How to Master Your Social Media Habits - 52 Weeks of Habits52 Weeks of Habits


social media habitsThe amount of time we waste on social media is absurd. I don’t believe that social media itself is waste, but that the way we frequently use it is wasteful. It’s become the norm to check at least 2, but frequently 3 or 4, even more, social media/interest sites a day. For example, these are the ones I use daily, and you probably have a similar list:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Feedly
  • Snapchat
  • Gchat

Not to mention texting and email as well. It’s a big obligation during our day, and our need for immediacy with all of them doesn’t really help. If you took a day to note of how much time you spend on them, it would likely be in the hours. What’s worse is that it’s usually not one 2 hour long chunk, it’s 2 hours (or more) made up of little checks throughout the day. This is a problem because it lets us think we can multitask, and in the process destroys our productivity. We lose a lot of our days and work potential to social media obligations, but like anything else it’s a habit we can break.

Multitasking doesn’t exist

How often have you seen someone watching television while they work? How about having a chat app like gchat open? Or even having their email open in the background with notifications on? In a culture where we frequently think of our brains as computers, we seem to have latched on to the idea that if computers have parallel processing then so do we. Some jobs even list an ability to multitask as a job requisite! Unfortunately, there’s not a person in the world who’s qualified for that job.

It’s surprising that so many of us latch on to the idea that we can multitask. The evidence against it is overwhelming: Forbes, Psychology Today, TED Talks, NPR, NPR again, io9, The Telegraph, WebMD. What’s even more interesting is if you read the WebMD article, you’ll learn that those of us who think we’re really good at multitasking (at least above average) are actually the worst at it. According to the researcher who did the study: “The people doing it the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, and overconfident in their ability to [multitask].”

What we’re actually doing when we think we’re multitasking is rapid task switching. Focusing on one thing, then on another, then on another. This kills our productivity though: as anyone who’s been interrupted by someone else while they’re in a great workflow knows, that interruption could set you back 10-15 additional minutes while you “get back into it.” If you’re constantly checking Facebook, then you’re never in it. You’re being much less productive than you could be, because you keep switching your focus away and preventing yourself from getting into flow. (If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of flow, here’s the wikipedia article on it, and here’s the best book on it). If you’re not in flow, you’re not really being productive, and flow requires monotasking.

The Only form of Multitasking is Unconscious Competence

I’ll pause and say that there is one form of multitasking, and we do it everyday. This is when we’re doing something that requires conscious thought while doing something that we’re unconsciously competent at, such as walking and talking. We don’t need to consciously go “right food, now left foot” etc. so we’re fine doing those two things in parallel. Writing an essay and talking to your friend, however, both require conscious thought and thus cannot be multitasked.

Fixing Social Media Habits

Now that we recognize that we can’t multitask and that our social media obligations are destroying our productivity, how do we fix it? The usual “stop checking it so often” isn’t very helpful. Thinking of everything we do with social media as a habit can make the change much easier.

The dreaded Notifications

From our constant use of our phones, we have a habit of reacting to them as soon as they make a sound. This makes sense when we’re getting a phone call, but now we do it for every notification–even though a phone call is the only one that requires immediate attention. Every ping for a text message, email, facebook update, snapchat, twitter mention, etc. is a cue for a habit of pulling out our phones and checking them. And every time we do this, we break our train of though and productivity, and alienate ourselves a bit from those around us.

Step 1: Turn off the Notifications

I know, I know, the world is going to end if you don’t respond to texts immediately. I felt this way too–but then something remarkable happened. I turned off all of my notifications and the world didn’t end. No more facebook pings, gchat “boops” twitter sounds, all gone. And life went on. Not only did life go on, a much more productive life where I wasn’t at the whim of my social media went on. If you’re not getting bothered by every single thing that happens, you’ll naturally check it less, and you’ll only check it when you want to instead of when someone else wants you to.

Step 2: Start Batching

Instead of just willy-nilly checking facebook, twitter, etc. Find ways to batch your social media/blog reading time. Different people have different productivity methods, but I personally use The Pomodoro Technique which gives me 5 minutes out of every 30, and then the occasional 15 minutes, to goof off and go on all of my fun sites. By checking things at these set times, I can satisfy my desire to use them throughout the day, while also giving myself 25 minutes of uninterrupted productivity. It provides a very sustainable balance, and you can tweak the schedule as you go if needed.

The important thing with this though is that when your time is up, close the websites. Don’t leave them open for the next break, because if you do you’ll see new things happening (new emails, new facebook notifications, etc) and be tempted to check on them. The easiest way to enforce your new habit is to not leave the pages open when you’re not checking them.

Step 3: Use Dead Time

I hate dead time. Dead time is every part of your day where you have to go through some routine during which you get nothing done. Maybe it’s walking somewhere, or waiting in line, or just having a quick meal or snack. Whatever your dead time is, don’t waste it. If you have some social media things that you really need to get done that day, do them during the dead time! If you get them done during otherwise wasted time, you’ll be less distracted by them when you need to be working. The less you can have distracting you the better.

Step 4: Automate Automate Automate

Twitter is something that requires a fair amount of activity to be relevant on, but I don’t like spending all day trying to post things at good times to get people’s attention. Instead, I use buffer to post things at different times throughout the day. This lets me set up a bunch of tweets at one time, and have them post themselves without me worrying about it.

I also use If This Then That to automate a whole bunch of things, such as post to twitter when I make a new blog post as well as add a tweet to my buffer, to update blogspot with new posts, to send new posts to my facebook page, and more. It’s a great tool for not worrying about a number of things that can be automated, saving me time I would have wasted on social media.

Step 5: Get Sh*t Done

Now that you’re not being constantly bothered by social media notifications and a need to update things, you’ll be a lot more productive. One of the biggest interruptions to your effectiveness and efficiency will be gone, and you’ll start to realize that you get into flow a lot easier and get more done. As you realize how much better doing social media this way is, you may even consider setting times of day where you don’t use it at all, such as no email before 10am or no social media at all within 2 hours of waking up or going to sleep. Rules like these can be useful for making sure it doesn’t dictate what you do in your free time, and that when you do use it you’re quick and efficient. The fewer batches you need the better.

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6 Responses to How to Master Your Social Media Habits

  1. 4 years ago by marshall moose moore

    Hey Nat – this is gold. Social media is SO HARD to get away from, and being a big habit-developer myself it is good to see what others are doing to develop a low-information diet as well.

    Be well!

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