I’ve decided to do a 30-day challenge to stop using social media.
I’ve read a lot about people performing ‘dopamine detoxes’ and similar detox style methods of removing certain things from their life (such as social media, tv, notifications, emails, etc.). People have found this to improve their productivity, increase their will power, and be able to perform hard tasks first.
My own personal experience with social media isn’t bad. I use it a lot to promote Nathan Challenges Life, with pictures, videos, YouTube, sharing, writing posts, uploading blogs and much more. I use it to contact friends, stay updated with what’s going on with news on various topics, and other things like joining groups for motivation. However, outside of using it for this, I’ve found myself somewhat addicted to checking my phone for notifications, scrolling endlessly and pointlessly through social media for sometimes hours at a time, and just using it to fill in any time I’m bored (which I’ll go into a little later).
So for me, I wanted to do a social media detox for 30 days to:
- reset my current phone habits
- be comfortable with boredom
- think more
- use that time more productively
- use my down time for more interesting and useful things (learning a skill, reading, writing blog posts, working on videos, and much more).
My average daily usage before starting this challenge
Here are just a few screenshots from my phone that show my pretty average daily usage:
As you can see, there are hours spent on social media, almost a hundred unlocks of my phone a day (mainly due to notification and when bored), and countless notifications (to be fair that was a lot of messaging, but, for every notification there is distraction) – I can just see and I know how distracted I get and how many times I’ve lost focus and then taking 5-10 minutes to get back on track to what I was doing.
And just imagine the amount of focus time I’ve lost because of notifications, as well as the interruptions and distractions because of it. 142. Crazy. Also, for screen unlocks, 97 times, probably equates to at least a minute on average per unlock (if not more), that’s ~97 minutes or 1.5 hours that I’ve spent getting distracted, pulling out my phone, and spent with my eyes glued to a screen.
Rules of the No Social Media for 30 Days Challenge
- No social media for any means.
- Removing all notifications from my phone.
- Only using YouTube to upload videos and learn something (e.g., if something needs to be fixed).
- Limit my phone use to essential tasks (calendar, calls, camera, emails needed for study/work, and useful apps like maps, lists, and the Ecosia).
That’s essentially it. Really just trying to minimise the time I spend on my phone.
So with all that, let’s start this challenge!
Day 1 – 21 October 2020
Day 1 was actually really good! Instead of reaching for my phone in the morning to wake myself up and look at social media, notifications, updates, and everything else, once I woke up I just got out of bed. Just right there saved 10-15min.
I found myself very focused at work (working from home), and wasn’t distracted by pretty much anything… up until about 10am, when I first had a thought to check my phone – literally for no reason other than thinking I could take a quick break and check for any updates or just scroll social media for entertainment. But I stopped myself, made a coffee, then got back to work… weird.
It was pretty much like that for the rest of the day – not really thinking about anything other than work, and finding myself more focused.
There were times I really just felt like getting my phone and having a look at something.. anything.. but I tried hard not to. A few times during the day I accidentally swiped by habit to the google article screen (populated with articles relevant to my favourite topics) – where I started to scroll through articles, but then caught myself and stopped. So I went into settings and discabled the function.
At the end of day 1 I found the whole thing really good. I had minimal phone time (only used for calls and writing in my lists app, and the occassional email check – perhaps something to limit if it gets too frequent). At night, instead of being on my phone, I had time to just write this first day blog entry… I can already see great improvments in productivity and willingness to do work.
Oh, and during the first day, after work, where I normally would just get my phone and maybe scroll for 30 minutes for no reason – I just used that time to actually do something I’ve been meaning to do… and I did it. So simple and easy. That time would have definitely gone towards useless tasks/information otherwise.
Day 2 – 22 October 2020
Day 2 was just like Day 1 – in my small amounts of spare time, I listened to my audio book and practiced juggling (for another 30 day challenge). I’ve used these small times to actually do something rather than it being wasted.
I have allowed myself to check emails. I don’t get a lot of emails, and when I do, it’s usually something important or interesting to read. However, I have noticed myself checking my emails a bit more frequently and just hoping something is new (this is probably creeping a little close to the same effect social media gives me… so I’ll give it a few more days and if I keep doing it, I’ll first move to a time based approach (only allowed to check emails in morning and at night)). Also, when I see an email from a sender that I no longer care about, I’ll hit unsubscribe just to stop the useless information I consume.
I have been using facebook messenger as a way to communicate with people and friends. I see no problem with this. I don’t constantly check messages, but I do respond to people if they message me (usually my partner and sometimes friends). I’ll continue to do this, but as with email, I’ll monitor my activity and any sort of frequent/addictive behaviour I’ll also cut it out.
I expect the rest of the 30 day challenge to be pretty similar to what I’ve experienced for the first few days, but I’ll see how it goes.
