Stop Social Networking From Taking Over Your Life

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2016-02-29 Email Print this article Print
Social media distractions

How can you break the social media habit without quitting social media? Get set up to receive good info without being sucked down the social media rabbit hole.

Doing Social Media Without Doing Social Media

So, how can you do social media without doing social media? The secret is to set yourself up to receive the good stuff from social media, without getting anywhere near the rabbit hole.

There are three steps that can allow you to continue using social media without letting it devour your life.

1. Decide in advance what posts you need and have it delivered to your email.

Most major social networks have a "notifications" category in the settings. You can find Facebook's here, Twitter's here and Google+'s here.

These notifications typically offer notifications for your phone, via SMS, on the desktop and via email. Turn off notifications everywhere except for email, then carefully and selectively choose which kinds of notifications you want to receive. Be ruthless.

Your priorities may differ, but I turn on notifications for direct mentions: when someone creates a mention link using my name or directly replies to something I say. I also accept notifications from anyone who direct-messages me on Twitter. That way, I respond to people who are reaching out to me specifically, and I don't come off like a jerk who's ignoring people. These direct messages and mentions sometimes offer a lot of benefit in terms of knowledge or opportunity.

I also receive notifications about posts by a small number of people. This number includes my immediate family and one or two other people.

I recommend turning off notifications about new followers, "likes" and all the rest. These don't matter and just waste your time.

Create a folder in email and set your rules or filter to drop all social media messages into this folder. This will keep social media from constantly distracting you.

2. Check this social email folder only once a day.

Here's where all this gets really powerful. Make sure you check your social media email folder only once a day, and as late in the day as possible. Decide in advance how much time you’ll spend doing this and stick to your time limit.

The once-a-day habit replaces the anytime-I-feel-like-it habit, which frees up enormous time and mental resources. By putting off social engagement until the end of the day, you conserve your best mental energy for work and other important things.

You'll note that in step 1 you turned off notifications for social on your phone and to all other places except email. The idea is to get into the habit of never noticing or thinking about social media activity during the day, until the designated social hour.

3. Continuously refine what you get delivered.

This system is not a set-it-and-forget-it affair. As you process your social media folder, notice what you're getting that you don't want to get, and also take note of what you're missing. When you notice these problems, go back to the notification settings in each social network and address them by tweaking the settings. Eventually, it will all be good, and you'll get exactly what you want without getting anything you don't want.

Social media can be detrimental to your productivity and destructive to your life. On the other hand, when used in a deliberate and thoughtful way, it can be a great way to keep in touch with people.

Remember that your time and attention are the most valuable resources you have. So don't squander them on social media.


Mike Elgan, a Baseline contributor, is a Silicon Valley-based columnist, writer, speaker and blogger.


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