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Have you watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet? It’ll certainly give you a lot to think about. The documentary features interviews with several tech developers from various social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. The discussion centers around how now-commonplace tools and features, such as “like” buttons and behavior-tracking algorithms, were designed to keep us fully engaged and coming back for more. I’ve heard some people say that watching the program convinced them to get off social media entirely. I’m not there. I still see some benefits to the different platforms I use. But I do believe the content presented reinforces what I have strongly argued in the past: social media can be an incredible drain on personal productivity. And yet, with some personal awareness, time management techniques and a few settings changes, we can capitalize on the social media features that reward us and avoid the productivity trap.

Purposely Designed to Tank Your Productivity

The documentary content is truly fascinating, if you can get past the fact that the subject of the fascination involves the science of manipulation, said target of manipulation being us! Ever wondered why what you just searched for online begins to pop up in your Facebook feed? Have you paused or clicked on an ad and now found that that content shows up even more in your newsfeed? Realized that friends you often engage with on a social media platform start to appear more in your newsfeed?

Or, be honest, do you get a hit of endorphins when you get a like on your post? Felt proud with your volume of likes or level of interaction after a recent Tweet? Ummm hmmmm. It’s human. But it can be dangerous.

Savvy information technologists have built smart algorithms to feed us more of what the programs think we want. They’ve built in features that activate areas of our brain that trigger a rewarding dopamine release. It’s the same release that is responsible for addiction. This Harvard study summary does a great job explaining the brain science behind social media addiction. But, a surface level explanation gets my point across. Social media platforms are purposely designed to keep us on the platform, pulling us off important tasks and serving as a weak substitute for authentic interpersonal engagements.

Psychological Pitfalls

Research has shown that social media can adversely impact self-esteem, especially in teens and tweens. A lot of this is beyond the scope of our discussion here, but I want to mention that self-esteem drives personal productivity. If you find that, for example, after scanning through your Facebook newsfeed, you feel worse about yourself, you might consider hiding your triggering friends. Hiding your friends does not alert them to your change and it does not remove them as a friend. It simply keeps their updates from landing in your newsfeed. If political tweets on Twitter get you in a twitter, consider if what you are following is truly serving you. Perhaps, even, is Twitter a platform you’d be better off eliminating from your social media selection?

My advice is to take a proactive role in the management of your mindset. What you consume online is just as important as what you consume off a plate. Be selective with your social media content. You are what you eat, as they say. If it is not:

  • building you up,
  • feeding your creativity,
  • properly educating you,
  • entertaining you,
  • enabling you to connect with loved ones, or
  • allowing you to stay in contact with professionals you respect and admire

is it really worth your time?

Capitalize on the Real Opportunities Available with Social Media

As stated above, I do see benefits to be had with social media. First and foremost, applications like Facebook are a great way to stay connected to people you love, especially those far away. Business-centered LinkedIn can be an excellent job searching tool and enables you to keep up with professional acquaintances. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn can all be effective advertising vehicles. And, using tools like Hootsuite can reduce the amount of time needed to effectively market across multiple social media platforms. Accessing the free analytics available on Facebook and LinkedIn, you can get a good idea of what resonates with your audience to refine your efforts and maximize your time investment.

Find what works for your business. Consider what personally rewards you, encourages you or inspires you. Then, prudently invest your time there.

Set Boundaries on Your Social Media Time

If you’ve worked hard to build a social network that suits you and fills your newsfeeds with content you enjoy, you are going to want to spend time on your social media platform(s). And, in fact, this is what most of us are doing. Research shows that, in 2019, the average person in the U.S. spent 1 hour and 57 minutes on social media on a typical day. That’s a large block of our waking hours. Too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. And a good thing designed to pull you in can be a real time trap. What could you accomplish with a bonus two hours, or even just one extra hour?

Turn Off the Notifications

A really straightforward way to counter the, well, let’s call it “lure” of social media, is to turn off notifications. When a notice pops up that a friend has liked your post or made their own update, you are pulled off task, even if you resist the urge to go in and look at the activity in that moment. This greatly impacts your productivity. Studies have shown it takes 23 minutes to get back on track after being interrupted. What’s more, the interruption ups your chances of making an error when you do get back to task. And, interruptions in general increase stress levels. Protect your cognitive output and mental health. Save your review of social media activity for when you are ready for your social media.

Time Blocking Works Well for Social Media

Time blocking is a proven strategy for garnering greater productivity. It involves segmenting off time on the calendar to work on projects you desire to complete. Getting sucked into social media can disrupt even the best planned time blocking. If you are an avid social media user, I suggest you go ahead and block off time for social media. Alternatively, you might decide to just use some of your blocked off free time to jump on social media when you feel like it.

When you open up the app, remind yourself of the potential to be pulled in. Commit to honoring your time block. If necessary, check your calendar before you begin so you know what you have coming up next, and when you need to be off the platform.

Dilemma Solved Through Self Awareness and Smart Time Management Tactics

Simply having awareness of, and an appreciation for, the potential risks to personal productivity is a big part of overcoming the social media dilemma. Taking tactical steps, like eliminating notifications and setting (and respecting) time boundaries on usage will safeguard your personal output. Align your online interactions and content exposure to that which honors your values and brings you value. With self awareness and a tactical offense, this dilemma is doable.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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