The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam advised us to take advantage of our free time before we become busy. We have somewhat of a different problem now.
Instead of becoming busy, we’ve made ourselves busy. A lot of us go through the same social media routines constantly. At work we cycle through Gmail, ESPN, CNN, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, and Pinterest on a habitual loop. We don’t even think about the websites we’re looking at, we’re programmed to do it. We take our phones and we have a similar pattern wired into our brains: text, Facebook, Twitter, email, Tumblr, Instagram, and so on.
After a long day we get home, and we’re mentally exhausted. If anyone asks, we say “it was a busy day.” The reality is we didn’t accomplish much, but we were busy. It has practically become a fad or bragging point to show how busy you are all the time. People stare intently at their phones as if they’re engrossed in saving an endangered species (while instead playing Angry Birds) just to look busy.
After this business, we “veg out” in front of the television to recover. Our families start to take on the same characteristics. Family time becomes everyone sitting together in the living room, each on their own device. Dinners with friends are now dinners with friends and their phones.
So what can we do? It is not feasible to suddenly shun something that has become an integral part of our lives. There are definitely apps to help keep you focused and productive, but if you’re like me, you hate micromanaging your life. To use an app to block out a website takes too much willpower to even download, much less turn on.
Instead, here are 5 easy things you can do to change your social media consumption behavior and make better use of your time and mental energy:
1. Turn Off ALL Your Notifications
I remember when it was cool to carry around a pager. It meant you were important enough that you needed an extra way to be reached by people. Now we’re too available. I’m not here to tell you to deactivate your Facebook account or anything like that, but there are ways to systematically reduce your consumption of social media.
A notification forces you to think about one of these apps when you were (or should be) thinking about something else. Turning off notifications makes you use those apps only when you want to think about them, on your own terms.
Turn off all notifications for:
Facebook (likes, comments, etc.)
Twitter (replies, retweets, favs)
But what if you miss out on something that important? Well, you do carry around a smartphone. Someone will find a way to actually call you if it’s that urgent.
2. Replace Your Most Used Apps with Something Productive
If you check Facebook 60+ times a day, you need to cut it down. The best way to do this is not by forcing yourself to check it less, or forcing yourself to wait a certain amount of time before you check it again, or even temporarily deactivating it.
Each of those requires cognitive energy for each decision point. It becomes mentally draining and you’ll eventually give in. Instead, delete the app you waste the most time on off your phone. Check Facebook all you want, but just not from your phone.
The location where the Facebook icon was, replace it with something else like Kindle. Now when you habitually hit the same spot on your phone, you’ll open up something useful instead.
3. Unfriend, Unfollow, Unsubscribe
Go through all your lists. There are people you voluntarily allow into your personal mental space; get rid of as many as possible.
We have this great FOMO (fear of missing out) that prevents us from unfollowing someone. You can never possibly process all the content you want, so instead become extremely selective. There was a point in time that I used to follow over 100 blogs regularly. That list is now down to less than 15, and even then I delete 95%+ of the posts without reading them — on purpose.
This one-time effort of unfollowing people will now free your mind to focus on things of true value.
4. Hang Out With Your Friends, Not Your Facebook Friends
Every time you go to a restaurant you see it: a table full of friends, all eating their food while occupied with their phones (probably talking to other friends on Facebook). Why do they even bother to hang out together? Just text if that’s the case.
The next time you are with a group of people, take all the phones and stack them on top of each other. Focus on enjoying the real, live interaction (and definitely the real food!). Also agree that the first person to reach for their phone picks up the bill.
5. Check In Family Devices At A Certain Time
Block out a set time of at least 1 hour a day where no one in the house is allowed to use a screen. Take a box, and collect all the devices and put it away. Force yourselves to talk to each other. Do this for a while and watch how this will improve communication and bonding between family members, inshaAllah!
If you are a family with kids, it is essential that you and your spouse have your own time set aside daily where you speak to each other without a screen or phone within reach.
Time is the best parameter we have to measure our life: the more time passes, the more life does too; and the more we allow things like social media to control our time and how we spend it, the more our life is out of our own control.
The above were just five things you can do to cut down on unnecessary time spent on social media, and use that same time for something better and more fulfilling. What other ways have you tried to stop social media from taking over your life?