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How to Spend Less Time on Social Media (and Get Stuff Done)

Let’s be real. Social media is the ultimate time stealer.

It’s incredibly distracting and attention grabbing. After all, that’s what it’s built for.

And there isn’t just one social media platform to be had. There are several now that many of us toggle between nowadays, probably several times per day. It is definitely not 2006 anymore!

Photo of different social media icons.
Social media platform types have grown in recent years. Photo credit: Aman Pal on Unsplash

Social media has a similar effect to traveling between time zones. Suddenly, you look up, dazed, and wonder how an hour or more has gone by.

What time is it? 9 pm??

Meanwhile, your house is a wreck, your to-do list has not ONE thing marked “done,” and you feel very unproductive. And probably a little bit guilty.

Worse, you may even ruminate over what you just saw as you were scrolling through feeds. So many other people with better lives, more followers, more likes, more clever posts.

If any of that describes you, read on.

If you’re looking for a bit more productivity, a bit more calm, and a bit more order in your life, putting some type of time limit on social media can make a difference. But there are a few more strategies beyond that. Below, I share with you how to spend less time on social media, so that you can reclaim your day.

Or maybe just the laundry.

Treat Social Media Use Like a Work Task – Use Time Blocking

Wait. Did you say “work?” Shouldn’t social media be fun??

Think about it this way.

What other activities in the day do you carve out blocks of time for? Kids’ activities? Going to the gym? Work meetings? Church?

Some of those activities might actually be kind of fun, right?

You can do it with this, too.

Make an agreement with yourself that you’ll check in at specific times of the day and put some time constraints around it (30 minutes, one hour). That could be early morning before everyone wakes or after dinner. I wouldn’t advise you do this before bedtime, if you find social media puts you in a low mood, but decide what works for you.

Photo of clock and calendar on desk. Time blocking can help you put limits around social media.
Use time blocking to put limits around social media time. Photo credit: Freestocks.org on Unsplash

If you don’t think time blocking can necessarily work for you, or if you just need to go a little deeper into this topic, you might consider checking out some of Cal Newport’s work. He’s a professor at Georgetown University, and he’s written extensively on it. He has a blog, books, and a podcast all dedicated to topics like digital distraction, time management and attention, and the benefits of “deep work.”

Will you “cheat” every now and then using time blocking? Probably so. But sometimes when you’ve already set up a mental boundary, or plugged social media time in as an actual calendar appointment, you could feel more inclined to follow through consistently.

Manage the Expectations of Others Around Social Media

Maintaining good mental health and productivity unfortunately requires creating and communicating boundaries.

This can be hard sometimes. If you’re a “people pleaser” type, this may be even more difficult for you, but I urge you to try it out.

Remember the time blocking method above? Let others know that you have family or personal time and don’t respond to messages immediately during certain hours, or even make a simple statement such as, “I respond to most comments within “x” hours,” or “I don’t respond during family dinner time.” Most people truly will understand.

Communicating your boundaries up front can be helpful, because then if you don’t respond to messages immediately, people aren’t left wondering.

I’ve even seen work colleagues apply some of the same rules to email responses, and it was surprising to me how understanding others were.

But you do have to communicate your boundaries somehow, somewhere.

Don’t Give Social Media Time to Cast Its Dopamine Spell on You

The effects of social media use on the brain and the dopamine link is downright fascinating, and unfortunately, a bit of a dark topic.

In short, social media can function similar to a drug or drug addictions. All of those likes, all of those affirmations, it can be very intoxicating.

And you need more and more. Your brain actually starts to beg for it.

Photo of graffiti on wall stating "all we need is more likes." Constant affirmations from social media can be very addicting.
Constant affirmations received from social media are very addicting. Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

This, in turn, leads you to spend more and more time chasing the same feeling.

And when you stop receiving all of those likes or all of those new followers, the feeling can be devastating.

By not allowing these platforms to take control of your happiness in the first place, you don’t place yourself at risk of addiction from it. So you have to break the reward cycle.

You have to find other things to give you the same dopamine hit, so to speak.

So how do we find (or maintain) this elusive dopamine substance?

Much of it comes down to basic self care, such as getting more sleep, keeping balanced nutrition, and regular exercise. But getting enough sunlight, massage, and listening to music are a few other suggestions out there.

The more positive, dopamine-boosting (or dopamine preserving) activities you have available in your tool set, the less likely you are to resort to social media to fill the void.

Photo of wooden carved happy face in sunny yard. Vitamin D from sun exposure is associated with increased dopamine.
Photo credit: Dawn Kim on Unsplash

Turn Off All Notifications (Yes, All of Them)

If you don’t hear social media notifications or see them flash up on the screen, you won’t feel compelled to pick up the phone and check it.

This further helps you enforce the boundaries and the time blocking set out above.

Physically Relocate Your Smartphone During Important Tasks

Still tempted to check social media constantly?

Enlist support from a partner, friend, or roommate for the first suggestion below. Those closest to you are best for holding you accountable.

Turn your phone over for safekeeping to your “trusted smartphone custodian” during the block of time when you need zero distractions. If you’re worried an emergency may come through, you can give the “temporary custodian” permission to hand over the phone to you.

If that’s not an option, you can relocate your phone temporarily in an inconvenient place such as a room or closet that’s further away from you. Wherever the location, it has to be a little bit of a pain to get to!

Remove the Apps that You Just Can’t Resist

Ever been on TikTok? I can only describe the experience as seeing a car accident by the side of the highway. You know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t help it.

Photo of the TikTok app on a smartphone. TikTok has a very attention holding algorithm.
TikTok’s algorithm is designed to hold your attention. Photo credit: Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Thirty minutes then go by, and you discovered you’ve watched 50 cat videos.

The jury still seems to be out on whether this is a “true” social media platform, but that issue aside, as a cat video enthusiast, I knew this app had to go.

If I ever do want to take a look at TikTok, I know I now have to drag out the heavy laptop (where I’ve made sure browsers don’t remember my password to the site). It’s at this point that I may have to reset the password because I forgot it…and well, you get the point. After all that effort, I just don’t even bother.

Where to Learn More About the Impacts of Social Media

If you want to go more in depth than I have here, the Center for Humane Technology (CHT) has published some excellent resources, which includes a handy toolkit with other ideas on how to shield yourself from the attention grabbing aspects of social media. CHT also suggests some alternatives to the more popular social media apps. For instance, did you know that there is a photo sharing app that’s an alternative to Instagram with no “like” feature or ads?

If you listen to podcasts, check out Your Undivided Attention (also from CHT) where the hosts go into pretty deep analysis on all things social media. I enjoyed this podcast so much that I listed to three episodes in a row!

You Won’t Be Perfect, and It Gets Easier over Time

The more I learned about the mechanisms behind social media apps, the more I realized I had to take more control of my time around social media use immediately, as it really was pulling away a lot more time from my day than I realized.

Am I perfect at all of this all of the time? No.

Have I gone off social media cold turkey? No.

Social media is a fact of life (and my business) so it’s unavoidable.

But by being a little more disciplined and intentional about it, my head is much clearer, I’m probably feeling more positive, and well, I think we are finally on top of all of the laundry!

Tell me in the comments, have you ever had to eliminate apps or take a social media break? What did you do?


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