Stop the Social Media Time Thief

How to prevent social media stealing your time

Social Media, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, even emails have all become a much greater part of our lives in recent times.  The value of the increased ease of communication with others is huge. We are now able to quickly and easily keep in touch with those in different countries, different time zones or even simply different floors in the office.

social media time thief

The benefit of being able to send an email in the morning and have an answer to your question before lunch is enormous.

It’s also so much easier to email someone instead of playing phone tennis where it seems almost impossible to catch them when they are free and for them to catch you when you are.

Such a time saver to simply email them and allow them to respond in their own time.  How fabulous to be able to follow a family member through their Facebook photos as they travel around the world on their trip of a lifetime. Who wants to go back to having to wait weeks for a letter to arrive by mail to find out what someone is doing (or realistically what they were doing a month ago) and then have to look at 1001 photos upon their return?

The immediacy of these tools can certainly add value to our lives.   Problems occur however when the tool that once made our lives easier becomes something that distracts us from our current task or extends our work day to intrude in to what used to be our family time.  It was once possible to leave the office and be free from work until we returned the next day. Now, with email access even on our phones it is very easy to be tempted to ‘just check one thing’ and find ourselves spending more hours working after we are supposed to have finished.  

I had a work colleague once who was prone to doing this. He received and responded to work emails at any time of the day or night- yes, even at 2 o’clock in the morning. The eventual toll on his health and capacity to do his work was quite catastrophic.  

There has to be a time when work is turned off and personal life begins.

It can however, be difficult to use willpower alone to prevent ourselves from doing this. Sometimes we need to enlist the help of the technology itself to give us a hand.  

Steps to stop Social Media Running your life…

1) Turn off notifications on your smart devices.  

If you see a notification that you have 3 new items on facebook or 2 new emails when you have picked up your phone simply to add to your shopping list, it can be almost impossible to ignore them. It’s very easy to think ‘I’ll just have a little look”, become distracted and end up spending the next 20 minutes looking at cat videos or responding to issues at work.  By the time we have finished that, we have forgotten what we grabbed our phone to do in the first place and we have essentially robbed ourselves of time we could have used for some more meaningful purpose. Or at the very least an activity that we actively chose to do.  

2) Turn off ‘fetch new data’ on your email.  

While at work, having emails show up automatically on the desktop can be very distracting. It is easy to lose an important train of thought because of the distraction of the pop up. Even if we do not respond to the email or take same sort of action because of it, it can take 20 minutes or more to return to the thinking zone we were previously in. The task will inevitable take longer to complete and may well not be as good as it could otherwise have been.  

When I first got my iPad, the default set up was to have all emails ping whenever they arrived. This was horrible. I had a number of subscriptions so I had a lot of emails arriving each day. Many of these were from overseas and given the time difference, could easily arrive in the middle of the night. The last thing I needed was my iPad pinging and waking me up from a sound sleep.  For more about the effect of technology on sleep see “Is sleep overrated?“.    

3) Set a specific time each day to read work emails.  

Setting a specific time each day to read work emails can help immensely.

Of course if the occupation you are in requires immediate response to customer issues for example, this will not work for you but for most people, setting 2 or 3 times throughout the day to read and deal with emails can be a lifesaver.

I know for me that each time I read my emails I am required to then spend up to 45 minutes working on those tasks the emails have created for me. I want this to be time I have allocated for these tasks and not something that will pull me away from an important project I was in the middle of working on.

Often the urgency of the email will make me want to drop everything and address it first. I have developed the philosophy that if something really is urgent, a phone call or visit to my office will alert me to that.  

The time you choose to read your emails will be a purely personal thing. Maybe you need to read your emails first thing in the morning to respond to any issues that have arisen and need immediate attention.  Perhaps for you it is best to complete your important tasks first and check emails later in the morning when you can address them.  

Obviously you need to decide what works best for you but just because someone can send an email at any time does not mean they are entitled to an immediate response. Someone requiring an immediate response is quite welcome to pick up the phone for that.  

A great article that investigates this in more detail is – “The cost of continuously checking email.” -Harvard Business  Review.  

4) Set a specific time each day to interact with Social Media.  

This one is a lot harder, I’ll admit. The pull of these things can be very strong once you’ve fully started to engage in them. It is very easy to lose track of time in this zone and then find ourselves playing catch up in other areas of our lives including our important relationships.  

I’m not advocating throwing the baby out with the bath water.  I enjoy interacting with friends on social media. I get to keep up with a good friend who is overseas, easily communicate with those in a different time zone and see pictures of my nieces and nephews who live far away. The positives are huge. We just need to find a way to keep the balance.      

For assistance in creating a more Organized Lifestyle, check out the resources found here: