The most common methods for limiting time spent on social media apps is to set limits and restrictions on use, or remove the app altogether. These approaches may seem simple and easy but in reality they may not achieve the goal of limiting the time spent on social media apps. This slide-set will help you understand why setting limits and restrictions and even removing a social media app from a smartphone can backfire creating more desire to sign on and spend time rather than in fact reducing it. In this way, it might be more important to learn how to spend less time on social media apps than how to limit time on them.
The Internet is a wonderful place, but it has its pitfalls. Social media carries many of these perils: the constant need for approval, the comparison game, and procrastination to name a few. Whether you’re looking to create more time in your day, reduce feelings of guilt or frustration, learn how to reduce social media distraction for yourself or for your children and teens, this guide will teach you many easy strategies to limit time on popular social media apps on your smartphone and desktop computer.
5 Ways to Cut Back on Social Media
1. Track Time Spent on Social Media
You might feel like you’re spending too much time on social media, but how much is too much? How much do you need to cut back? You can’t know the answers until you measure what you’re doing now.
RescueTime is an app for all major platforms that tracks the amount of time you spend on different sites and applications. It can also block sites that it thinks are most distracting to you (more on that in the next section). Apple limits how much it can track on its mobile devices, however, so you may need to use a separate tool for that.
iOS has a built-in tool called Screen Time that tracks how much time you spend on your iPhone, including the exact number of minutes in different apps. From your home screen, swipe right to find a summary. Tap the summary to dive deeper into it.
Google has a similar feature on some of its phones called Wellbeing. There are other third-party Android apps, too. PCMag hasn’t reviewed any, but you can search for “phone usage tracker apps” and find one that works for you.
2. Use Browser Extensions to Block Social Networking Sites
On desktops and laptops, one of the best tools you can use to limit your social media usage is a browser extension that blocks access to sites you choose. Some of them also track time on sites and apps, so those can do double duty.
RescueTime, which I mentioned above, has a feature for premium members that blocks distracting websites. It’s called FocusTime, and it figures out which sites distract you based on your previous history. When you turn on FocusTime, it blocks all those sites for a period of time you set. You can override any site that the app has identified incorrectly. FocusTime also integrates with other apps such as Slack, where it can update your status automatically to let people know not to disturb you.
A few browser extensions offer the same temporary blocking function. One that I like is called StrictWorkflow (free, Chrome). It blocks you from sites that you choose whenever you opt into a phase of focused work by clicking the icon in your browser bar.
StayFocusd is another good one. It lets you block sites permanently or set daily time limits for different sites. It also lets you block specific subdomains, specific paths or pages, and even certain kinds of content on a domain, such as videos.
Another way to block websites is to do it through your home router. Typically, there is a section for domain filtering. If you block a main website, such as Facebook.com, no web browser on your network will be able to open any pages on Facebook.
3. Activate Time Limits in Facebook and Instagram Mobile Apps
Starting with iOS 12, you can set time limits for apps and groups of apps, such as social networking, games, and others. Go to Settings > Screen Time > App Limits and select the apps or groups of apps you want to include. Then, set a daily time limit. You can customize which days of the week it’s applicable as well.
The mobile apps for Facebook and Instagram have a time-tracking function, too. This feature tracks how many minutes per day you use each of the apps and gives you a daily average. It also has an optional time limit you can set for how long you want to spend on the app per day. When you hit the limit, an in-app notification lets you know.
The setting is called Set Daily Reminder. On Instagram, it’s under Settings > Your Activity > Set Daily Reminder. In Facebook, look for Your Time on Facebook in the Settings.
This setting doesn’t block you from accessing the app or even log you out. It merely tells you when you’ve hit the limit and then quickly disappears. It does, however, make you acutely aware of how quickly a few minutes of social media surfing can turn into 30.
4. Observe a Digital Sabbath
Rather than limit your social media usage to a few minutes per day, why not try cutting it out completely for a set period each week? In other words, observe a digital sabbath.
Similar to a religious sabbath, a digital sabbath is a time period each week when you eliminate certain things to focus on others. For example, you could eliminate all social media or all internet usage, over the weekend to focus on family, relaxation, and so forth.
With a digital sabbath, you get to make up the rules. You could say, “No internet from Saturday until Sunday, except for video calls and GPS maps to get around.” Or your rule might be, “No phones or laptops afternoon dinner and never in the bedroom.” Make rules that not only work for you but also give you the desired outcome.
