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Last month, I watched the new Netflix docudrama The Social Dilemma, a harrowing look at the way the social media giants entice you to spend more time on their sites by showing you what you want to see. That may not sound nefarious until you think about how it contributes to our “bubble” of hearing things that only agree with how we think.
In the interest of balance, Facebook has issued a specific rebuttal which you can read by going here.
I don’t intend to debate the merits of the docudrama. I’m certainly not an expert on the topic, so I would only suggest you see it for yourself. If you don’t subscribe to Netflix or prefer a quicker read, you can also visit the Social Dilemma website for more information.
What I can do, though, is share with you two things I have personally done to change how I use social media. These steps have made social media both more enjoyable and less time consuming.
But I need social media
I know people who have forsaken social media. Unplugged and walked away. I salute them. I really do. But I can’t.
Except for a small cadre of superstar writers who receive front-of-bookstore displays and New York Times reviews, we authors rely on the power of social media to attract new readers. Using a mix of both paid and unpaid content, we attempt to attract people most likely to buy and read our books.
And, to be blunt, parts of social media are lots of fun. I’ve made friends I’ve never met in real life—or were online friends long before we met in real life. I’m a member of writer groups, reader groups, dog groups, community groups, and more.
But it takes too much time
I work from home. On a computer. Without anyone supervising me during the day. I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of social media far too many times—looking up and realizing minutes, hours have gone by without any real work getting done.
I’m not alone. Last month, I surveyed the readers of my newsletter (What? You aren’t subscribed? Go sign up. I’ll wait.). A whopping 78% of the respondents believed they are on social media too much. And 82% of those are actively trying to reduce their time.
So I decided to get serious. Of all the little tricks and tips I tried, two of them were incredibly powerful for me:
- Turn off notifications
- Schedule social media time
Turn off notifications
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a restaurant, in a meeting at your office, or lying in bed reading a good book. Your phone pings. Instinctively, you reach for it. The screen displays a new pop-up notification. You click it and tend to whatever alerted you. And then you scroll and read the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.
Maybe you realize that most of those notifications are inconsequential. You exert some willpower and ignore that little bell, but your mind has been diverted. You are no longer 100% focused on what you were doing.
As a writer, that distraction is disastrous. Getting ripped out of a story mid-paragraph makes me lose time sinking back into my imagination and letting the words flow again.
I tried leaving my phone in another room or turning it off. But what if someone really does need to get through? What if a real emergency happens?
For me, the answer was in the notification settings of my phone. I turned virtually everything off. My phone no longer pings if someone likes a post, comments on a photo, sends me an email, or even if a headline news event occurs. The reality is that none of those things really matter if I know about them now or in a couple of hours.
At a minimum, I suggest turning off your social media notifications. But I recommend turning off all notifications at first and then adding back only the critical ones that must come through. (You can also manage which incoming phone calls will ring and which ones will go to voicemail).
Give it a try. Turn everything off. You’ll love the quiet.
Schedule your time on social media
Now that you turned off the alerts, you need to decide when you will check social media. The urge will probably hit you quickly (it did me).
Some people swear by the Pomodoro technique. You work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break to walk around the house or scratch a dog’s ear. Personally, I couldn’t use those 5 minutes to check social media because it was too distracting, but maybe you can.
What I decided is that I would check social media three times a day—morning, midday, and evening. To enforce that, my computers don’t allow me on the social media during certain hours. I use a program called Cold Turkey (don’t worry, not an affiliate link) that blocks my ability to get on any part (or all) of the internet. Another great alternative is Freedom. Many other alternatives exist.
If I try to go to Facebook, Twitter, or anything else during work times, the computer will not let me. Nor my phone. Period. Simply can’t do it.
The flexibility of these programs allows you to tailor the product to your needs. Cold Turkey (the one I am familiar with) allows me to schedule blocks of time, to use the Pomodoro technique, or any other method. Even better, I pick and choose what I can access when. If I want to block certain sites, I tell it. If I want to block the entire internet EXCEPT for certain sites, I can do that. And, yes, I can block the entire internet. I can also block some things at one time and other things at another time. It’s as complicated or as easy as I want, but once set up, it just works.
And, yes, I can even set up an override if I want to, though I don’t.
Scheduled like this. You control social media – it doesn’t control you.
Bonus Tip: Facebook Business Manager
This tip only has value if you have pages you manage on Facebook. In my case, I need to access my author pages at certain times of the day, but I don’t want to be tempted to visit the main Facebook feed. If you manage a page, you can set up Facebook Business Manager (business.facebook.com).
From there, you can read comments and respond on your pages, but not go to the regular feed. And, of course, you can also manage ads and everything else a business page uses.
And, yes, I tell Cold Turkey to let me on the Business manager but not the regular domain (block facebook.com but allow business.facebook.com).
Since most of my readers are looking for ways to reduce their time on social media, I thought I would share what I had done. These simple techniques have made a huge difference and allowed me to be much more productive.
Hope the tips helps. Please share any ideas you have that I haven’t tried.