If social media is killing your productivity or making you depressed, it can be life-changing to cut back. Here's how.
Conventional wisdom says that Max Soni should be all over social media. He's the founder of DotComSEO, a digital marketing and search engine optimization company that, among other things, tells clients how to use social media. So it stands to reason that Soni should have a robust following on many platforms.
But that’s not the case. Roughly 18 months ago, he logged off. He may log on to one of his profiles to check out a new platform feature when it’s rolled out, but otherwise, he’s not liking, tweeting, posting, or even peeking at social media.
"I found it was really polarizing," Soni says. "The anonymity social media affords you makes it so people are more inclined to say drastic things." He found that the negativity was affecting him—some of the things strangers said would even stick in his head, he says—so he decided he was done. And the result has been remarkable, he says. In addition to feeling more positive overall, he says that thoughts previously taken up by something he read online were released. It gave him additional time and headspace to devote to new ideas and ventures.
"It's widely accepted that in creative fields, social media followers are the key to getting your work noticed," says Cal Newport, associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, and author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. "This is overblown. Good work gets noticed, even if you didn't send a tweet about it; bad work is ignored, even if you sent thousands. I can't tell you how many different artists and writers, for example, have written me to talk about how leaving social media had zero impact on their sales and huge impact on their well-being," Newport says.
That pretty much describes actor Brian Colonna, artistic director and owner of the Buntport Theater Company. Colonna cops to having a social media account for the theater company, but it’s mainly just to push out information about shows. He doesn’t use social media to promote himself as an actor, read status updates, or read news. The downside to disconnecting, he says, is that he’s not privy to the events and parties that are planned online. However, he says it forces him to maintain regular contact with his friends and relatives, versus the casual digital connections that pass for relationships on social media, he says. Those people keep him informed of what he needs to know, he says.
Not ready to go cold turkey? Even disconnecting for a short time has benefits. "Being away for a month allows the brain time to create new neural pathways, which means new behaviors and routines begin to replace old ones," says Sanam Hafeez, a faculty member at Columbia University, in a Fast Companypost. "So if you typically reached for your phone when you woke up to check Facebook, after 30 days, you would have adopted a new ritual, which is the new normal."
In a world where part of your value is the number of followers, likes, and other engagement you have on social media, it’s tough to imagine how you can live without it. However, streams of fake news, argumentative posters, and photos of OPM (other people’s meals), social media sites can range from being a huge time-suck to having ill effects on your mental health. Newport argues that, for most people, there are better ways to spend your time. If you’re feeling like social media is taking up too much time or energy—or if you just want to quit—try these steps.
Take the apps off your phone.
"These apps are highly engineered to be addictive, and your phone keeps them readily available at all points," Newport says. If you simply remove them from your phone, you can still access the platform on your laptop or desktop, but you’re not carrying around the constant temptation to check in.
"I've noticed, however, that when many people try this experiment, they discover that they almost never login to these services on their computer. The fact that it wasn't immediately available was enough to prevent them from bothering—a strong sign that these services are often more an addictive crutch than we admit," he says.
Set ground rules.
If you are in a business that requires you to use social media, set boundaries based on those needs, says time management and efficiency consultant Helene Segura, author of The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Harder. Set aside a specific time of day and time limit to handle your social media tasks, then log off. Once you experiment with the best time of day and the best amount of time to spend, you may be motivated to cut back in other areas.
"If you're finding that you can still produce the same amount of revenue and business by only spending an hour a day on social media versus six hours a day, then you can use that as motivation to realize, well, where else can I be using my time?" she says.
Colonna says he has friends who have "no social media" at home so they’re not distracted from spending time together.
Find work-arounds, if you must.
Sometimes your work role requires you to be on social media from time to time. But you can find solutions that don’t plunge you down the rabbit hole. Colonna strictly limits his time on social media to theater company business. While he removed the social media platform app, Soni keeps Facebook’s Messenger app on his phone so he can text everyone with whom he’s connected on the platform, making it easy to connect.
You might have to wean yourself off of social media in increments. First, cut back to checking at certain times of day, then scale back those times until you’ve kicked your habit, Segura suggests. Tell others about the transition and the best ways to get in touch with you. And, if you have trouble staying off, use reinforcements like Freedom or Anti-Social.