You can just work on it and try maintain a better, healthier balance. Think of each tool on a cost-benefit spectrum. Most will be further to one side than the other. You want to keep using the tools closest to the benefit end of the spectrum. The rest, you either want to abandon or shift towards that same end.

Let’s take video games as an example here and see how a cost-benefit analysis might unfold.

Benefits of playing video games:

  • Build relationships if playing regularly with friends and family.
  • Many games improve problem-solving and strategic thinking capabilities.
  • Improve hand-eye coordination.
  • Multiplayer games teach teamwork.
  • Relaxation.

Costs of playing video games:

  • Time spent playing.
  • Money spent on games and consoles.
  • Health costs from sitting and playing for hours at a time.
  • Desensitization to violence from certain video games.
  • Possibility of becoming addicted.

Those are just some cost/benefit examples I came up with off the top of my head, don’t get too hung up on the specifics. The point is that you should create a similar list for whatever tool you’re analyzing. Then decide if the benefits outweigh the costs or vice versa. Quitting (or taking on) something temporarily is also a good way to gauge if it’s beneficial or not. Try it for 30 days and see what happens.

I was actually big into video games myself several years ago and ended up cutting them out completely because I realized that, for me at least, the costs far outweighed the benefits. Someone else might have decided to simply cut back and allow themselves only a couple of evenings of gaming each week. Only you will know what’s best for you.

In the comments: Tell me about two tools you use regularly; one that empowers you, and one that weakens you.