10 Tips for Spending Less Time on Facebook
I love Facebook.
And I spend far, far too much time on Facebook.
I like screens in general. I read a lot of ebooks. I think Twitter is fun. I love posting on my blog.
Last year, when my youngest wanted to wake me up in the morning, he would stick my iPhone in my hand as if that’s the way I’m activated. Oh, feel free to judge. I give you full permission.
Of all the apps and websites that I use, it’s Facebook that gives me the most trouble. I visit the site more than I need to, almost always out of habit. Looking up a recipe? I check Facebook too. Printing out a math lesson? I check Facebook too. Googling the weather report? I wonder what’s happening on Facebook…
Half the time, I don’t even consciously think about it — my fingers just navigate to the site on their own. Sometimes I think about deleting my account entirely, but I don’t think I can. Most (all?) planning in our homeschooling community happens on Facebook and it would be too challenging for me to be cut off from our network of homeschool friends. Sometimes you just need to know that your not the only mom that forgot to teach English again for the third day in a row. Because it’s February.
But still … I wish I wasn’t on Facebook all the time. I’ve been thinking that I should cut back.
I cut back last year during Lent (2016). It was kind of a success. To be clear, I didn’t give it up completely — I only stayed off Facebook from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. This arrangement worked well for a few reasons:
1) I didn’t really need to make an announcement that I was giving up Facebook for Lent, which stopped people from teasing me each time I forgot, or when I ultimately gave up.
2) I was able to keep my blog’s Facebook page moderately active by posting at night.
3) I was able to check in with the homeschooling groups and make sure we showed up at meetings and field trips and coops. And commiserate about Februarys.
4) I was still reachable in a way that was convenient for others. I don’t want to burden people by becoming difficult to get a hold of.
Logging in at night also gave me the “added bonus” of letting me see all the memes that make fun of people who give up Facebook for Lent. They didn’t really bother me, of course. I laughed at the funny ones and assumed that the less funny ones were made by grumpy people who gave up sugar for 40 days. Then I ate another two pieces of chocolate, just because I could.
I wish I could tell you that I nailed my Facebook fast, but I only lasted a couple weeks. I know, I know. I’m pathetic. However, it was still a valuable experience for me.
First, I was surprised to discover that nothing actually happens on Facebook. It feels like there’s a constant stream of information, but there truly isn’t. Each night, when I eagerly logged on after a 12-hour break, I expected to be hit with a rush of news and dopamine. I wasn’t.
What happened to the funny quotes by kids, cute photos of bunnies, and obnoxious chain posts accusing me of being too ashamed to share a Bible verse? Apparently people aren’t posting this stuff nearly as often as I thought. Facebook just fills in the empty spaces with updates from pages that I don’t even care about, keeping my newsfeed constantly changing and tricking me into thinking that things are happening. But it’s all just noise.
Second, I discovered that I’m part of the noise problem. When something happens, whether good or bad, my first instinct is to share. Yet when I was on my self-imposed Facebook time out, I wasn’t able to post about everything that happened. It was a bit of a shock, to be honest. If something bad happened, I felt a little bit at a loss. It felt strange to process the event on my own, to reflect, to pray. If something good happened, I was forced to savour it on my own. And when 8:00 rolled around and I was free to post, I discovered that the things that I was so eager to share earlier in the day often didn’t seem worth mentioning.
That was a year ago now and I know that I’ve fallen back into my old Facebook-checking habits. I’d like to cut back again. No as a Lent thing — more of a basic sanity thing. A digital decluttering thing.
In preparation, I’m trying to think back on the tips and tricks that helped me spend less time on the site during my Facebook fast last year. If you have any tips that I haven’t mentioned, please be sure to leave me a comment, because I need all the help I can get.
10 Tips for Spending Less Time on Facebook
1) Turn off your Computer when you’re Finished with It
Technology amazes me. I’ve been known to blurt out “it’s like we live in Star Trek!” with wonder when I scroll around on my iPad. Like, frequently. When I email my mom a file while I’m chatting with her on the phone, it blows my mind every time I hear her computer instantly ding. Sometimes I hold my children firmly by the shoulders, look deep into their eyes, and try to make them understand that they live in the future. They think I’m crazy. And old.
