“Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” ~Theophrastus
We’ve all been there.
We're supposed to write a paper, send an email, do our job!
We have deadlines, places to see, people to meet, and yet we find ourselves (for the umpteenth time) perusing our Facebook timeline, scrolling our Instagram feed, or catching up on Twitter updates.
Whether it’s YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, we are all experts at self-distraction, and we wonder where all that time goes!
It’s actually getting a bit scary. Social media addiction is a real thing, and research from the University of Maryland shows that approximately four out of five students experience negative side effects when disconnecting from technology for a day.
More research has shown that too much social media and smartphone use is affecting our happiness, stunting development in children, and decreasing academic potential in students.
Social media rehab programs are available now, but like everything I believe we can avoid going to rehab by implementing some simple but necessary practices into our daily lives. Let’s be proactive about curbing our social media use.
Now, before you get all self-righteous, let me just stop you. I love social media like it’s my job. In fact, it is!
I am a social media manager and spend much of the day creating content and engaging communities on social platforms. Not to mention spending my free time maintaining my personal social profiles and interacting with friends online.
Not so long ago, I was not practicing any of the “rules” below, I was constantly online, and my sleep, stress levels, and relationships were the worse for it.
I had to learn to be disciplined and use the tools available to stay focused and do the work without getting sucked into the proverbial black hole.
7 Social Media Rules
1. No laptops or cellphones in the bedroom.
There was a time when I charged my phone beside my bed every night. Checking Facebook or Twitter became the first and last thing I did every day. I did not want to miss that important news tidbit or mention.
But here’s the thing! It’s really bad for you. The technology itself, the light given off by our screens to be precise, prevents our brains from releasing melatonin, a hormone that tells our bodies it’s nighttime.
A recent study published last year in the Science Translational Medicine journal found that the amount of caffeine you’d get in a double espresso has a smaller effect on your sleep schedule then the light off of our smartphones and laptops. So while you may not be drinking coffee in the evenings anymore, it turns out your sleep is way worse off because you are using your smartphone in the evenings.
This means it takes us longer to fall asleep, but science is also showing us that it has more and more negative, and even dangerous long-term effects—not getting enough sleep or only getting poor quality sleep has been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and an increased risk of certain cancers.
And guess what, checking Twitter that one last time is not going to change your life or even your next day one little bit!
Practical Tip: Buy an alarm clock! You do not need to use your smartphone to wake you up every morning.
2. Create a morning ritual.
I don’t really care what it looks like, as long as you need to finish it before you get online every morning.
If you’re really ambitious you might try to “sign on” after you have eaten breakfast, but I know that is unrealistic for a lot of us.
Other ideas could include: meditation, (or if you are religious, a daily devotional), a work out, or walking your dog.
Knowing that you cannot access your smartphone or laptop first thing will free your brain up for other things and is a much better start to your day.
Practical Tip: This practice of creating a ritual can be used at any time throughout the day. For example, you might decide you want to read a book for thirty minutes a day during your lunch break. Leave your smartphone at your desk when you go for lunch.
Whatever ritual you decide on, make sure you commit to yourself that these “me” moments are smartphone-free.
3. Social time means NO social media.
This works if you have a significant other, a roommate, or live at home. If you live alone this is more difficult, but there are still practical applications.
My wife and I have a rule: When we are spending time together, whether that is on the couch reading, at the table eating, or in front of the TV, our phones and computers are not allowed. This can be applied when you meet friends for a drink or to watch sports.
Practical Tip: You might want to keep your chargers in a room that you aren’t often in, that way when your smartphone needs a charge it has to leave the room. You would be surprised what happens, out of sight, out of mind!
4. Get a watch.
This one is dead simple! I actually have to thank my wonderful wife for this particular tip. For her birthday this year she asked for a watch; that way she could stop needing to use her phone to check the time.
Not only is a watch a stylish, fashion accessory that not many people use anymore, but it actually works to reduce smartphone (and social media) use. So many of us use our smartphones as our alarm clock (direct violation of rule 1), we check it to make sure we catch the bus on time or to count down the minutes in our class.
Just because our smartphones have the ability to do something doesn’t mean we should rely on them for it.
Practical Tip: Reduce your reliance on your smartphone for things you need (like knowing the time) and you will check social media less.
