How I Cut Down on Mindless Browsing Time
Many websites now employ armies of psychologists, data scientists and behaviour experts that try to improve 'engagement'.
Engagement sound pretty innocent until you realize there is a human on the other end that must supply that 'engagement'. In other words, the only goal these companies have is to keep you on their platform as long as possible.
The more you scroll through Facebook, the more ads they can show you.
The more videos you watch on YouTube, the more video ads they can show you.
It's easy to find yourself endlessly scrolling through these websites.
Looking for the next link to click, funny video to watch or news article you can be upset about.
Unconsciously letting these platforms consume your valuable time.
Time that is better spent on sports, hobbies, spending time with family and friends, volunteering, relaxing, learning new skills, reading interesting books and more.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has even said that their main competitor is sleep. Not YouTube or another video platform. Sleep!
Over the past 6 months I've been actively cutting down on this mindless browsing time and I want to share what I did for each platform for other people looking to do the same.
Here is how I cut down on usage of each platform (order of platforms is random).
Youtube can be an enormous time suck. You go there to watch one video and you are bombarded with 'recommended videos' that can easily distract you and pull you into a 2-hour binge watch session.
I first started with unsubscribing from a lot of channels I was subscribed to.
Many channels I simply had no interest in the topic anymore but never actually took the time to unsubscribe. There was also a little bit of fear that I would miss any interesting video they upload in the future but that's classis FOMO that is a big part of why social media and news can be so addictive.
With a much cleaner feed, I also stopped watching vlogs completely.
Vlogs are the 2018 equivalent of reality TV and there is nothing interesting about seeing someone go grocery shopping or running errands.
This already cut down the time I spent on Youtube tremendously but there was still that danger of being sucked in by recommended videos.
To combat this you can install a browser extension called 'DF Youtube (Distraction Free)'.
This extensions hides all comments, recommended videos, the trending tab and more. Now you don't have to fight Youtube algorithms anymore!
Optional: I also started watching every video on 1.5 or 2x speed (depending on the channel). This allows you to watch the videos that are left much quicker
Facebook doesn't really need an introduction and has been in the news a lot over the last few months. It's pretty widely known that Facebook wants to make you as addicted to your timeline as possible so they can fit in more ads and make money off of you.
Of course they also do 'fun' little experiments like trying to make you depressed.
So far they are pretty successful and the average Facebook user now spends around 40 minutes a day (!) on the platform. That's over 243 hours a year or 6 Full-time workweeks.
But do you remember what you just read when you close the Facebook app? probably not. It's the quick dopamine hit that's the reason you open it multiple times a day.
The first thing I did was delete the Facebook app off my phone. It's just too easy to check Facebook.
Often I would mindlessly grab my phone and open Facebook when I was facing a difficult problem or boredom just to distract myself.
On my laptop I logged out of facebook.com and deleted the password from Chrome's password manager. Now I can't mindlessly go to Facebook and scroll anymore and actually have to login to my password manager and use that to login to Facebook before I can use it.
A lot of people cut down on Facebook usage by using a plugin to disable their timeline or unfollow friends and pages. What worked best for me is just making the barrier to use it as high as possible. But you should experiment with what works best for you.
I now check Facebook once every six weeks or so and usually log out after 30 seconds because there is nothing new or interesting. I'm pretty sure I will delete Facebook in 2018 but for now I still use it to manage some Facebook pages and send the occasional message.
Since organic reach on pages is now close to 0 if you don't pay Facebook there really isn't much value in the platform anymore.
Twitter is a bit of an outlier since I think it's one of the only social media platforms that provides decent value.
It's the only platform that you can easily get updates from interesting people (especially in tech) and people share interesting thoughts and articles instead of the usual social media bragging about cars/houses/holidays.
But there is also a lot of noise.
Here is what I did to filter out as much noise as possible:
- Be very critical of who you follow and unfollow as many people as possible
- Turn off retweets for everyone you follow. Retweets are usually to promote something (tweet/article they were featured in) and don't really add value.
- Add keywords to filter out tweets from your timeline. I use this mainly to filter out politics/news and other 'outrage porn' (articles and headlines intended to elicit an emotional response that is toxic and pits people against each other).
There are lots on interesting articles to be found on Hacker News.
But it's easy to keep checking it multiple times a day for new articles or to get caught up reading comments discussing these articles.
I now only read Hacker News through hckrnews.com. This website filters out the best content of the day (I've set it to top 20 only) and only shows you those, regardless of the time you check. You don't miss interesting articles that were on the front page if you don't check HN for a few days for example.
Stopped reading news completely. Removed all news apps from my phone and stopped visiting news sites.
This is usually the most surprising to others.
"But how do you stay up-to-date?"
Mostly you don't and you are not really missing anything.
If it's very big news someone else will mention it during small chat. You say you haven't heard about it, they explain in 20 seconds what happened. You are now up-to-date again.
I highly recommend reading News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier. This explains a lot better why I stopped following news completely.
Instagram was great during the early years but the past few years felt like it only got worse. Facebook started doing 'their thing' with the feed so you missed a lot, nothing was chronological, they started showing ads and 'accounts you should follow'.
My Instagram feed didn't really feel like mine anymore which was a big reason to stop using Instagram.
The second reason was that Instagram was the perfect example of social media bragging. Cars, watches, holidays, perfect relationships, abs with filters/girls arching their backs in yoga pants. Whatever was left of my feed seemed like it was all fake to get as many likes as possible.
As a trial run I deleted the app from my phone and see how much I would miss it.
After a month of not checking Instagram it was obvious I didn't miss it at all so I deleted my account completely.
In fact, it turns out that Instagram is the WORST social media platform for your mental health. Do yourself a favor and delete it.
Reddit was one of the biggest time wasters for me and it took me a couple of months to go from browsing it for hours to a couple of minutes per day. Here are the steps I took:
Stop browsing the front page of /r/all
The front page changes so often that you can keep refreshing it and there is always something new. But it's all very low-value content that will do nothing but waste your time.
I limited my Reddit use to only subreddits that I subscribed to and was interested in, not what other Redditors decided was important. This cut down my time on Reddit significantly.
Unsubscribe from as many subreddits as possible
After limiting myself only to subreddits I subscribed to I started trimming these as much as possible. When you are only subscribed to a few smaller subreddits there is no point in checking Reddit every hour anymore because nothing changed in the mean time.
Log out on laptop
I regularly visited Reddit on my laptop when I was getting bored or was facing a difficult problem while I didn't really have a reason to. Just as a quick dopamine hit.
To make this more difficult I logged out so I now have to login to my password manager first before I can browse like I did with Facebook. This makes the barrier high enough for me to not do it anymore.
I still have the Reddit app on my phone but that isn't as distracting for me for some reason. I now only quickly scroll through it when waiting for food or whenever I have a couple of minutes to kill.
- Move all distracting apps from your home screen to another screen on your phone. This sounds too simple to work but give it a try. This really helps when you need to check something on your phone (like your calendar) but open another app and forget why you needed to check your phone in the first place.
- Turn off all non-human notifications (unless another person is trying to reach you, you should not get a notification)
- Bundle non-urgent notifications: If you have a secondary email account where you receive newsletters or other non-urgent communication. Set it to sync only once every 5 hours so you are not interrupted while you are doing other things.
- Install the Empty New Tab extension if you are using chrome.
- Grayscale your screen: Our eyes are naturally drawn to warmer colors and big tech companies try to use this to manipulate you into looking at their app. It's also why the bubble with amount of notifications is red!