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How to Live a (Nearly) Ad-Free Existence

Using apps to enable greater productivity and choosing to pay for selected, high-quality media, we can reduce stress and anxiety and possibly even save money in the longer-term.

Key points

  • Free media relies on advertising revenue and this drives click-bait and emotive content that can in turn drive your anxiety, stress, and even depression
  • By paying for quality content we can reduce stress, time spent on devices, and possibly even reduce how much money we spend over time
  • We can’t avoid advertising entirely (and we wouldn’t want to) but we can use apps and some paid services to give us back time and reduce stress
  • Daily habits and social and media hygiene strategies can also help us to get the most out of media, with fewer negative effects

Part 3. of ‘The Problem with Free Media’ Series

I have made a commitment to an ad-free existence wherever possible, and to an extremely minimalistic use of social media. The flipside of this is that I need to pay for more things in order to not be exposed to ads. However, the benefits of this to me are already evident.

Benefits of paying for content

  • I am calmer and more relaxed
  • Lessened desire to spend on unnecessary things
  • It’s easier to find quality media
  • There are fewer barriers to accessing and consuming quality media (fewer clicks, fewer popups etc.)

How do I achieve this?

As I mentioned earlier, there is no way around paying if you want to truly free yourself from unwanted distractions but you might find that in the long run, you end up spending less money and you will almost certainly spend a heck of a lot less time. Sure, you might be able to find workarounds to allow you to access premium, ad-free, and click-bait-free media, but rest assured, you’ll still pay with your time and energy.

By using paid services, you might find that in the long run, you end up spending less money…

We use the following paid services to limit exposure to click-bait and advertising. (Yes, I understand that ads can still be inherent in some of these, but we have practicably eliminated the vast majority and what we see as being the worst forms of advertising.)

Tools

Streaming

Music

Reading

Note: I use Inkl in preference to other news apps as it provides a click-bait and ad-free news experience that offers access to premium newspapers without any paywalls, popups, or anxiety-driving comments threads.

Audiobooks

Browsing

Note: Newsfeed eradicator eliminates the newsfeed in Facebook so that when I access the platform from my PC, I am only able to see my pages, groups, and notifications and this eliminates the ability to scroll the feed.

Brave Browser blocks popups and ads and instead provides optional advertisements (non-targeted) that can earn you cryptocurrency.

Actions (now)

In addition to these tools, I employ strategies that help me to be more effective, while reducing redundant time and minimising stress.

Here’s what I do, and what I recommend:

  1. Remove all social media from your phone
  2. Use newsfeed eradicator (above)
  3. Use apps to limit time on your phone
  4. Use apps to block problematic sites or apps

Habits (daily)

  • Choose 3 daily tasks (always have at least one important, non-urgent task)
  • Do the most important task first (before email)
  • ‘Block time’ for news, and block aside time for communication
  • Take regular breaks through the day
  • Get outside and go for a walk (in nature if possible) every day
  • Consider additional mindfulness practice
  • Integrate exercise as able
  • Eat well
  • Get ~8 hours of good quality sleep per night

Choose 3 daily tasks, and do the most important thing first

We are often overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things we have to ‘get done’.

A to-do list is essential (in my opinion) to organise your thoughts and to be reminded of the various tasks that you need to do. But having one, loooooong to-do list with seemingly endless tasks is a sure-fire way to stress yourself out, big time. The act of opening up your diary or tasks app and seeing an endless scroll is disheartening in the extreme, ‘how on earth am I going to get all of this done!’.

One, loooooong to-do list with seemingly endless tasks is a sure-fire way to stress yourself out, big time

That’s why we need to break down our to-do list and have a priority task list (I call this my ‘mission-critical’ list) that we can look at each day. By choosing a limited amount of tasks (I suggest 3, and no more than 5) for any given day, we a) reduce stress because we know that we can achieve a significant amount and work towards our goals while feeling a sense of completion and accomplishment, and b) become better at prioritising the tasks that actually matter. The reality is that we often look at our task list and start to chip away at it, either in the order it arises (not effective) or we can fall into the trap of only doing the urgent things or those that are easy to do in-the-moment. By prioritising our tasks, we can instead choose tasks that are most effectively going to lead towards our goals.

I suggest choosing no more than 5 priority tasks to accomplish on any given day

As mentioned, I suggest choosing no more than 5 tasks to accomplish on any given day. These should be set at the end of your previous working day so that you can start fresh the next morning. Perhaps most importantly, you should choose an important but not urgent task that forms part of a larger passion project as the first task on your list. This could be writing a chapter towards a book, planning a new and exciting business, or anything else that drives your sense of passion and purpose. That way, you will get done what ‘needs’ to be done, AND you will move consistently towards goals that are important for you to live your best life.

