I wake up, groggy. The cat is pawing at my face and wants to be fed. Is it even dawn yet? I check the time on my phone. And my finger automatically opens an app I didn’t realise I was opening. And thirty minutes later, I’ve been in a time warp on social media. And the cat is really unimpressed. Sound familiar?

For many of us, social media can be a light escape, a fun way to pass the time, build connections, community and friendships. In fact, it can be pretty essential to our lives: messaging our Mum, organising the local charity event, or managing our businesses, whether it’s posting content or finding new leads.

But for some of us, after we complete the specific task we logged on for, we find ourselves still on social media minutes or hours later. And we might find that social media not only make us anxious but also prevents us from doing the things we actually want to be doing. So for some people, your goal this year might be to scale back your social media use, to make it something you enjoy sometimes, and not a compulsion (…leading to angry cats pawing at your face.)

So, if your goal for 2018 is to reduce your social media use and dependency, what are some tactics you can use to regain control of your life? Here’s my take.

Related Post: 14 Tactics to Help You Prevent Social Media Burnout

Lock it down

For those wanting to get started, there are a couple of simple approaches designed to just make it harder for you to ‘accidentally’ open up social media. Making it a little bit harder to get to, makes it more of a conscious decision to log on, rather than an unconscious one.

For anyone who has hidden the unhealthy cookies in the back of the cupboard, and put the apples right at the front of the kitchen, they will be familiar with this technique!

Some ideas for making your social media harder to get to include:

  • hide your apps in a folder on your phone so you need to dig around to find them (after 5 seconds, you probably won’t even feel like logging on anymore).
  • uninstall the apps and use a web browser so you need to type in the address to connect.
  • Log out of your social media accounts so you need to log in to get updates. And who remembers their passwords anyway?
  • give yourself some distance: put your phone on the far side of the room, or in your bag so it’s harder to reach.
  • add a browser extension to block your social media use.
  • add a smartphone lock app so you need to enter an additional password to get to your social apps.
  • set your phone to schedule to turn on flight mode overnight if you’re a 2am social media browser.

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Structure it

For some people, they don’t want to give up social media entirely but have it just not suck away hours and hours of their day. Adding structure or conditions to your use might be one approach that works for you.
You might want to set a time limit, for example, put a timer on your phone for 10 minutes every time you log on, or only check it between 7pm and 8pm each night. Or, just a blanket ‘no mobile devices after 9pm’ rule (which is pretty much a given in terms of sleep health anyway.)
You could even set aside a specific room as the ‘social media room’ in your house (pro tip: don’t make it the bedroom!), or just use social media in the office if you use social media for work. I’ve got plenty more tips for how you can balance social media for work with your personal life here, to.

Just a little trim

Another idea to reduce your social media use, is to actually reduce the number of social networks you use. Do you need to be on every social network? Imagine if you were on a desert island and your data plan only allowed you to access three social networks – what three would you choose? You could use one the tactics above and log out, or block just one or two social networks.
Another approach is to be really mindful of who you’re actually engaging with on those networks: are they filling you with joy, or anxiety? Or can you reframe who you follow to be for work or a hobby, and less about gossip? Use Lists and Filters to just see the stuff that puts you in your happy place.

Get your team onside

Cutting down on social media can be hard: but letting your friends and family know is a really helpful tactic. Whether you just want to privately message your friends who you communicate with most and ask them to email you, or SMS you instead.
Or, post on your wall that you’re not online for the next few weeks, and share your alternative contact details. If people know you’re not available on that network, they will look for other ways to contact you, so you’ve got one less reason to log on.
For many of us who run online businesses, we often get leads through Facebook Groups or Facebook Messenger. Letting potential clients know to contact you via email, rather than Facebook Messenger, will set their expectations of where to contact you. If nothing else, it is much easier to track your conversations and business decisions via email than crawling through Messenger!

Be a scientist of self

While I’ve mentioned some tools to help you limit your social media usage, we are very good at working out how to bend our own rules if we’re motivated to do so. Social media is, afterall, designed to be addictive.

Becoming aware how and why you’re using social media is a really important step to nip it in the bud. It’s not just how long you use social media – which I’m sure many of us would be surprised by! – but also just to notice when we’re on social media at all.

Do you find yourself suddenly on social media and you don’t recall getting out your phone or opening the app? Its become an automated response for many of us, so starting off with just being aware of it is a really good step.

I’d encourage you to, over a week, keep a handwritten diary to track how you use social media. Become a scientist of self, so you are aware of what triggers your use. Jot down the time of day, what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. It could be as simple as: 6:15 pm – Wed after work – on the train station. Need some me time to escape the crowds.

Why did you log on?

For many of us, there is a very real practical purpose to logging on to social media.
We’re checking inbox messages, we’ve got a question to ask on a Facebook Group, we want to see if there are photos from the party last weekend. Keeping note of these practical reasons you logged on is also really helpful, because it will help you understand what information needs you are actually trying to fill with social media. Once you’ve got a clearer understanding of why you’re logging on, you might be able to find alternatives, such as asking your friend to email over the photos instead.
You might find that you’re logging on to manage your business Facebook Page – and that’s totally a legitimate to log on. But how often are you logging on, and for how long? Are you doing the task you needed, then you’re down the rabbit hole? You might find that you don’t actually need to log in every hour to check your Business Inbox: maybe once a day will do, or send notifications to your email inbox, so you’re not logging on ‘just in case’.

How do you feel?

What about when you log on and you don’t have a ‘real’ reason? You’re just… there? Again, keep track of this so you know when you’re on social media.

Taking some notes of when you use social media may help you become aware of why you use social media. Are you bored waiting for a train, are you craving a conversation, did you have a stressful meeting and need a giggle to lighten your mood?

Learning to pay attention our own emotions is a skill that takes practice, and those who practise mindfulness may find this easier. Consider what emotions you’re feeling when you turn to social media. What are they? Are there any patterns? Going over your diary at the end of the week might help you see patterns.

Once you’ve got an idea of why you are on social media and the desires you’re turning to it for, think about some alternatives.

  • If you’re bored at night time, why not load up on library books and put them next to your bed?
  • Do you need something to do to relax before you start your workday? Try journalling.
  • Had a stressful day at work? Why not walk around the block to get some air?
  • Waiting for the train with five minutes to spare? Look for some other apps which you can use can use in short intervals, such as Duolingo for language, SoloLearn for learning to code, Bliss for a portable gratitude journal.
  • If you’re procrastinating because you’ve got a massive project to work on and it’s crushing your soul, perhaps it’s time to get rid of the monkey and draw up an Eisenhower Matrix.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

When reworking your relationship with social media, it’s really important to focus on your ‘why’. What are the things you are getting from it (both the good things and the bad things)?
Understanding when it’s good for you (perhaps you love chatting to your overseas bestie on a Saturday night with a glass of vino), and when it’s not so good for you (seeing an old colleague on a gorgeous beach in Thailand while you’re working overtime for the third night in a row). Find out where that line is for you: when it is helpful, when is it not.
But it also worth taking a moment to step back and look at the bigger picture, too.
If you’re spending thirty minutes every morning on social media (and you don’t want to be), that’s thirty minutes you could be working on something toward your life bucket list.
You could be, for thirty minutes each day, working on something that sets your soul on fire: painting, going for a walk with your dog, building an app, taking salsa classes, writing that novel.
There will never be a perfect time to tick off those bucket list items, so doing a little bit every day to work towards those dreams helps integrate them into your life. I absolutely love the quote by Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”. It always gives me the motivation to not wait for ‘one day’, but recognise that today is a day I can be working towards that thing I’ve always dreamed of.
So, by having a bigger picture goal, it makes it easier to get me motivated and to give me some ideas for alternatives. Either way, it gives me control back of my life: what are the things I want to be doing. And if I want to relax with a mug of coffee and scroll through my newsfeed, that fine. As long as it’s my choice, and not a compulsion.

Are you being more conscious of your social media use this year? Did any of these tactics work for you? What changed in your life? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your experiences.

Want to work with Rachel?

Rachel Beaney is a writer and social media content specialist, helping businesses connect with their audiences.

She’s worked with local, national and global companies, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping businesses tell their stories with creative and data-driven solutions.

She is based in Sydney, Australia.

Want to work together? Rachel would love to hear from you. Get in touch today.