Hello. My name is Ashley, and I’m a social media addict.
Don’t get me wrong, I get a lot done, but it makes me sad to think about how many times I have mindlessly clicked onto Facebook just because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Sometimes it feels like more of a reflex than a choice. It seems like such a waste of potential to spend my downtime glued to a screen.
Even if I am visiting with a specific purpose in mind, it’s easy to forget the task at hand when I see my news feed, full of the latest memes, quizzes, and inconsequential events of people I don’t even talk to. Fifteen minutes later, I’m knee-deep in photos, suddenly jarred by the depressing thought that I could tell you what my former coworker’s cat bed looks like in detail. Only after closing the tab do I remember there was a reason I got on in the first place. The cycle begins again.
And when I need to take a short break, I come back to social media — even though it isn’t a break at all. It’s actually draining and pointless for the most part, but I feel the strong pull to know what has happened within my network since I last checked an hour ago. I react like Pavlov’s dog when I hear the ding of a new email, the buzz of a new text message, or the distinguished sound effects of any number of instant messaging platforms. Through the course of a day, I switch between three computer screens, a cell phone, and a television for “relaxation.” I’m the first to admit that I have seemingly forgotten how to unplug and just be.
In the past, the most effective way to release the ties to my gadgets was to simply get away from them — I believe that a vacation from work should also be a vacation from these tempting distractions. But since I can’t always be on holiday, it’s probably far better to integrate a daily approach to preventing media overload. I don’t know about you, but I am so tired of spending my free moments trying to connect online while completely disconnecting myself from my surroundings. I’m not willing to give up the gift of being present in order to achieve some arbitrary status or perception online.
Realistically, I am not willing to completely reject these forms of communication, either. Online tools can help people grow and connect, but only if we are intentional about how we use them. I knew it would take more than mental dedication to pare down my usage, which is why I have taken seven little steps to reduce the amount of time I waste online:
- Turn off all phone notifications from social media apps and email.
If you’re really dedicated, you could delete these apps altogether! However, since I do use them for work and other necessary functions, I have decided to turn off all notifications from these apps. I used to get an odd satisfaction with each notification from Instagram, but it’s really not worth missing a moment of movie night or conversation just to know that someone liked my photo. If you find yourself having a Pavlovian issue of your own, the best way to remedy it is to get rid of the stimulus! My phone buzzes less, so I check it less. It’s as simple as that.
- Turn off mobile data for these apps.
For me, turning the data off for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and a handful of other apps meant that I was less tempted to access them outside my house. With data off, you can only connect when you’re on wifi. When I’m desperately seeking a phone number or address in my Facebook messages, I go back into settings and turn data on, but the rest of the time, my phone gives me a reminder that I can’t access these outlets, which usually isn’t worth it anyway. If you don’t have wifi, you’re probably not at home, and if you’re not at home, there’s probably a better way to utilize the moment than by shoving your face in your screen.
- Remove all easy access points on your browser.
I don’t know why I thought it was a smart idea to put my favorite social media outlets in my bookmarks bar; all it did was serve as a reminder of the lazy way to remedy boredom. I could have gone anywhere on the Internet — or God forbid I step away from the computer — but instead I just clicked a convenient little button and wasted my time. Do yourself a favor and take these links out of your bookmarks, your favorites, your thumbnails or any other easy access point. Take the extra two seconds to make yourself type in the URL and evaluate if that’s really the best use of your time. It’s probably not.
- Improve your access to more gratifying content.
I think of online content like food. For a generation so ingrained in social media, cutting it out completely might feel a lot like going on a fad diet, but for the most part, social media is just junk food. Reminding myself of the good, nourishing content that’s readily available prevents me from even thinking about my guilty pleasures. Find blogs, news outlets or video channels that are relevant to your interests and put those in the forefront. If you’re going to take a break by surfing the web, you’ll feel a lot better for at least increasing your knowledge about something that actually interests you.
- Stop reading your social media news feeds.
If you want to read the news, go to a news site. If you want to know how someone is doing, message them directly. If you have a desire to visit a social media site, do it only to check notifications and contribute meaningful content. News feeds are a strange and slippery slope into your stream of consciousness, which always winds up somewhere weird. This will probably be the most difficult step for me, personally.
- Set up filters.
This is most important in email. I love a good deal and subscribe to almost every newsletter ever, but seeing a bunch of emails about sales, events, and strategies is just too distracting to handle. By setting up filters that automatically move these non-essential emails, I get a clear inbox and organized content. With folders for writing newsletters, social notifications, and shopping sites, it’s a lot easier to find exactly what I want.
- Step away from the computer.
Probably the best and most productive option for not getting on social media is just walking away from the computer all together when possible. In my typical Type A fashion, I keep a list of things to do when I feel bored or need a break. To name a few things, I like to turn on music and have mini dance parties in my living room, meditate or do yoga for five minutes, draw something, or read. When I take my breaks offline, I feel way more refreshed.
They may sound pretty obvious, but simple changes like this are the most likely to be implemented. Together, I’m hoping these easy tactics will help me pull the most productivity out of the time I do spend on my computer. If you have any other advice on using the Internet intentionally, feel free to share in the comments!