Out of sight, out of mind. You’re probably familiar with this saying, largely because it tends to ring true. It’s easy to not worry about things that we don’t (or can’t) see. Ignorance is bliss, right? While this may be true sometimes, ‘less is more’ doesn’t usually apply when it comes to knowledge. Especially about yourself. The more we can understand about ourselves and our habits, the more power and possibility we have to shape ourselves into the people we want to be, not just the people we’ve become as a product of our mind and environment.
I got to a point where it became obvious that I was giving too much time to my news feeds. Whenever I had a spare moment I would find myself on social media. If I was out in public, say sitting down having a cup of coffee, I felt awkward if I wasn’t looking at my phone. If I was doing work on my computer, as soon as I got bored or distracted I’d be back scrolling a news feed. It became such a habit that I’d have my phone out and open before I even realized what I was doing. I deleted apps from my phone in an effort to reduce this habit, but it was futile, and a week later I had them downloaded again and nothing had changed.
The fact is, I was hooked on social media, and the more I used it, the more I wanted to keep using it.
It isn’t like other things people become addicted to, mostly because of how popular and socially acceptable it is to be constantly online and connected. Perhaps the next most widespread and popular addiction is smoking cigarettes, which has proven to be absolutely detrimental to our health. It didn’t exactly happen overnight that people realized just how bad it could be, considering that there was a time smoking was actually endorsed by doctors as healthy. In this age of connectivity, our attention has become one of the most valuable commodities, and time will tell just how much damage is being done to our minds and our society. Imagine how people would react if all our phones suddenly stopped working? The truth is, what’s popular isn’t always what’s best.
I was inspired by one of my professors at university to try using the RescueTime app to help understand where my time was going. RescueTime is a tool that allows individuals and businesses to understand exactly how they spend time on their computer and mobile devices. Essentially, it measures what is “in focus” (or “on top”) on your computer screen and how long it’s there, and allows you to do analytics on that data. According to an article by author and RescueTime founder Tony Wright titled Information Overload: Show Me the Data!, through categorizing the top 125 or so apps it was found the average screen time among users is divided like so:
Social Networking – 5% (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter)
Design and Composition – 34% (MS Office-style apps, design apps, database apps)
Reference and Learning – 14% (News, blogs, video, audio)
Entertainment – 4% (games, shopping)
Communication and Scheduling – 38% (instant messaging, email)
After a few months of receiving updates showing me where my time online had been spent each week, I took the data over three months and created the infographic at the beginning of this post to give me a better picture of my habits. Upon seeing this, it became very clear that something needed to change.
It’s not hard to see that the time I spent on social networking dwarfed the time I spent doing anything else. And considering that scrolling news feeds is usually one of the less productive things I feel I could be doing, I knew that if I kept this up, the results would certainly be less than desirable.
Since then, here are five things I’ve been doing to help cut down my time on social media as much as possible:
1. Stop getting notifications
Simply put, the more notifications you get, the more likely you are to look at them. I try to turn off notifications for anything other than alarms, messages, and phone calls.
2. Stop looking when you see something stupid
One trick I’ve found helpful in cutting out social media is to close the app or website when I see a post and think it looks stupid or is something I’ve seen multiple times. It reminds me how often the material is absolutely uninteresting, and almost guarantees I won’t be looking at my news feed longer than five minutes.
3. Make it less convenient to access
Moving apps off your phone’s main page or deleting websites from your favourites can make that bit of extra work all you need sometimes to not bother.
4. Reduce who/what you follow
Social networking sites are pretty good these days at refreshing news feeds so you can constantly see new material. Be stringent with what shows up on your feed, remove those who continually post things you don’t care to see.
5. Don’t use it without a reason
Often enough, we have a good reason to use social networking, like getting in touch with someone, sharing something important, or checking a birthday, to name a few. If you find though that you’re mindlessly scrolling or repeatedly returning to check for notifications, chances are you’re wasting your time.
These things being effective will largely depend on your discipline and drive to stop losing valuable time. But, if you keep these tricks in mind and start paying more attention to how you’re spending your time online, you will definitely find yourself making changes, and it can be very liberating.