Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’ll just check my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter feed really quick,” only to emerge bleary-eyed an hour later? As the recent Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma points out, your intentions in posting, commenting, or re-tweeting are good, but the platforms aren’t designed for moderation. Their end game is to get you engaged as often and for as long as possible, so that they can make more advertising revenue.
As a result, the average person who’s on two or more social networks now spends an hour and 53 minutes a day on them. Multiply that by over three billion users, and that’s a heck of a lot of time being directed at little glowing screens. Here are a few ways to regain control of your social media usage so you can redirect most of that time to your family, work, and hobbies (and no, watching grannies recreating Fortnite dance moves on TikTok isn’t a hobby!).
1) Try No-Screen Saturday or Sunday
For most people, going from almost two hours a day on social media to cold turkey isn’t realistic or even desirable. As a small step in the right direction, try picking one day a week to stay off the socials. Saturday or Sunday might be the ideal choice for such a tech fast, as you can easily fill the gap with grocery shopping, chores, and weekend getaways with your family or friends.
Once you’ve got a few successful attempts under your belt, you could try expanding the experiment to include all screens. Chances are that the fretful, anxious feeling you initially get without checking your feeds every few minutes will start to dissipate, and you’ll welcome the break from your previously obligatory daily posting. If you find yourself enjoying the change, extend your hiatus from all the online hullabaloo to an entire weekend.
2) Do Device-Free Dinners
One of the most memorable yet criminally underrated ad campaigns in recent memory is Common Sense Media’s #DeviceFreeDinner series. OK, virtually any commercial that features Will Ferrell is bound to be hilarious, but seeing him as a tech addict who sabotages his fake family’s evening meals with a combination of endless likes, cracking up at cat filters, and generally ignoring everyone is both funny and convicting at the same time.
So that your own crew doesn’t end up lamenting “I miss Daddy” (or Mommy) like Ferrell’s – or, if you don’t have kids, that your table of friends isn’t the one where there’s more screen-staring than actual conversation – do what the hashtag says and ban all phones from mealtimes. Sure, your son or daughter will likely protest that they “just have to” check their feed or send a text, but you need to lead by example and refuse to give into such fake urgency. Put the devices away, turn them off, and get back to enjoying real face time (not Facebook).
3) Embrace Digital Minimalism
In a previous post, we shared some of Cal Newport’s tips for increasing focus and finding flow from his book Deep Work. In the follow up, Digital Minimalism, he furthers his mission of creating a richer, distraction-free life by taking aim at social media overuse. “You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room, or among the Ping-Pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator, to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we’ve painstakingly adapted over millennia,” Newport writes in one particularly hard-hitting passage. “Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis.”
Newport proposes a two-part solution. First, try a 30-day digital detox in which you stay away from your socials entirely. Then, having reset your baseline, either stay off or, as the book title suggests, restart with the minimum amount of time needed to promote your business, connect with your friends, and so on. Most likely, you’ll end up doing far less on your social feeds and so have much more capacity to make your mark on the things and people that really matter in your life.
4) Set Up Some Guard Rails
The trouble with the preceding three tips is that although you might attempt to implement them with the best of intentions, few of us have the iron will of a superhero or Special Forces soldier. Sure, you might genuinely try your best to cut back on your social media use, but its addictive nature and self-control slipups may well conspire to suck you back into excessive scrolling.
To help bridge the gap between your desire to cut back and actually doing so, you could give yourself an electronic fix. No, not a wristband that gives you an electric shock every time you give into temptation, but one of the growing number of apps that helps you accurately assess your tech use and then do something about it. Freedom allows you to synch blocking social sites across all of your devices when you need to get things done. Moment gives you greater insight into your actual screen time (which, a study by UK researchers shows, most of us underestimate by up to 50 percent) and then provides handy ways to cut back. RescueTime lives up to its name by enabling you to shut off access to your social feeds once you’ve hit your daily limit or, when the need arises, to block them completely.
Let’s be honest, social media isn’t going anywhere and its algorithms are only to become more sophisticated in their ability to get and hold our attention. Hopefully these tools and techniques will leave you better prepared to protect your time, redirect your attention, and reassert your autonomy.