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If you feel that social media might be standing in the way of your goals, you’re probably right.  

According to a 2024 global study by Datareportal, the average person spends 2 hours and 23 minutes on social media per day. “Over a full year, that adds up to more than 260 trillion minutes, or 500 million years of collective human time.”

If you are not a digital native, you can remember what it was like before we had smartphones that were connected to the internet. You probably have some underlying feeling that the quality of your life—your ability to be present in your moments—is nowhere near as rich as it used to be. You’re likely feeling more distracted and less patient. 

But if you are a digital native who came of age using social media, this existence of constant distraction and reactivity is probably all you’ve ever known. But in this case, it’s extremely valuable to be able to evaluate an alternative, and you can’t evaluate it if you have never experienced it.

 

Control Your Tech

people sitting on a bench looking at their iphones

In my role as a productivity expert who trains busy professionals to achieve more of their most significant results, I can tell you that one of the most important changes you can make in your life is to control your technology, rather than to allow your technology to control you.

While there are certainly good uses of social media, I find that, on the whole, social media is a net negative that hijacks my attention and robs me of being present in my moments. This is why I have chosen not to spend my time on it.

But we’ve become so habituated to spending hours on social media that we don’t even stop to think that we have a choice in the matter. I reject that premise—we do have a choice about where to focus our attention.

 

The Cost Of Spending So Much Time On Social Media

a woman looks at her phone while dining at a restaurant with friends

Spending so much time on social media has significant costs that erode the quality of our lives. These costs include:

FOMO (fear of missing out) — Watching friends and colleagues showcasing their “highlight reels” can stir up feelings of anxiety and negative self-talk. 

Mood Disturbances —There is also significant evidence that social media addiction can lead to disturbances in mood and overall well-being.

Shorter Attention Spans —The more we allow ourselves to be distracted by social media, the shorter our attention spans become, and the more impatient we grow. This is because our brains get habituated to being distracted.

 

How Our Attention Determines The Quality Of Our Lives

I know that what I pay attention to determines the experiences I have in my life. For example, if I pay attention to yoga and read lots of books about yoga, then I will probably spend significant time practicing yoga. In the end, I am likely to see many positive physical and emotional benefits as a result. 

If this is a significant result that I want to achieve, then where I put my attention allows me to reach this milestone and feel fulfilled.

However, I know that if I go on social media—even if it’s to talk to fellow yogis and get some advice—chances are that I will be distracted by something that has nothing to do with yoga. 

 

Why Social Media Succeeds 

If I am distracted by social media, it is not entirely my fault. This is the game. Social media companies invest billions to ensure that I am distracted by the largest advertiser or influencer on their platform. Personally, I know that social media apps are conspiring to steal my attention, and they are getting better and better at it every day.  If they weren’t wildly successful at keeping you scrolling on their apps, while ignoring other priorities in your life, every social media employee at every social media company would be out of a job. 

I choose not to go on social media too often, because I don’t want to live a life of reaction and distraction; I want to live a life of intention and choice. You can do the same.

How To Put More Life Into Your Moments

A person in front of an open laptop checks their iphone

Here are some simple strategies that I teach my clients that you can use to prevent social media from stealing both the moments in your life, and the life in your moments:

 

1. Talk About “Attention Management” Instead Of “Time Management”

For more than a century, we have defined our ability to be productive in terms of time management. Yet this is an outdated idea, because not having enough time is not the problem. Our problem is that we have too many distractions.

I know this is true because when my clients come to me, they often say, “I was busy all day long but I feel like I got nothing done.” After we work together on strengthening their attention management skills, they tell me, “Oh my gosh! I had such a great day! I got so much done!” The day is still 24 hours long, but now they have strategies to achieve more of what’s most important, so they end the day feeling satisfied and accomplished, instead of frazzled and frustrated.

However, you cannot change a habit that you don’t know you have.

By saying “attention management” rather than “time management,” you will cue your brain (and others!) to notice when you are distracted, as well as when you are distracting to others.

Once you are more aware of how you’re handling your attention, you are better able to control distractions. Doing so will build back your attention span and your patience, so you can soak up the moments in your life in a way that you’ve been missing.

2. Don’t Use Two Monitors

The vast majority of knowledge workers I work with have two or more monitors on their desks at the time of our first meeting. One typically has work—spreadsheets, documents and the like. The other one is dedicated to communication: email, chat, and social media.

The research is clear: For most knowledge workers, using two monitors is a huge mistake! 

While my clients think, “I’m just peeking over there on the second monitor in case something urgent comes in,” this is not the extent of what’s happening. Even when they spend only a few seconds checking the feed on the second monitor—even if they only glance over at the screen but don’t reply to any messages— these workers are switching their attention constantly, and exacting a terrible cost. 

In doing so, they are habituating their brains to distractions, and they are undermining their ability to focus deeply for long periods of time on their most important work. 

When we multitask, we are not only less efficient but, also, we make more mistakes. 

If your manager expects you to keep an eye on incoming email or your team’s group chat platform, share this article. Let them know that in most cases it is counter-productive. 

Also, consider talking to me about how to set up a team communication policy instead—one that allows team members to unleash their genius in service of their most significant results.

 

3. Set A Social Media Schedule

If you don’t want to abandon social media altogether, consider creating a schedule for when you will be on these platforms. Be deliberate and intentional. Before you go on, set a timer for when you need to stop. 

At first, you might find it hard to stop scrolling when the timer goes off. Remind yourself that this isn’t your fault—the social media companies are working hard to steal your attention. However, do you want them to win?

Ask yourself if continuing to scroll is contributing to the quality of your life, or if turning your attention to another task or activity would improve your overall sense of fulfillment at the end of this day.

If you still have trouble curbing your use of social media, understand that it’s a stubborn habit that you can curtail by first becoming aware of its negative impact on your life, and then using mindfulness strategies to help you stop.  

 

The Bottom Line

coworkers shake hands

Here’s why I really want you to be intentional if you choose to use social media: When you can’t control your attention, your moments become less nuanced, less rich, less meaningful—degrading the quality of your life. You miss both the moments in your life, and the life in your moments.

In every single moment, you could be creating a memory that you will have for the rest of your life. When you look at it this way, you’ll realize that you could use every single moment to change your own life or someone else’s life forever. 

We can’t see these moments coming. In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,  “Occasionally in life we get these moments of unutterable fulfillment that we can’t even express with those symbols we call words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.” 

I’m here to tell you, if you can’t control your attention for more than a minute or so, you will never be able to speak that” inaudible language of the heart.” This is why I don’t allow distractions from social media to rob me of the moments that make my life worth living. I hope you will consider doing the same.

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