5. Disable Notifications
Not long ago I heard a stat that the majority of people who own a smartphone don’t change the default notification settings. I was clutch-my-pearls shocked. Everyone should adjust at least some notifications, and if you’re trying to manage your social media usage, you definitely should.
Certainly disable audio notifications for social media apps that are giving you trouble. Also disable badges and banners. The next time you log into the app or website, you’ll see all your new notifications; you don’t need to get them first on your phone and then a second time in the app. Once will do.
7 Ways to Limit Social Media Use
Utilize the Alarm on Your Phone
One of the easiest ways to limit social media use it to utilize the alarm on your phone. Set a timer or alarm each time you get on social media so that it goes off just a few minutes afterward. If you usually spend 30 minutes scrolling on Facebook each morning, try to limit this by setting your alarm to 10 or 15 minutes.
Another option you may want to consider is not using the alarm on your phone – that is to help you wake up. Most of us use the alarm on our cell phone to help us get up each morning. The major downside of doing this is that it prompts to to just scroll on social media in bed once you get up.
Instead, get an alarm clock and put your phone in another room. That way, you can at least get of bed without getting tempted to go on social media.
Delete Your Apps
Of course, an easy solution would be to delete your social media apps. This may be easier to do for some people rather than others, but start with one or two apps then work your way up to deleting all social media from your phone.
Right now I don’t have Twitter or Pinterest on my phone. I’ve deleted the Facebook app and Messenger app before and it’s been extremely helpful. Without social media on my phone, it significantly cuts down the time I spend on those platforms.
If going turkey sounds like it would be challenging for you, try to commit to doing this for a day or an entire week. See how you feel and determine what you can do with more time added back to your schedule. This may motivate you to keep going and adopt a new normal that doesn’t involve excessive social media use.
Set Your Phone In Another Room
Maybe you can’t delete all your social media apps right now. Maybe you need to post and promote on social media. Or perhaps you in a few great Facebook groups that you’d like to stay active in.
You can still limit social media use without cutting it out completely. Do you often bring your phone everywhere you go including work? Consider placing your phone is another room when you’re trying to be productive to reduce social media distractions.
I have my phone connected to my FitBit so I can see when I’m getting calls or texts even thought I can’t respond. If I see an important message or incoming call, I may get up and go grab my phone. Otherwise, I leave it and address the call or message later. By having less hands-on time with my phone, I am less likely to waste time on social media.
There’s an App/Website For That
Limit social media use by using an app or website that will block your access during certain times of the day. Forest is a unique app that can provide visual motivation to stay focused and productive at work and at home. Create your ‘blacklist’ with a list of sites or apps that you want to avoid during certain times of the day. Whenever you stay focused on the task at hand, it plants a tree in the app. Over time your tree grows and you earn virtual coins.
Forest partners with a real tree-planting organization that plants actual trees around the world. When you spend the virtual coins earned in Forest on planting real trees, the Forest team donates to their partner organization to actually execute this in various areas. Forest also has a Chrome extension that you can use on your laptop or desktop.
Develop Hobbies That Don’t Involve Screen Time
Reducing screen time overall can also help you limit social media use. I know this can be hard since many of us use a computer at least 8 hours per day to work. However, you can start by participating in more activities and hobbies that don’t involve screen time when you’re not working.
Instead of watching TV, go for a walk or do something outdoors. Exercise at home, organize your space, plat an instrument, or create something with your hands. Even if you only spend 15 to 20 minutes per day on your hobby, this will still train your sub-conscious to get away from screens every now and then.
Have a Phone-Free Dinner Each Night
Some families have a ‘no phone zone’ rule at the dinner table and I completely understand why. Dinner time provides a great way to relax and reconnect with loved ones. Your phone and social media can be extremely distracting at this time and also feed existing bad habits.
The more you learn to set your phone down, disengage with screens and direct your full attention to the present moment, the better it will be to limit social media use overall.
Change Your Phone Layout
This is an easy change you can make. If you’re not yet ready to delete some social media apps, change your phone’s layout so that more of your utility apps show first on the home screen. This way you’re training yourself to prioritize the more functional apps first and even decide whether or not you need to open them in the first place.
Realize that it took time add social media usage to your schedule and it will take time and effort to limit social media usage as well. With this tips and actions, you can start transitioning to a more productive schedule and free up more time.
You can enjoy these apps immensely, but you should also be aware that there are limits for how much time you should spend. Setting up restrictions on your phone will help prevent overuse and addiction.