As far as I’m concerned, the only sore point in this fantastic world of computers is that they take so stupidly long to boot up.
Why? Why can’t they be faster? We don’t have to listen to the dial up noise when we connect to the Internet anymore, but for some reason I still have to wait almost a full minute for my computer to turn on? And then another minute for it to connect to WiFi? It offends my 21st-century sensibilities.
This works to my advantage when I’m trying to cut back on Facebook. When I’m done checking the newfeed, I turn the computer off. Then, next time I go to check Facebook out of sheer habit, I have to turn the computer on. And believe me, half the time I can’t be bothered.
2) Make Your Computer Space Less Comfortable
Clearly, laziness can be used to my advantage. Building on that, I tried to make it even less convenient to use my computer by moving my computer chair away. Suddenly I was forced to hunch down awkwardly so that I could see the screen. Sure, it’s easy enough to put the chair back, but it’s the little inconveniences that stop me from sitting down unconsciously and falling down the Facebook rabbit holes.
3) Move Your Computer to Another Floor
At one point last year (though not at Lent), I took the inconvenience tactic a step further and I moved the computer into the basement. It wasn’t a big deal — if I wanted to check my newsfeed, I just had to run downstairs for a moment. It’s not that different from running to the basement to switch a load of laundry or grab a tool from the garage. Yet, it was effective for me because I felt uneasy while my kids were on another floor. It stopped me from mindlessly scrolling.
Unfortunately, this arrangement didn’t last long — my oldest child cut her finger while I was downstairs uploading a picture to my photo stream. She still would have done it if I was in the kitchen cooking supper or in the living room folding laundry — but somehow the fact that she did it while I was on Facebook in the basement made me feel so incredibly guilty. We brought the computer back upstairs as soon as we got home from the doctor’s. And I think I bought the Chromebook that week too, so that I could stay close by no matter where my kids went. That might have been an overreaction on my part. Helicopter parent-style impulse shopping.
4) Use a Browser Extension that Blocks Websites
Making the computer inconvenient to use is only the first step towards avoiding Facebook. Sometimes you need to do something more, especially if you backslide and buy a second computer that’s even more portable and convenient. Seriously, you should see how fast my Chromebook turns on. It’s amazing.
For this reason, I went ahead and installed the StayFocused extension on my Chrome browser. I can program it to block us from using whatever sites I choose, and I can pick how long I can use the site each day, and I can pick what hours I want the extension to be active. For example, I can set Netflix to work for a measly 20 minutes a day until after 8:00 pm when the kids are in bed. Ha ha … suckers. Said in my most loving motherly voice.
Because StayFocused is a Chrome Extension, it works simultaneously on my desktop and my Chromebook — I don’t get another 20 minutes of forbidden-Facebook time when I switch computers. Of course, when I’m desperate, I can always use Firefox or Safari instead. But they’re kind of slow. Refer back to point one for how I feel about slow.
5) Leave and Unfollow All the Groups, Pages and Profiles
Hands down, leaving and unfollowing is the most helpful thing I’ve done in terms of cutting down the time I waste on Facebook. On the advice of Ruth Soukup of the Blogger’s Productivity Guide, I have spent hours and hours (and hours) leaving all the Facebook groups that I’m not interested in anymore. A quick glance shows that I’m still in over 100 — wowzers! They aren’t too much of a distraction, though, because once I was done leaving all the unnecessary groups, I turned off all the notifications from the remaining ones. This means that nothing from those 100 groups appears in my newsfeed. If I want to know what’s going on in them, I need to manual click over to the group and read the posts there.
After I finished purging my feed of groups, I turned to pages. I have liked so many pages. Slowly but surely, I unliked all the ones I am not interested in, and then unfollowed the ones that I am. Sometimes it feels mean to unlike a page, but you’re really doing the page’s admin a favour. If Facebook sees a page with a lot of inactive fans, it assumes that the page is a dud and it doesn’t show the page’s updates in many newsfeeds. For that reason, a page can do better with 50 active and engaged fans then 100 inactive ones.
Of course, none of this applies to the Unhurried Home Facebook page. In that case, you want to make sure that notifications are set to “see first” in your newsfeed so you don’t miss a thing. Of course.
