Sick of spending HOURS every day glued to your phone?
These are my best tips that help you spend WAY less time on your phone ASAP so you can focus on your real life!
Today, I deep dive into:
Get all the links and research over on the blog!:
How to spend less time on social media: 10 can't-miss tips
Book mentioned on the podcast:
Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
I’ve collected the very best resources, including books, articles, podcast episodes, and more to help you quit social media. You can get this list – which I regularly update! – over at staciemitchell.com/social.
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Read it over on the blog: https://www.staciemitchell.com/blog/how-to-spend-less-time-on-social-media-effects-benefits
Why we all struggle with HOW to spend less time on social media
So far this year, my podcast episode on quitting social media has been my most downloaded episode, and the downloads just keep growing over time.
Clearly, the episode hit a nerve.
It seems we all want to know how to spend less time on social media.
Whether we have a business that uses social media for marketing, or we just use it for fun in our downtime, we’re all looking for ways to put down our phones and pay attention to our real lives.
But still, we find ourselves getting stuck in doom scrolls or TikTok tunnels and losing hours and hours of our time and attention without meaning to. We all want to spend less time on social media but we just can’t figure out HOW.
And that’s what this blog is all about today.
Social media is that energy vampire we all want to remove from our lives but that somehow lures us right back in without us even realizing it. And it’s time to pull a Buffy and put social media back in its place.
The effects of spending too much time on social media
Before we go deep into how to spend less time on social media, let’s talk about WHY we should spend less time there.
I know I talked about this in my episode about quitting social media, but I want to revisit this topic and add some additional research and context that I’ve come upon this year.
Recently, I’ve been reading Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, and what’s become more and more obvious to me is how much social media has been designed to zap our ability to pay attention. And while I already talked about this in my other episode about the impact of social media on our coaching skills, I think this particular focus-killing effect needs more examination.
Hari talks about something that really freaked me out in the book, something that’d been hiding way back in the archives of my brain. Some of you know that I studied psychology in undergrad, and of course, we learned all about the history of psychology research, including the infamous BF Skinner and his experiments on pigeons.
Basically, Skinner realized that he could, in a sense, control the behaviors of pigeons through the use of positive reinforcement or punishments. Now, I’m not going to get deep into the mechanics and the minutiae of all of this as you didn’t sign up for a full-on psychology lecture today.
But the bottom line is that Skinner realized you could shape animal behavior – and that includes human behavior – through operant conditioning. Here’s a quote from simplypsychology.org to better define operant conditioning:
“Skinner argues that the principles of operant conditioning can be used to produce extremely complex behavior if rewards and punishments are delivered in such a way as to encourage an organism to move closer and closer to the desired behavior each time.”
Now here’s where I want to take us out of the history lesson and back to the effects of social media.
Social media is designed to use rewards and punishments to get all of us humans to do what it wants us to do: stay on the app and create more content.
When we stay on the app, we can be shown more ads, and thus, we can be trained to buy more things. And when we create more content - we are literally working for these companies for free – the social media companies are reaping the rewards of our labor.
But even more, the rewards we get – likes, shares, follows, comments, views – are rewards we humans have evolved to crave.
We are social creatures that thrive when we have a community that approves of us and gives us a place to belong, and so these reinforcements are practically irresistible to us. Even infants have been shown to desire this need for belonging, it’s so strong.
Now, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s a survival mechanism. The problem is that social media uses this very natural human need to keep us staring at our phones for several hours a day, making us think we’ve built a real community, but in reality, making us lonelier than ever.
And if you think there aren’t punishments on social media, think again. The biggest “a-ha” moment I had recently is that the less time I spend on social media, the less engagement I get on my posts. Which – I get it, it’s social media, you’re meant to be social. But we also know that the algorithm rewards more content, more stories, more reels, and more time on the app period.
And I even realized that the apps are getting smarter about “forcing” us to keep these apps on our phones. The content that’s highly rewarded — reels or stories — requires us to have the apps on our phones to share them. You can’t do it from a web browser — tell me that’s not on purpose.
So there are tons of mechanisms for keeping us stuck on the app: Not only are we rewarded for posting and staying on the app with more likes, but we’re also punished for NOT being on the app and posting as much.
It’s a really dangerous thing that happens: we’re rewarded with something irresistible and we’re punished with something that can really poke at one of our deepest fears. So if you’re not careful, the more time you spend on social media, the more you’re reinforced to spend even MORE time on social media. It’s a sick cycle.
And as one of my favorite authors on this, Cal Newport, often says (and this is me paraphrasing): We were just never meant to have so many inputs from so many strangers.
And it’s clearly working because nearly half of all U.S. adults spend 5-6 hours a day on their phones – and this does not even include work-related use. These numbers keep going up.
And for more math to paint a very bleak picture, if we go with 5.5 hours a day, that ends up being just over 2,000 hours a year or 83 days of 24/7 non-stop staring at our phones.
And to put this into perspective, 48% of Americans also say they are too busy with work to exercise, 25% say they never have time to make breakfast, and 23% say they haven’t read even a part of a book in the past year.
These statistics actually make me want to cry. And we haven’t even gotten into the effects of social media on our mental health.
A 2018 study found that social media use can mess up your sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss, and poor performance. It’s also linked to loneliness, poor self-esteem, anxiety, and the risk of being bullied. And while we think of bullying with teens or children, it can happen to adults too!
And with a recent study out about how sharply dopamine falls when you’re expecting a reward that doesn’t even up come – think about that reel you spent an hour on that got 50 views – it can also just make you feel super crappy. And it’s all just because of an algorithm!
