Q&A: Social media time management

Question: How can I spend less time online and on social media? I hardly dare to admit it, but I think I’m connected to a computer or mobile device for 14 hours per day. I work with a computer, I have a smartphone and I use my computer for a course I’m taking part-time at university. I feel like I live in a cage called the web.

Answer: Social media takes time. Lots of time. Everywhere people are looking down at their devices and are connecting somehow somewhere or just reading the news, or playing games. That it takes a lot of time to keep up to date with everything is one of the negative things about digital connectivity.

Depending on the age you are in you will have a different understanding of the social media norms. For a young person it might be normal to send 200 text messages per day and for another 200 text messages is what they send in one year.

I’ve been brave and tracked my usage of my computer and smartphone for a few months. I tracked which websites I used, which applications such as word and keynote. In total I spent about 40 hours per week in front my computer and I checked my iPhone between 30-60 times per day.

Was I surprised? Not really. The reason I wanted to check how many times I looked at my phone every day was that a speaker at an event said that research showed that people check their mobile phone 220 times per day. I thought it sounded a bit much so I had to check it myself.

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There are plenty of Apps out there to check your mobile phone use and if you are close to 220 times per day. The problem is that if you are using your mobile all the time is just part of your daily life, and it’s hard to measure how often you are not aware of your phone. Often I don’t close my phone and just leave it on a table not far from me when I’m working. If I measured how many times I used it it would have been one, but if I measured how many times I thought about that it is just right there it would not have been possible to measure.

To understand more about my dependency of my mobile phone I removed all my Apps that I use daily on it for ten days. I only lasted for nine days but I learned quite a lot from it. I removed all my social media Apps such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. There were no news Apps on it, I tend to check the news when I’m waiting on the tube or train. I had to keep the email App on my iPhone, I don’t think you can remove it.

For the nine days that my experiment lasted I learned that I get a lot of messages over social media that are important and when I can’t do anything with them during that day when out and about I will feel stressed when back home in the evening. I found myself sitting replying and ‘action-ing’ messages late in the evening.

You can only partly decide how the information around you is flowing into your life, it’s the people you are communication with who have part of the power. If they are using Facebook as a way to connect with you, you have to reply back to them there.

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To some extend you can train your friends and network how to connect with you, but as I found in my nine day trial people use the channel they feel closest to at the time and sent the message there.

To be connected all the time is not healthy for our brains. The nerve cells in our brains need to relax every now and then. The only person who can decide when it’s time for relax time is you. One question you have to ask yourself is: ‘Can I be mindful enough to not use my mobile device or computer for a few hours every day?’ Stress management experts all over the world would say that we need to get away from the information overflow for a while every day. Ask yourself if you are up for it and what you can do about it.