What is a social media detox?
A social media detox is when you voluntarily abstain from social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc, for a period of time. The motivation for doing this will generally concern the over-use of such platforms and the effect they can have on your time, attention and mental health.
The word ‘detox’ is appropriate because it is recognized that social media use can be a form of addicition and stopping is not always as easy as jsut saying that you’re going to stop. Some methodology is required and this is what I am looking at in this post.
What has a social media detox got to do with time management?
Ok, so why am I writing about social media detoxification and what does it have to do with better time management?
Well, if you hadn’t noticed already, when people are trying to get stuff done and be more productive, one of the biggest distractions turns out to be social media.
The customized feeds, the likes, the notifications and the infinite scrolling aren’t there by accident – the digital world of social media is highly addictive and designed to steal your attention and that continually-depleting resource from you that can only be used once and you can never earn back: your time.
While I’m not someone that is dogmatically opposed to all forms of social media – where you direct your your attention and how you allocate your time is your own business – my belief is that too many people dedicate way too much of their time and mental energy to social media.
And if you’re looking to improve your time management, you need to be ruthless about which activities deserve a share of the 24 hours you have each day.
How do I know if I need a social media detox?
Let’s not get too into whether or not you need to go on a social media detox here. The fact you’re here reading this already means you feel that you might. If you don’t already know how much time you spend on social media, start with an audit of your time and find out.
The next step is then to find out what happens when you remove social media from your life, which is what I want to look at next.
What will happen to me if I quit social media?
In the short term, you may feel stressed and anxious and that you’re missing out on something. But remember, you are essentially withdrawing from a ‘fix’ that your brain and body have been used to for a long time. You’re no longer getting those dopamine hits from those notifications and likes and that will probably affect your mood.
But in the longer term, you’re probably going to feel a lot happier, you’ll sleep better and you’ll find that you have time each day to get more meaningful and productive stuff done.
How to do it
When it comes to reducing the amount of time you spend on social media, doing so can be difficult for some people due to the addictive and habitual nature of it.
And dropping it altogether might seem completely out of the question for many.
So I think the best way to attack this is to let you demonstrate to yourself how little value it adds to your life.
Cutting social media out completely in one fell swoop, i.e. deleting all your accounts, is generally too draconian for most people to handle. After all, you’re basically trying to make a big change in your daily habits, which can take time and can result in “withdrawal symptoms” that might make it hard to stay the course. Therefore, I would suggest using a method described in Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work”, which is to experiment with a 30-day ban on all social media platforms, or thirty days of network isolation, as he puts it.
There is no need to deactivate all of your accounts. (Breathe easy)
But you are going to have to sign out of everything.
And you’re not going to sign back in for 30 days.
An important point to note (that I will explain below) is to not announce that you are taking a break from social media.
However, if anybody reaches out to ask why you’re no longer active, you can, of course, tell them what you’re doing. Just don’t broadcast your intentions to the world in advance of your little 30-day social media sabbatical.
When the month of social media abstinence is up, you the need to ask yourself the following two (tough) questions regarding each of the platforms you’ve been away from:
- Would the last 30 days have been notably better if I had been using this platform?
- Did anyone actually care (or notice) that I wasn’t using this platform?
A ‘no’ response to both questions is a clear reason to quit because there appears to be absolutely no value or benefit to anyone. Continuing to use social media after this discovery would be kind of pointless, wouldn’t?
On the other hand, a clear ‘yes’ to both indicates that you could be justified in maintaining the use of the platform, but I’d still question the opportunity cost of using social media over doing something else with your time.
Now, if you feel that the answers to these two questions are mixed, qualified or ambiguous, then how you proceed comes down to your personal choice.
But my recommendation would be to quit anyway!
The hardest part of this exercise for most people concerns the fear of missing out (FOMO).
But once you realize you’re not actually missing out on anything important, you can then face the reality that you probably don’t need social media in your life.
