If you’re toying with the idea of quitting social media, there’s a simple question that can help you decide:
Are you a victim of the “any-benefit” mindset?
That’s a term coined by Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and the bestselling author of books including, most recently, “Deep Work.”
On a recent episode of The James Altucher Show, Newport discussed the perils of the any-benefit approach and how it can sabotage your career.
Here’s how he defines the approach in “Deep Work”:
“You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.”
In other words, you think it makes sense to use Facebook because it helps your social life or your career: You can keep in touch with old friends or post links to the articles you write. But Newport says Facebook can also be a huge distraction from writing, or researching, or whatever kind of focused (“deep”) work you’d like to be doing.
When you weigh the benefits against the costs, it probably makes sense to eliminate social media from your life — even though it provides some benefit.
Newport argues instead for the “craftsman’s approach” to tool selection:
“Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.”
For Newport, adopting the craftsman’s approach and eschewing the any-benefit one means he doesn’t do any “audience engagement” when he publishes his books.
Here’s what he told Altucher:
“As an individual author, the general rule of thumb is you’ll convert 1-2% of your audience maybe into book sales. So for someone like me — and I don’t mind talking about numbers — my blog will have maybe 100,000 unique visitors a month and that will translate to 1-2,000 preorder sales of a book, which is nice. …
“But that doesn’t really massively move the needle. So in other words, the mathematics aren’t there for me.
“So if I spend a lot of time fracturing my attention in audience engagement, at the other end it might be 500 sales, it might be 1,000 sales, and that’s not worth it. In other words that’s not enough ROI for fracturing my attention.”
In the book, Newport is clear that he isn’t advocating that everyone immediately quit social media. But if feel like you’re stalling in your career, it’s worth considering whether the tools you consider “helpful” are in fact hampering your ability to use other, potentially more helpful strategies.