I’ve tried almost every type of strategy to get my social media use under control. By under control, I mean managing the negatives, so that overall it’s a net positive in my life.

That is, until 3 weeks ago. I tried something new, and I’ve finally nailed it.

First, let me back up a bit. Why do I get so bent out of shape about using social media?

I’ve always been drawn to social media. It’s never been easier to build a personal brand online, learn, share ideas and connect with others. And that’s really cool. But, I’ve also started to see the dark side. It so easily becomes a gigantic distraction. It’s an obstacle to deep work and focus. Recently I’ve also started to notice the impact it has on my emotional well being.

Sometimes I think I’m in a small percentage of people who struggle with social media. Maybe I’m just very easily distracted by it? Perhaps it affects my mood more than others?

I don’t think that’s the case. OK, perhaps a bit. But actually, I think I just have a very strong self awareness for it’s dark side – and how it impacts my life. It even drove me to give up my smartphone a few years ago.

Three weeks ago, I read How to Automate a Habit and Never Think About It Again by James Clear. He describes a time management strategy he used whilst writing Atomic Habits (next on my reading list).

‘Every Monday, my assistant would reset the passwords on all my social media accounts, which logged me out on each device. All week I worked without distraction. On Friday, she would send me the new passwords. I had the entire weekend to enjoy what social media had to offer until Monday morning when she would do it again.’

That sounded interesting, so I figured I’d try it. On Sunday evening, I changed my Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn passwords. I used 1Password to generate hard to guess passwords, and didn’t save them.

To my surprise, I didn’t feel compelled to reset my password and check social media. I went the whole week without looking at social media. On Sunday morning, I reset my passwords and spent about an hour catching up on my feeds. Immediately after, I changed all my passwords again and didn’t save them.

I’ve done this for 3 weeks and it feels AMAZING.

I’ve condensed and reduced my social media usage down to a one hour session, once per week. I’ve kept the positives, and reduced the negatives down to almost nothing.

How the hour roughly looks:

My use case for Twitter is to discover high quality content (someone sharing an idea in a tweet, or recommending an article, podcast, video or book etc.). In the 30 mins I now spend checking Twitter, I tend to notice a few smart tweets that give me something to think about. I also send 5 – 10 articles to my kindle to read later (I use Send to Kindle for Google Chrome). Sometimes I also stumble across an interesting podcast or video.

My use case for Instagram is to get inspiration for living an active and healthy life. In the 15 mins I now spend checking Instagram, I definitely still get that. But, I now realise it’s unnecessary to get it every day. Once a week is fine.

My use case for Linkedin is to keep myself available for other professionals to connect with me, and discover high quality content. I’ve now realised I discover very little content I find useful on LinkedIn. Browsing the feed is a waste of time. So, I now jump in once a week to make sure I haven’t missed a useful connection request from someone – and that’s it.

My use case for YouTube is to get inspiration for living an adventurous life. I only follow about ten channels. So, it only takes about 5 mins to jump in and save any interesting videos to watch later.

And that’s what my weekly social media check in looks like.

One thing you’ll notice is that I’m very intentional with how I use social media. I think this where most people trip up. It helps to be crystal clear on why you want to use each product. Only then can you set some rules to make it work for you (that’s another post entirely!). When you’re not, you lose control and then become a slave to it.

I’ve significantly cut down the amount of time I spend on social media. Importantly, I’ve contained it to a one hour session, once per week. I get all the same benefits, with none of the distraction.

I feel a huge boost in emotional well being. I’m not exaggerating – it’s immense. Allowing social media feeds to interrupt your life multiple times per day doesn’t feel good. You only realise how much, when you stop it. So much so, that if I could only give one piece of advice to someone struggling with their mood, it would be take a break from social media.

There is one other strategy I use to avoid distractions. I use Freedom to block email and distracting websites. I block them before midday, some of the afternoon and after 20.00. I only get full and unlimited access between 12.00 and 14.00 and 18.00 and 20.00.

This means I don’t check email before midday and disconnect fully after 20.00. There is the odd exception where I have to override it, but generally I’m sticking to it over 90% of the time. Blocking email and distracting sites before midday and before bed is super powerful. You get more done and get a better nights sleep.

If I get tempted during blocked periods, I’m greeted with this:

So, to summarise:

  • One social media session per week, lasting for about an hour.
  • Block email and distracting websites before midday, some of the afternoon and after 20.00.

I’m not suggesting you should do the same. I appreciate my approach is a bit extreme and unusual. That’s just the way it has to be for me. Find out what works for you.

I really like the way Brad Stulberg put it in a recent podcast he was on:

‘Twitter’s not bad. Writing a newsletter is not bad. Reading a newsletter is not bad. It’s such an ‘it depends’ thing. Twitter can be really good. I know people who have met their romantic partners on twitter because they were tweeting about a same blogpost – and they connected. So that’s all great. It can also be really bad if you’re on that phone all the time and it’s replacing real connection. And suddenly the amount of retweets or likes you get starts to influence your mood. There’s a middle ground. It’s just so hard to find it.’

But, I’ll add a correction 😉

It is hard to find. But, I think that’s because the middle ground doesn’t usually work for social media. The likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter hire some of the smartest people in the world. They pay them millions in salaries, bonuses and stock options.

Teams of expert product people are working together with only one goal – getting you to spend as much time in their product as possible. Engagement directly influences the bottom line for these companies. So, don’t feel bad if you can’t find the middle ground. You’re outnumbered. It might be time to find the extreme ground.

I recommend experimenting with some of these tactics to see what is useful. If you do nothing else, at least try and be self aware of the time spent using social media / email (volume and sessions). Also, be self aware of the effects it has on your emotional well being. That will usually lead you to some of the right answers.

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