Another difficulty or – let’s be honest here – delusion that many people have to face when trying this is the idea that others actually cares whether or not you’re on social media.
There maybe some exceptions, but the reality is, no-one really gives a damn about your tweets or latest Instagram post.
This sounds harsh, but it is the reality.
Your friends (possibly in inverted commas), contacts and communities are, by and large, pretty fickle, fleeting and shallow.
They’re mostly looking for their own quick dopamine fix from the glory they find in how many retweets, likes, smiley faces and comments they get form their interactions. And if they don’t get it from you, they’ll quickly find it from someone else.
So be prepared for the fact that as well as not missing out, you won’t be missed.
And this is why I said it is important not to announce that you are taking a break, because just slipping away will reveal the true impact of your presence on social media.
And if it turns out that no-one cares about you on social media, don’t feel bad about it.
Instead, congratulate yourself that you have now freed up a big chunk of time each week to dedicate to something meaningful and productive.
Work on your health.
Build your fitness.
Develop your mind.
Do stuff for others.
The possibilities seem to grow when you have more time at your disposal.
Tips for success
Next, a couple of tips that will help you to succeed with this method.
Firstly, make sure that you plan in advance how to use the time you have been previously using on social media because the urge for distraction will be strong.
Secondly, trying doing the detox with a friend. It’s much easier if you have the support of someone else who going through the experience with you.
What if I can’t commit to 30 days?
If the thought of going without social media for 30 days is too much for you to handle, then I would suggest taking measures to reduce your exposure instead.
Designate a portion of once or twice each day purely for social media and do not look at at any other time. The best times of day are the times when you don’t need to focus. For example, combine your social media session with a coffee break or your commute.
An important addition is to make sure that you turn off all notifications so you will not be interrupted outside of the designated social media sessions.
Set yourself a “digital curfew” so you don’t fall into the trap of wasting your evenings scrolling through the great lives of all your friends.
Social media can be a valuable tool, but it needs to be used with purpose and only during allocated time. Whenever you use it, ask yourself the following two questions:
1. Why am I looking at this?
2. Am I here with a specific purpose in mind, or am I just killing time?
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
Never forget that your attention is a valuable resource.
I personally believe that the benefits of a social media detox far outweigh the disadvantages, so give it a try.
As someone who strives to make the most out of the 24 hours I have each day, ditching the majority of social media platforms is a no brainer. I gain much more than I lose. And I think you have to view things in these terms because there is a trade-off.
Ultimately, this is something you need to decide.
But the first step is to remove it from the equation or at least reduce the amount of time you are currently spending on social media in order to make that decision on whether or not less time on social media improves your quality of life.
It is a question of identifying what elements of social media bring value.
There is this kind of duality in social media, which means that scrolling through your phone can bring joy and laughter, keep you informed, provide new insights and help you stay connected with the world. But at the same time, it can also give rise to feelings of envy, anger, inadequacy, depression and loneliness.
It all comes down to how you use it.
I have always found Twitter to be a toxic pool of anger, negativity and bullying, so never bothered with it. Instagram is too narcissistic and self-indulgent and Facebook is simply not interesting to me. The last way I want to invest my time is scrolling through insipid posts from people I have no desire or interest to connect with in real life.
However, I find Reddit useful for my blog content and I still use selected YouTube channels as a source of information quite frequently.
Yes, I am guilty of falling down the YT “rabbit hole” from time to time – you know, kind of like this guy . . .
But I made the decision that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. And the crucial point is remaining clear on how and when I use these platforms.
Quitting social media can be a game-changer, not just in terms of time management, but also life in general.
So, if you suspect you’re using social media too much and could be using your time more effectively, I’d say go straight for the 30-day withdrawal technique. If you find your life is miserable without your daily social media fix, by all means, go back to it.
And if you think your life is better with more social media, let me know in the comments section!
[Featured image credit: Gerd Altmann]