I love social media. Here’s why I only use it once a day.

Social media is killing us.

At worst, it’s making us very sick. At best, it’s making us miserable.

That’s not OK. Here’s what I do to fix it.

Screen Time for grown ups.

A friend once told me why our generation (I’m 32) is most at risk when it comes to tech, and social media in particular. The kids are used to it being around. For us, it’s new. And we’re clearly struggling to cope. I regularly hear of people quitting (and occasionally, returning) to certain platforms (or all of them). Being on Facebook is causing them pain. A week off Twitter brings happiness. And so on. We need a way to cope.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of ‘screen time’. It’s a common way for parents to monitor/limit their kid’s usage of screens (TV, tablets, phones, games consoles, etc.).

I’ve been testing out the Screen Time feature in the beta version of iOS 12. And it shocked me.

  • I consider myself a ‘conscious’ social media user

  • I don’t use my phone ‘that’ often

  • I’m better than the ‘average’ person.

Those are some of the things I told myself when I played with Apple’s latest features. Then the results came back, and I knew something had to change.

Social media. A love letter.

I’m an iPhone X user. It’s amazing. The camera was the reason I bought it. And it does not disappoint.

I’m active on 3 social networks (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook). Then I also have accounts/pages for my business. And I’m also sort of on LinkedIn. And then there’s also WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

I’ve thought about quitting the lot. It would be a bold (and possibly strange) decision for someone running a digital marketing business.

The reality is, I get too much from social media.

  • I’ve found the most incredible, interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining, things to watch, read, and listen to

  • It’s allowed me to meet some genuinely wonderful people (virtually and in proper, scary… real life!)

  • A tweet from a friend led to me giving public speaking a go

  • I’ve discovered beautiful places to walk the dog, enjoyed days out with the kids, gone for food/drinks at interesting little places, etc.

  • I’ve received overwhelming support (emotional and physical) during some very trying times.

And there’s also the joy of sharing your own great finds, experiences, friends, connections, offers of support, articles, videos, and more.

It’s hard to say how many of the above would still happen without social media. As a set of tools I use, the results are fairly solid. It’s worth asking whether these are tools you are using, or if the tools are using you?

A world that you choose.

With social media you have a lot of choice.

You choose when to use it. And you also choose who you follow, listen to, and chat with. You get to create your own world, full of the things that you’re passionate about.

Twitter and Instagram are particularly good for letting you dive straight into communities you’re interested in. You can follow people that will teach you something new, challenge what you already know, and possibly change your world view.

But make no mistake… the big social media companies aren’t here to make us happy. They want to make money from us. That’s it. And it’s much easier to make money from someone who uses your app eight times per day (on average!!). Those notifications are desperately trying to get you to open the app, and stay there for as long as possible.

Zero notifications.

You’ve probably heard of ‘Inbox Zero’, which now seems less like a concept and more like an aspirational lifestyle choice. Let me present ‘Notification Zero’.

For as long as I can remember, I haven’t received social media notifications. I mute pretty much every group message I find myself to be part of. My emails don’t ping every time I get one. My phone is on silent almost all the time.

Now I’ve gone the whole hog. The only ‘notification’ I get is my watch vibrating when I receive a call. No social media notifications. No emails. And no, not even text messages.

If we’re using social media (instead of it using us), then the first rule should be that we are in control. We decide when we give it our time. We decide when it can distract and entertain us. And we decide when we want to be fully immersed in something else.

1 hour a day keeps the anxiety away.

Here’s my big rule. If I’m checking social media, it’s in the morning. Once.

I’m up anywhere between 4am and 6am most mornings. I have 3 kids to get ready for school. Time in the morning is precious. So that’s when I check my social feeds. If I can’t justify giving up time when it feels precious, then I probably shouldn’t be giving it up at all.

And some days I don’t. There just isn’t the time. And if something needs to give, I’m glad it’s that. Those notifications (that desperately want us to respond) can wait.

Once I’ve checked through everything, I feel like I honestly don’t need to do it again. And that’s a very powerful feeling. No more distractions. What do I really want to get done today?

And it also avoids the highly toxic refresh. A quick refresh to see if I’ve had any likes. A reload of the page to check for comments. Your brain wants a quick hit of dopamine. Don’t give in to your monkey brain! You are wasting your time, and making yourself feel bad.

Life the once a day way.

Think about how you want to live. And what you want to get done. I’m fairly certain nobody makes any resolutions to check Facebook 9 times a day, beating the average user.

Most of want the same things. To do meaningful work. To have authentic, loving relationships. To live in the moment. And to not feel constantly distracted, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

This method I’ve come up with is one, very simple, way to achieve that. Starting now.

1. Recharging. Your phone. And you.

This should go without saying. We all know that it does need saying. And I know I need constant reminding.

Don’t charge your phone in your bedroom. Next to your head while you sleep. Please don’t do that.

Your phone should not be the last thing you see at night (I don’t use mine after 9pm, if I can avoid it). And it shouldn’t be the first thing you see in the morning (don’t let those distractions kill you before you even get out of bed!).

2. Be more of a contributor. And less of a consumer.

One great way to achieve this is through a tool like Buffer. Something you want to post online? Do it through Buffer and avoid the desperate grab at your attention. The responses (replies, retweets, likes, shares, etc.) will all be waiting for you when you want to look at them (tomorrow morning, ideally).

Going beyond this, use something like Pocket to save articles that have been shared, then go read them. The whole article. Not just a quick skim and straight back to Twitter to hit the little heart icon.

Then maybe go write your own articles.

Being a consumer is fine. Being JUST a consumer? Not so good.

3. What about that thing I really do need to check on?

I sometimes feel I have a genuine need to check back on something. Maybe there’s a time pressure, perhaps it’s something I’m selling via Facebook, etc. My advice on this is to bookmark the exact post (so you can go straight to it… ignore those notifications!!) . Then, have a long hard think about whether you really do need to go back to it before tomorrow morning. Then, and only then, go back.

Here’s how I do this every single day.

In all honesty, this whole plan often goes out the window. On a wet Sunday morning, when the kids are watching a film I could comfortably recite from memory, I will happily scroll and refresh to my heart’s content.

This isn’t about being a martyr. It’s about being in control.

It’s nice to give in to your monkey brain every so often. Just make sure it’s a conscious decision when you do so. And when it starts to make you feel bad, you’ll know why. And you’ll know what to do to get back on track.

Gareth K Thomas