Day 8 – 28 October 2020
As part of this challenge, I decided to start reading a book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport that’s been on my reading list for a while. I was aware of the premise of this book but haven’t gotten around to reading it (probably because my social media addiction lol…).
It was also the perfect time to read it. I waited for almost 2 hours for an appointment, and instead of using social media to fill the time, I decided to start reading/listening.
The book is based on the philosophy of digital minimalism – “the philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else”.
It’s based on 3 principles:
- clutter is costly – by having more options available, this creates clutter and leads to a net overall negative cost compared to the small benefits gained. The return curve / law of diminishing returns shows that more is not always better, and it reaches a point of saturation/plateau.
- optimisation is important – once you know what you want to use, you should optimise the service to get the most out of it, for example, using certain aspects of platforms that are beneficial for you and optimising it when you can. E.g., creating separate links to specific areas of the platform (groups for facebook, specific hashtags, etc) and bypassing other aspects (the random newsfeed).
- Intention gives satisfaction – the act of using a service for an intention provides more benefit and value from the service itself and your feeling of satisfaction towards it and the outcome. For example, knowing ahead of time why you will use a service. An easy example to think of is learning how to fix something from YouTube.
Applying the ideas to my own life
Having a think about the digital minimalist philosophy and the principles and how they apply to my own life, here are my thoughts:
The main reasons I use social media platforms:
- to promote my personal brand/business and engage (such as Nathan Challenges Life and PedalPay).
- as a way to talk to friends/family (facebook messenger, whatsapp, instagram direct message).
- to keep updated on certain news (gaming, etc.).
- to learn more about something or to watch videos on things I’m interested in (YouTube).
Those are probably the primary reasons I use social media, and yet they probably only account for less than 50% of the time I’m on it, mostly due to being distracted and scrolling the newsfeed/home page.
Having a look at the principles behind digital minimalism, there are a few things I could do to declutter, optimise, and use with intention:
- As a first off – remove all unecessary notifications and unfollow pages I don’t actively use/consume, leaving only useful and interesting updates.
- Use social media platforms to post and engage with my audience. Once I’ve done this then get off.
- Setting an intention or reason behind using YouTube/apps before opening.
The rest of it comes down to pretty much stopping myself from spending any large amount of time that isn’t towards the above points. And just by doing and following that – this would dramatically improve my experience and make it more valuable to me.
I’ll have to think more about it over the remainder of this challenge and really decide whether something is worth keeping or just getting rid of (unless I fully optimise it).
Day 9 – 29 October 2020
This challenge has actually been quite easy really, and very useful! I’ve never felt a need to even check any news feeds or to think I’m missing out on anything at all.
I have still been using messenger to interact with people – and I see no harm in doing this as it matches one of my values of using social media (connecting with friends and family). In saying that, I do notice myself checking my phone regularly to see whether I have a message notification – and when I don’t, I don’t unlock my phone, but if I do, I then unlock my phone, check the message and reply if needed.
So really, this is probably straying too far away from the challenge. I think the best solutions is to turn off all notifications (including messenger apps) completely and just deal with missing someone’s message unless I actively check my phone and see messages (I rarely get anything urgent/crucial outside of work). I think I’ll do this, to really get deeper into the challenge – and also, work on just not looking at my phone in general.
Along with messenger apps, I have been checking emails quite regularly for any updates. I don’t get a lot of emails, so it’s not like I’m constantly responding to emails, more so just out of interest – but I’ve noticed I do this when I’m bored and sometimes I’ve found myself just doing it for no actual reason other than habit. This is also similar to YouTube, where I have been scrolling the homepage and checking which videos might be interesting to watch – a BIG NO NO.
So coming into day 10, there are a few things I’ll be optimising in this challenge to make sure I stick to the plan and to maximise the benefits of this experiment:
- Completely turning off all notifications for my phone (which will mean I will have no reason to even look at my phone for any possible updates – only keeping text messages and phone for uncommon work needs).
- Stop checking emails or other apps such as YouTube, investments, and website/youtube stats throughout the day.
Day 18 – 7 November 2020
Continuing on from what I said above, I no longer get any notifications on my phone other than someone calling me or texting me (really only happens for work).
I have no desire to check my newsfeeds for anything that’s happening – if it was something important, I’d either get messaged, called, or emailed. So I definitely won’t be going back to my older habits of scrolling for no reason!
I’ve definitely decreased the amount of times I check my emails and quickly glance at my phone for no reason when bored. This has helped by putting my phone in my backpack when going out, rather than my pocket.
Given the extra time to read when on the bus, walking, or just listening to my audiobook while juggling, I’ve finished Digital Minimalism. It was a really good book and full of interesting reasons behind the philosophy.
The importance of solitude
Once thing that he focuses on in the book is the importance of solitude. This is solitude in the sense of “time spent free from inputs from other minds”, not your stereotypical idea of solitude being in isolation from everyone. You can find solitude in a crowded cafe, in the city, or at the beach – as long as you are with alone with your own thoughts.