And none of this touches on the emotional energy that’s required when you’re active on these apps. You never really know what you’ll see or hear when you log onto these apps. And with all the many awful things happening around the world, it sometimes feels like we’re torturing ourselves with traumatizing news.
I’d venture to say that humans also weren’t meant to watch or hear bad news all day, every day. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have an understanding of what’s happening in the world and take action and stand up for what we believe in, but rather that we don’t need to see the bad news for 5-6 hours every day in order to take that action for change. And even more, think about what we could do for our causes if we spent those 5-6 hours doing the work and volunteering.
There’s so much we could all be doing with our lives when we spend less time on social media.
How to spend less time on social media: My best tips and tricks
Now that we’ve seen the effects of social media and why it’s so important, let’s talk about how to spend less time on social media.
Remove social media apps from your phone.
Most of you know I removed social media apps from my phone after my month off in January. It was really blissful. I will admit that I added Instagram back for purely business purposes, to record very intermittent reels and stories. But I’ve been rethinking that already as I’ve already felt more pressure to create more and be on the app more, which is exactly what I didn’t miss about having it on my phone.
Download an app to help you.
If you’re a person who really can’t remove social media from your phone, or you’re not ready to make the leap yet, there are tons of apps out there that can help you use them less.
My favorite Android app is StayFree, but Freedom, Offtime, Moment, and I’m sure many others, can help you know your stats and provide ways to manage your time spent on social media.
StayFree is my favorite because every night it sends me my phone stats for the day and compares my time spent on my phone to the day before – which for someone who is a bit competitive like me, really works! It also will block me from Instagram if I go over a certain time limit which is really helpful, and even warns me three minutes before the block happens. However, StayFree is currently only available on Android. Freedom is similar though!
Turn off notifications and keep your phone on silent.
I admit that I almost forgot to include this one because I’ve pretty much always kept my phone on silent all day, every day. I have never been able to tolerate the constant pings of a phone. But when I decided to add Instagram back to my phone (at least for now), I immediately turned off notifications and it’s really helped me check the app on my own time, versus feeling pulled to see what someone DM’d me.
Get an alarm clock.
For the love, don’t you dare sleep with your phone in your bedroom, and especially not on your night table. There’s research that just having your phone close by constantly pulls at our attention – meaning you’ll feel compelled to check it and you might even hear that phantom buzz in the middle of the night. Not worth it – invest in a cheap alarm clock and keep your phone elsewhere.
Create a dedicated space for your phone.
And keep it there most of the time. You don’t actually NEED your phone next to you all day, and having it further away helps your ability to focus and stop feeling the urge to check it for the 500 millionth time.
Make your phone less appealing.
The quickest way to do this is to switch your phone over to grayscale. I know that may sound too simple to work, but Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris says going to grayscale can dull the fun of many our apps, reducing the positive reinforcement effect and slowly taking the edge off our urge to check our phones.
Create “phone hours.”
Decide when you can and can’t use your phone. Think of these like office hours – you know when you’re working or not (hopefully), so take it further and decide when you’re phoning too. And when it’s not phone hours, your phone should stay in its dedicated space.
Track your patterns.
When do you reach for your phone? Start paying attention to when you feel pulled to use your phone. I am almost always feeling bored or anxious. The more you know about what triggers you to check your phone, the more you can be prepared to sub in a new default activity instead.
Create a new default activity.
What do you really wish you had time for right now? Do you want to read more, have more phone calls with loved ones, write, take up a new hobby, workout? Use that wish to create your new default activity, so that the next time you feel the pull, you’re ready with your new activity. And remember – 5 minutes of writing or yoga or reading is better than 5 minutes of time wasted on the phone. Don’t let the idea that it’s “not enough time” keep you from choosing a different activity.
If you’re a business, change your approach to marketing.
If you’re a business owner, and you’re struggling with how to spend less time on social media, this is my best advice: Stop relying so heavily on social media! There are so many amazing ways to market your business that don’t require social media at all, like SEO, referrals, networking, guest podcasting, and others. But if you feel like you absolutely MUST, outsource it if you can. Your peace is a priority, and it’s way too easy to get too invested in your business’s social media accounts as the owner. Let someone else handle it for you if you really feel that your business can’t leave it.
The benefits of spending less time on social media
I created this podcast episode because I wanted to reiterate the negative effects of social media, and help folks spend less time on it, but more importantly, there are so many benefits waiting when we can loosen social media’s grip on our lives.
And the more of us who decide a different path ahead, the better our collective society will be. And I know some of you may think this is super cheesy, but I really do worry about the impact of all of this lost attention and time on our world. Think of the amazing insights or innovations we might be missing because we’re all glued to our screens all day, instead of thinking deeply, or having real conversations, or reading that ONE book that changes everything, or even just appreciating nature more and realizing why we need to protect it.
The personal benefits of spending less time on social media are clear: more time, more focus, more mental health. But what about the benefits to the world if our society as a whole spent less time on social media. What could we do with all of that collective time and focus?
As I end this post today, I encourage you to think of what impact you want to have on the world, and what you could do with an extra 83 days a year.
Really sit with it and let yourself dream. Because ultimately, you have to want what you can do without social media MORE than you want social media if you really want to spend less time on it.
And in case you’re new, I don’t want to forget to mention that I’ve collected the very best resources, including books, articles, podcast episodes, and more to help you quit social media. Get it below!