I thought I would share some tips on how to cut down the amount of time spent on social media, and why you might want to do so. I’ve based these points partly on observations of myself and others, and also some articles I have read in the past.
Curbing Social Media
There are many reasons to use social media. It could be to
- keep in touch with friends and family that would otherwise be hard to contact
- get news (assuming you haven’t forgotten how to think critically when browsing the web)
- consume content like video series and webcomics.
- see what celebrities are up to and keep up with gossip.
Keeping in Touch
One of the main reasons you may have started to use social media was to “keep in touch” with people. This is definitely a good reason, but these days there is an increase in the availability of services and apps specifically designed for person-to-person communication.
If you’re finding that you spend too much time with full-blown social media networks, you could consider cutting your use down to just a chatting function, or trying out a dedicated chat app instead. And don’t forget that the old fashioned phone, SMS and email systems still exist.
You might not realise you are addicted to social media. There’s a very easy test for this. The old “If you’re not addicted, then why don’t you just stop using it?”. The answer may well be “I could stop any time, but I don’t want to”. Uh-huh.
Try just uninstalling a social media app from your phone. You can always re-install it later, anyway. It only takes a second to do this, but you’ll very quickly become aware of if you are addicted to it. You might find yourself fidgeting with your phone for no reason, unlocking it only to realise there’s no app to open. This may well indicate you are addicted or at least forming a habit, to the point you’ve built up muscle memory to use social media. I would suggest if you find yourself in this position to take steps to decrease your usage, to combat possible addiction.
Or, after uninstalling social media apps you might well never touch our phone during the day. In which case, do you even need to reinstall the app later?
Further to the idea of addiction, think about why you want to use it so much. Companies spend a lot of money developing algorithms designed to show you just the right amount of a type of content to keep you coming back, so they can show you just the right kinds of advert to click or tap on.
You could read up on such topics as dark patterns in user interfaces to see how these companies trick you into keep using their services.
You can then ask yourself if you actually trust these companies and if you are happy to keep using them. You might feel a bit creeped out, in which case, there’s an easy fix: just don’t go back to them.
Organising and Pruning
If you would find it too difficult to stop using something entirely, try an alternative approach: Structure your consumption.
You could make custom lists or feeds when browsing Reddit organised by the type of subreddit. On Facebook, you could curate feeds by the content a page posts or the relationship you have with someone. For Twitter, you could make similar lists, and browse them on Tweetdeck.
By making such organised your social media use in this way, you could more easily see what kind of content you come to a particular service to get. You could then more easily make decisions on what you want to cut down. Even if you didn’t want to cut it down entirely, you might find that certain lists could just be viewed once a day (like a feed of webcomics or news stories), freeing up your time in the rest of the day.
Another way to convince yourself to cut down use would be to assign an imaginary monetary value to everything. If you were paying a particular page for a users posts, or a YouTuber for their videos, would you find it worth your money? If yes, then you probably do engage and enjoy their content. If no, then would you be any the worse to just cut it out?
Saving it up for Later
Take a moment to consider the frequency and substance of what people you follow post. Is it just small snippets, images, videos that this page posts frequently? In that case, try unfollowing them, but making a bookmark in your browser. Then, make a designated time every couple of weeks to just binge on this content all at once.
I suggest this because that will help clean out your feed to stuff that you find useful and important, and also that you might actually enjoy the content more if you consume a lot of it at once – many people take the binge route to consuming content these days, and if you set aside a specific time for this, you can concentrate more during the rest of your day (or even week).
For the kind of content which you might briefly come across one time, and find amusing, I would caution against immediately following a particular social media user. If you do so, you end up just cluttering your feed. I would suggest only following a user on social media if you find yourself frequently returning to see their posts.
If you still wanted to keep tabs on something you found, you could always bookmark the page for another time without further diluting your social media feeds. This would also keep the novelty of the content you found fresh.
Imagine you’re watching a TV show, or a film. You subconsciously pick up your phone to look at social media. Why would you do this when you’re watching a film?
Doing so will only split your concentration between what you’re watching and your device. Focus on the TV show, you will enjoy it more. The stuff happening on twitter or Facebook isn’t going to disappear by the time your program finishes.
You might also realise that you’re not really enjoying the TV show, and you went to look at social media out of boredom. If so, just stop watching the TV show and find something else. There’s no point in just sitting through something you don’t like and passing the time on social media, find something you will really enjoy.
… and at Work
The idea of concentrating on a task also applies at work. Unless you’re a social media manager for your business, you probably shouldn’t be spending your time browsing social media. Ever.
- Not on break (you should take a moment to go for a stroll, sit away from your desk to have lunch, actually relax).
- Not at your desk (You should concentrate on the job at hand).
- Not even during your commute (Prepare yourself for the work day ahead, or have a little detox and relax after a hard days work).
When I focus during a workday like this, I feel much better about my day, you probably will too.
If you find it hard to concentrate with social media, and don’t want to give it up, consider turning off notifications.
- Either in-app (Do you really need to know every time someone liked a tweet?)
- or Push notifications that pop up on your devices (Do you need to responds to a message right away, or can it wait until you check your inbox?).
Even if an app won’t let you turn notifications off, most mobile operating systems let you do that anyway. By turning off notifications you can cut out a big temptation to visit social media sites or apps.
You should also take a moment to consider if you actually need to use social media. It may certainly feel like you need to see what all of your hundreds of Facebook friends are doing, that you will be worse off if you don’t keep up with the hundreds of twitter accounts you follow or YouTube series that you watch.
But ask yourself if any of that is vital to you going about your day. If the answer is no, you could consider just cutting a particular network off completely.
Keeping up to date and Being First
One final point is about the feeling that you need to keep up to date with things, and need to know about them right as they happen. This could be anything from social media gossip or even the news.
- Do you really need to know the gossip developments right as they break, versus finding out about them a couple of hours or days later (especially considering the might not even be true)?
- Will your life be that much worse off if you learn about a news story by someone telling you instead of you being told by an app with an obnoxious notification sound?
- Forget delaying it until a designated time: What if you just never found out about a piece of gossip or news story. Would that put you in a measurably worse position?
Think about if you really need to be connected, and that you need to be the first person to find something out, so you can smugly share it to everyone else as the bearer of news. Well, unless it’s your job, you’re never the first person on the internet to share something. And what if this is all just a feeling the engineers of these services and apps have instilled in you so you feel the need to keep using them?
In the past people could go whole days without getting their gossip, may have only got the news in the morning and evenings. We somehow managed to get by just fine in the past, so ask yourself if having a constant connection to social media to keep constantly up to date is actually helping you in your life.
I have seen many people who get too distracted by social media. I’ve seen others place far too much importance on what it offers. If everyone took a moment to just slow down and cut out a little bit of social media usage, I think that would go a long way to making people a bit happier.
It doesn’t take long for you to give it a go, why not try right now?