[For more on this see The Credo]

Block aside time for tasks and communication, and take breaks

Constantly going in and out of email or social media to check messages and notifications is a waste of time. Every time you stop doing something to switch to something else, there is a time ‘lag’ in which you need to stop the processing of what you were doing and refocus on what you will be doing. This is unavoidable but doing it too much means that there are greater lag periods and more ineffective time. This process can also result in significant amounts of stress. On the other hand, setting aside time to complete a task or for communication, whether by email or on social media (known as ‘batching’) allows you to focus completely on that task without interruption.

Setting aside time to complete a task or for communication, allows you to focus completely on that task without interruption

Research has shown that people who intentionally check email and ‘batch’ the time spent on it, rather than reactively checking it as a result of notifications are more productive, and the lesser time spent on email resulted in lower stress levels.1 There is also research to suggest that rapidly switching between tasks (like email to work to social etc) results in a greater likelihood of errors, and results in increased stress levels (especially related to email interruptions).2

People who ‘batch’ time for emails are more productive, and the lesser time spent on email results in reduced stress levels

This ‘batching’ of time also goes hand in hand with taking breaks. Taking regular, consistent breaks throughout your day helps you to refresh your mind and body, improve your posture, and refocus most effectively on tasks. The ‘Pomodoro Method’ of working for 25 mins with a short 5 min break has become very popular, and research using a popular time-tracking app has suggested that the average optimum work-break ratio is ~52 minutes of work followed by a 17 min break.[1]

I typically set a timer for 55 min and work on one task within that time, after which I get up, move around, grab a glass of water and often even do some light exercise (like chin-ups, pushups, or squats) or a little yoga to refresh the mind and body before focussing on another ‘block’ of productive time.

It should also be mentioned that many people work too much! This is compounded by the fact that much of this work can be unproductive. An optimum number of work hours is actually likely to be closer to < 35 hours a week, rather than the common 40-50 hours+  per week, and when we are more effective with our time, we can get just as much, if not more, done within shortened work hours.

The optimum number of work hours is likely to be closer to < 35 hours a week, rather than the common 40-50 hours+

Eat, move, and BE well

I was asked on the Sigma Nutrition podcast with Danny Lennon what my #1 tip for health is. The answer surprised a lot of people. It was to get out in nature for a walk every single day. The reason I chose this was that it encompasses key aspects that are essential to optimal health, namely, mindfulness, activity, gentle movement, and connection with nature (/disconnection from screens and media). In addition to this key daily practice, we should also strive to get additional exercise including at least 2 hours of higher intensity and resistance training, eat a diet based on natural, unprocessed foods, and get 7+ hours of high-quality sleep per night.

Get out in nature for a walk every single day

[Check out my SITE and BOOKS for more info on how to live your healthiest life]

What about my business?

In thinking about and creating a day-to-day experience that reduced exposure to ads and annoyances like popups other sales devices, I began to think that if everyone did what I do, it would negatively affect my business!

This provided an enormous conundrum. I could simply do what I do personally and reap the benefits for my health and wellness (and keep quiet about it) or tell people about it and still continue to use sales techniques in our businesses and on our sites that are contra to this ethos…

OR, I could embark on a process of eliminating distractions and annoyances from our business wherever possible, while still trying to allow fully opted-in access to specials and deals at Nutrition Store Online (without any ‘hard sells’) and offer quality content for nutrition and health education at The Holistic Performance Institute and both complimentary and paid content at my site www.cliffharvey.com One thing I will say is that we will never try to ‘trick’ you into purchasing anything from us, and on this site, I’m completely straight up about the fact that this is what I do and if you dig it, I’d love for you to subscribe to my monthly research review and member-only content

Is it ironic that this article has ended up linking out to some of my businesses? Maybe, but I hope that you took some valuable insights from it and more importantly, some valuable tips on how to live more stress-free, because that is the value of content, and that is how we pay for it. With money (obviously) but also with our time, our attention, and our energy. The question we should all be asking is, ‘was it a fair trade’?

The question we should all be asking is, ‘was it a fair trade’?

Did you miss Part 1. of this series The Effects of Social Media on Health? Check it out HERE

Part 2. The Problem with Free Media is HERE

References

1.            Mark G, Iqbal ST, Czerwinski M, Johns P, Sano A, Lutchyn Y. Email Duration, Batching and Self-interruption: Patterns of Email Use on Productivity and Stress.  Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems; San Jose, California, USA: Association for Computing Machinery; 2016. p. 1717–28.

2.            Brumby DP, Janssen CP, Mark G. How Do Interruptions Affect Productivity? In: Sadowski C, Zimmermann T, editors. Rethinking Productivity in Software Engineering. Berkeley, CA: Apress; 2019. p. 85-107.


[1] https://www.fastcompany.com/3035605/the-exact-amount-of-time-you-should-work-every-day

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