Once I was finished with groups and pages, I ruthlessly culled my friends. OK, that sounds harsh. All I did was unfriend the people that I don’t know well and unfollow about half of my remaining friends — the ones that I don’t connect with often and the ones that are really, really interesting. As long as we communicate once in awhile, and as long as you are moderately boring, I haven’t unfollowed you. Feel better?
It took days, this process of leaving, unfriending, and unfollowing — but it was so worth it. My newsfeed is slow and dull now, so even when I do log onto Facebook, there isn’t much to see.
6) Distract Yourself
As Facebook became less interesting, I made a point of finding other things to do. Distraction can be a big part of breaking bad habits. If you find yourself on Facebook without even remembering when you sat down at the computer, you might find it helpful to stay away from the house. Visit friends, go hiking, start Christmas shopping early this year. Like, super early. Make it your goal to be the only one done your holiday shopping in April. Everyone gets chocolate bunnies in their stockings this year!
If it’s your phone that sucks you in, remove the Facebook app and replace it with something else. I’ve been reading a lot of books on my Kindle app lately, which I’ve grown to love. I’m catching up on my reading and I’m spending less time on social media. Double win.
7) Cut Off your Data
Maybe removing the Facebook app from your phone isn’t enough — you need to do something more drastic. I felt that way last year, and that’s why I cut the data from my cell phone plan. I now have the $120/year plan from Rogers that gives me unlimited texting, unlimited evening and weekend calling, and 50 minutes of talk time for the rest of the year. But no data at all.
To be honest, it hasn’t been as helpful as I expected. Well, beyond saving us hundreds of dollars a year. But in terms of Facebook, I’ve found that I can access it with the free WiFi that is pretty much everywhere we go – libraries, community centres, coffee shops, and many stores and restaurants. All of my friends have WiFi too, though I try to stop myself from logging in at their houses. But it’s not like I can’t ask for the password if I have the pressing need to check my email.
8) Set Up Facebook Notifications to Go to Your Email
Does the thought of missing messages on Facebook give you anxiety? I have my account set up to send notifications to my email. Normally, I don’t even bother to open them — they just pile up among the thousands of other unread emails in my account. However, if I’m trying to stay off Facebook, I find it helpful to be able to see when someone has messaged me or commented on my threads. That way I can log on if necessary. Which is never.
9) Let Your Friends Know that You’re Taking a Break
While I didn’t post the standard “giving up Facebook for Lent” post, I did let a few of my friends and family know that I wouldn’t be online until the evenings. That way they knew to call or text me instead if they need me right away, and I didn’t keep checking in “just in case” someone needed to get in touch.
10) Use Other Social Networks
I know, this seems counter-intuitive: if you’re trying to cut back on one social media site, what do you accomplish by replacing it with another? I suppose this last tip is more for bloggers and business owners and anyone else who uses Facebook for marketing purposes. When I had a small business, I was on Facebook all the time. I wanted my name known in all the babywearing communities and I spent every last bit of my spare time in Facebook groups, chatting with people about wraps and slings and buckle carriers. It was exhausting and I would have happily given Facebook up if I thought I could get away with it. If that’s your situation, then consider doing what I did last year — give up Facebook for certain hours of the day. Then, in your down time, hang out on another social media network. Ideally, the one you’ve been neglecting.
For me, that’s (no surprise here) Pinterest. While I can easily spend an hour or two scrolling through my Facebook feed, following links and reading comments, I have no trouble with Pinterest. My Pinterest feed is 37 projects I’m never going to make, 14 meals I’m not likely to cook, and six hairstyles that I can’t really pull off. Nothing about that sucks me in.
Maybe you love Pinterest even more than Facebook. In that case, spend some time on Twitter. Or StumbleUpon.
Who am I kidding, they’re all great. I could love each and every one of them. Even Pinterest is growing on me. A little.
Still, no other social network causes me to suffer from MSS (mindless scrolling syndrome) in quite the same was as Facebook and I’m due for another break.
If you have any good tips for staying off the site, be sure to let me know. Maybe by this time next year, my youngest will try to wake me up by putting a book in my hand, or my knitting needs, or maybe even (dare I dream) a pair of running shoes. Anything but the phone.