5. Take tech breaks.
Use a stopwatch during the day. After you have checked your social profiles and have caught up on emails, set it for fifteen minutes and then turn your phone off.
This is what Dr. Larry D. Rosen of California State University suggest continuing this until we don’t feel the need to constantly check in. Dr. Rosen is a Professor of Psychology, author of iDisorder, and one of the world’s experts in the “Psychology of Technology.”
“Increase your tech break by five minutes every week or so, and soon you will be able to not check in for an hour or more without getting anxious about what you may have missed,” Rosen advises. “It also trains your friends, family and colleagues to not expect that immediate Pavlovian response!”
6. Turn off notifications.
Social notifications are the enemy of everything this post is trying to achieve. If your smartphone pings, vibrates, lights up, or does a dance every time you get a new follower or “like,” then it is distracting you from whatever you may be doing at the time, whether you check it or not!
In the last sixteen years, the average attention span of humans has dropped from twelve to eight seconds. We now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. The age of social media and smartphones has resulted in hyperactive attention spans that can’t rival our pets!
Practical Tip: Turn off Facebook and Twitter notifications on your laptop and smartphone. I guarantee you that you’ll still check your profiles often enough that you do not have to worry about giving your followers timely responses, and this way you can stay focused and in the moment.
7. You can’t do it alone.
It is not weakness to fail; after all, the science shows that social media is addictive. So don’t rely solely you’re your own will power to accomplish the above.
There are multiple apps now which block social media sites, apps and other time-wasting online activity of your choosing. For Apple users you can even block websites on iPads or iPhones via Settings à General à Restrictions and then pick which apps or websites you would like to block.
Other softwares that can help us battle our need for social media “hits” include:
- SelfControl (Mac users)
- Cold Turkey (PC users)
- Stay Focused (Chrome users) – my personal favorite
Unfortunately, this is only relevant to Google Chrome users, but this app has been a game changer for me and my fight to stay productive.
Basically it allows you to limit the daily time you spend on any website. I allow ten minutes daily on Facebook. You would be astonished at how long ten minutes on a social media platform actually is.
At the beginning, I ran out of time before lunch, which freed my mind and time up for more productive and often more important things. Now, I never even reach my ten-minute limit. I have realized how little I need to check Facebook on a daily basis.
The great thing about this app is that you can dictate how long your daily limit is, which particular sites that you limit and then it will warn you as you near your limit on said sites. Try it out, it might surprise you.
I wanted to leave you with a bonus thought that may be completely unrealistic but at least will give you something to think about before you go off to check Facebook. Smartphones are the biggest facilitator of our addiction to social media.
A report from Informate Mobile Intelligence found that people in the U.S. check their social media accounts seventeen times a day. That’s at least once every waking hour, and American’s are not even close to the biggest culprit.
Smartphone users in Asia and South America checked social media at least forty times a day. Generation Z might be the most unsettling trend. Some teenagers in the U.S. check their social media feeds more than 100 times a day.
I don’t know about you, but even while writing this I find myself getting all defensive about my smartphone use. I tell myself I need it for work, or that I will lose touch with my friends, or even that my social presence will suffer for it.
But the fact is, they are all lies. People had thriving careers and social lives long before smartphones. And as for my social media presence, if it is that important to me I will make it work via my laptop or tablet. But the fact is we don’t need to be connected 24/7.
I know it is very counter culture and a scary thought, but I challenge you to at least think about whether you need your smartphone. The process of thinking about it will make the rest of the “rules” listed above seem way more important, and even doable, and surely that is worth it.
Go Out and Live
Yes, we have all been there.
But it doesn’t mean we have to stay there. Life is more than RTs and Likes, even if it is your job.
Your home should always be a refuge and a place where you can unplug, at least a little.
Since I have been using these rules in my life, I got married and have a happy, healthy relationship with my wife, I read more, I work out regularly, and I have started a personal yoga practice. All things which I can attribute, in part, to not being so plugged in at home.
You are going to mess up! Heck, while writing this article I must have checked my smartphone a dozen times. But using the above household rituals and rules will make sure that your life revolves less around social media then it once did.
Try the above suggestions for a week, and I promise that you will notice a difference!