Cal Newport discusses how important solitude is for growth, insight, and a healthy mind. He notes various studies into how the gradual decrease in time spent in solitude, especially since the release of the iPhone in 2007, is thought to be leading to a number of mental health issues, particularly anxiety. So rather than pulling out your phone in the slightest case of boredom or alone time, perhaps just have that moment to yourself and your own thoughts. There are hundreds of articles on the benefits of mainatining some time of solitude in your life.
He has a number of strategies to help this – such as by leaving your phone in another room, leaving your phone at home while you go to the shops, or even by buying a phone with very minimal features. I found that this was quite extreme, and I can easily just have it in my backpack or pocket without pulling it out easily – but of course some things may work better for others.
Planning your free time – because you’ll have a lot more of it!
Newport discusses how once you give up social media and the mindless and aimless scrolling of a newsfeed, you will want to fill that extra time with valuable and useful activities.
A lot of people start a social media ban but after a few days they are reaching for their phone again because they get incredibly bored (due to all the extra time they have). Newport mentions that if you plan ahead and think about what you’ll do in that time, you’ll be much more likely to keep the habit up.
He discusses the value of physical crafts (woodworking, building, fixing things, etc) as one of the best things you can do more of to create more satisfaction, and which are much better than digital based activities like coding or gaming. I’m not sure I agree that physical crafts are required, and a lot better than digital activities, but I definitely agree that having a plan of what you’ll do in your spare time is quite important. I’ve been reading more, juggling, studying, editing videos, and a lot of more things that I didn’t have time to do before.
Day 25 – 14 November 2020
Honestly, I prefer not using social media so much that I really don’t even care about it or even think about checking it. The general news feed definitely doesn’t add any value to my life, and doesn’t provide me with any of my values as I’ve mentioned above. All I’m using social media for at the moment, is the messenger apps – which aren’t really even social media per se, the only reason I’m using these specific ones (like Facebook messenger) is because all of my other friends are using it, so it’s a great app for access to all my friends. If they all just texted each other, that would be exactly the same as what I’m doing.
The only thing I’ve noticed about not being a part of the broader aspects of social platforms, are things like group updates and events – because these platforms are used so widely, a lot of people use them for this purpose. For example, my online course for certificate 3 and 4 in fitness has a group on facebook where they post updates, information, etc. So really, I’d probably keep using these platforms for things like that.
I’ve also tried to get into the habit of not having my phone in my pocket all the time. If I’m at home, I’ll leave it in my room, or keep it charging.
I haven’t had any issues (that I’m aware of at this stage lol) for not using social media. People know they can message, call, or email, so there hasn’t been any driving factor for me to check or use it.
The only thing I’d want to use social media for is to engage with some of my audience who follow Nathan Challenges Life – across facebook, instagram, twitter, youtube, etc. I haven’t been posting anything to my pages like videos, helpful tips, or anything during this challenge – not that that really matters, but it’s great to engage with people who follow your stuff and have a simiar mindset.
Presence with other people
One really great upside of excluding social media and general phone use is that I find myself much more engaged with who I’m speaking to, or with, including my partner.
Simple things like not using my phone in the car, not having my phone with me to get interrupted, and just honestly sometimes paying more attention to my phone rather than the person right in front of me, has made me realise how distracted and separated we can get from people.
Instead of doing those things, we’ve spent some time playing card games, reading together (different books of course), listening to podcasts, or just spending time with each other without having something external catching our attention. It’s been really nice.
It has really opened my eyes (even more than already) how much your phone takes away your feeling of presence with someone else.
If there’s one thing people could take away from this, it would be to put your phone away when you are seeing friends or going out.
Day 30 – 19 November 2020
It’s the end of the 30 day challenge. I’ve really set into the groove of not using social media.
I’ve loved the whole experiment not using social media – and if there’s one ‘extra’ thing I’d say, it’s that you should give it a go (if you were like me at the start (pretty addicted)). There is so much you can learn about yourself doing this experiment. You’ll find that you have so much free time. But as mentioned previously, if you decide to do this, you’ll need to think about what you will replace the time with (a hobby, learning a skill, playing an instrument, exercising, or whatever else you do).
I’m happy with my progress throughout the challenge and with my ability to stick to it.
It’s currently the 12th of January 2021. After completing the challenge, I have definitely improved on my older habits.
I still check the social media platforms fairly regularly, but for the majority of the time it’s for promoting Nathan Challenges Life by posting, engaging, and gaining inspiration and motivation.
And when I do go onto social media, I’m only on there for a very short amount of time (5-10min max). This 30-day challenge has really changed my behaviour for the better.
If you wanted to give this a try, I would highly recommend Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism – it provides the theory, background, ideas, and methods behind it.