Social media and my experiments with productivity
Given the Lenten season, I thought it was a good time to post about my months long experiments with social media and productivity. For me this started around December last year, when I was taking survey of the needless time sinks in my life. Social media was definitely a big one for me. I am more of a social media consumer than a poster. I enjoy seeing my “friends” travels to picturesque locales, beautiful weddings, cute pictures of kids and pets. Not to mention the rabbit hole of links posted by people sharing new scientific articles or political opinions or the latest in news. I wanted to cut down on the time I spent using social media but I didn’t want to do anything too drastic like deleting all my social media accounts.
The most obvious method of sheer resolution of spending no more than x amount of time per day with social media didn’t work well for me. It always starts innocuously – moment of boredom, reaching for the phone, and tapping on that blue Facebook icon. And before I would know 15 or 20 minutes would be gone. 15 or 20 minutes doesn’t seem like a big deal, but repeating this process several times a day starts to add up. My most frequent consumption of social media happens on my smart phone. My next thought was to uninstall frequently used social media apps from the phone. I was able to sustain not using any social media for a few weeks that way, but I found it difficult to completely disconnect. I reinstalled the apps back on the phone thinking that the few weeks of social media abstinence had set me up to be in a good place. But soon enough I found myself back to where I started.
With my next iteration I found a strategy that is a little complicated, but it works for me because it is complicated. It essentially involves putting a few steps between tapping the icon and actually getting into the newsfeed.
- I use a password manager, anything like Dashlane or LastPass should do. There are mixed opinions about using password managers. I choose to use it, but you should do your own research into password managers to decide if they are right for you. What is relevant here is that my social media accounts have long passwords that I don’t have memorized.
- After every use on my phone, I log out of the social media apps. Not just close the app, but actually sign out.
- Logging back into a social media is now a multistep process, which requires me opening the app and the password manager, typing a fairly long master password, copying and pasting the social media password into the app.
That’s really it. I have had good success with this strategy for the last few months. The setup is complicated if you don’t already use a password manager, but once it is set up, it’s pretty efficient. And a password manager isn’t entirely necessary, maybe even just signing out of the apps and having to retype a long but memorized password could accomplish the same effect. Before, with the low low threshold of a tap and opening of the app, I found myself reaching for that icon 10s of times a day, many times without even thinking about it. Smart phones have been called “portable dopamine pumps” because they have the same addictive properties as drugs of abuse like cocaine or ecstasy. Using this strategy, it takes me only a few seconds longer to access social media, but it puts enough of a break on the limbic rewards system, giving my prefrontal cortex time to intervene and question myself “Do I really want to do this? Is the worth that small hassle?” Surprisingly, I find myself answering “no” to those questions much more often than I would have anticipated.
This is not the only strategy out there, or even the best one. It’s just something that works for me. There are apps designed to keep you out of apps, essentially locking you out of your phone or of certain apps when you go over your screen time. What is important is, first, figuring out if you are dissatisfied with the amount of time spent on social media or on the phone in general. Then, deciding what amount of time would be more acceptable, which is a completely personal preference. For someone, that might be zero minutes. For someone else, 5 hours may seem reasonable. Experiment with different methods to see what works for you. Don’t get discouraged if the first or the second or the tenth trial fails. And once you find a method, stick to it!