Social media can be addictive, drawing us away from work and hampering productivity. Startup adviser Sarah Peck addressed the problem with four experiments that may point to a solution for your own situation.
Her first effort was to remove social media from her routine for a month. That meant no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or LinkedIn. “Leading up to it, I raised objections – ‘but I need Facebook for my work!’ my brain sputtered, in a testament to the addictive power of the apps,” she writes on the Harvard Business Review website.
She deleted all the apps from her phone and used Freedom, a website-blocking tool, to restrict usage on her browser. As if that wasn’t enough, she had her partner take over her phone and install parental restrictions on browser sites with a password she didn’t know.
Once she opted for a complete purge she found it surprisingly easier than expected. There was relief in being off social media. Book reading skyrocketed.
When she returned to social media, she realized that her laptop was not a huge problem – when at her desk, she worked – but the phone was a big culprit. Usage was also time-based, related to tiredness, including late-morning or mid-afternoon slumps.
The next experiment was to restrict herself based on some of the known “tired times” identified. She allowed social sites in the afternoon only for a two-week period.
“Keeping the mornings social media- and news- free was a game changer. I got so much more done on my biggest projects by having dedicated focus hours, and also knowing that there was a scheduled break in my day coming up,” she reports. “The long-term effects of this change became apparent by day four or five.
"In the mornings, if I succumbed to impulsivity ... it was far more difficult for me to throttle back into the realm of deep work.”
She considered the experiment effective but wondered what would happen if she did the reverse: Instead of establishing times when she would never use social media, what if she dedicated a particular slot of time to it? She set up a calendar invitation for a “happy hour” from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. to connect and enjoy social media.
The built-in stress-relief hour helped her to avoid temptation at other hours of the day. “It was easier to replace a bad habit with a better one than to focus all my energy on eliminating the bad habit,” she writes. Interestingly, consolidating all social media use into a single hour made it seem less exciting. She would finish scrolling within 20 to 30 minutes.
The fourth experiment was to block social media for one day a week: From midnight on Friday evening until Saturday at 3 p.m., trying to combine that with an effort to be outdoors. “A day free of the Internet is a great way to do a pattern reset if you notice (as I have) personal productivity dips by Friday,” she says.
Her first experiments, she notes, involved control and subtraction: Taking social media out of her life. The pattern afterward was geared to the power of addition: Planning ahead for dedicated social time, or a Saturday spent outdoors. Somewhere in her findings may be hints for you.
- Entrepreneur Seth Godin recently noted that the Mona Lisa has a huge social media presence, her picture everywhere, but she doesn’t tweet. Productivity author Cal Newport says the lesson is that, if you can produce things that are rare and beautiful, good things will follow. So take the 135 minutes per day people on average spend on social media and deliberately improve your ability to do great things.
- Here’s another experiment, for becoming a great listener, from consultant Fred Halstead’s Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results: For the next month, keep a journal that details your goals for actively listening in each meeting and, after each session, see if you have reached it.
- The most common business expenses by employees are for Uber, Starbucks and Amazon.
- During conversations with introverted colleagues, ask “what’s coming to mind for you?" Leadership trainer Dan Rockwell says that question frees an introvert from giving their final thoughts, leaving an opportunity to change their opinion later.
- Here’s a different way to relax: New York digital organizer Jayne Beilby looks at Edvard Munch’s The Scream. “For some reason, seeing someone else’s chaos, expressed visually, calms me down. Whatever I’m dealing with doesn’t usually feel that bad in comparison!” she says.
We’ve launched a new weekly Careers newsletter. Sign up today.