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Recently, I had an unproductive week and I spent a way too much time on YouTube watching “Pitch Meetings” – a hilarious series of videos where a YouTuber pretends to be a screenwriter and a producer at the same time and is “pitching” existing movie ideas revealing weaknesses in plots, acting, and everything between.
“Way too much” in my case is about two hours that week. But it was still more than my second weakness in order – news websites.
I confessed my struggles to my mastermind buddies, and we talked it over for some time.
During our conversation, I realized I didn’t have such problems with other platforms and media I have been using on a daily basis. I’m at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium and Quora every day, yet I didn’t waste my time there. How come?
After a moment of reflection, I discovered the crucial element which makes a big difference in using or wasting my time at online platforms: intentionality.
Whenever I had been intentional with those platforms, I used them productively. Whenever the intention was vague or there was no intention at all, I wasted my time.
So, How to Be Intentional with Social Media?
I have a few ideas for you:
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1. Be Clear about Your Objective.
Is it entertainment? Then, you would be better to determine some time constraints or you will be lost in the social media maze.
For me Facebook is for communication, so I use Messenger extensively, and visit several topic groups. Quora and Medium? They are for publishing and promoting my content and tasks related to that – research and keeping in touch with my readers. In short, for my writer’s brand.
It is equally important to know what a specific platform is not for. I love funny cat gifs and memes as much as any other person. But I decided FB will not serve me well in regard of entertainment.
Ironically, this is the only social media platform I use in accordance to its name (social), not the function (make users spend as much time as possible on the platform).
If I want to catch up with my friends, I’ll visit their profile or send them a message. If I want to touch base with my writer friends, mastermind buddies or other entrepreneurs, I visit dedicated groups.
And I don’t use Facebook for anything else.
2. Avoid the Main Feed like a Plague.
Aka: Avoid others’ agendas. Main feeds of social media are supposed to be “curated” to your tastes. In reality, they are designed to keep you on the platform as long as possible, period.
A very important side note, let’s look into a few definitions of the word “feed:”
an act of giving food, especially to animals or a baby
food for domestic animals
a device or pipe for supplying material to a machine
Then appose those definitions with the social media feed, and you discover the horrifying nature of this instrument: it’s a device to supply your senses with brain-numbing stuff in an automatic fashion.
How do I achieve avoiding the main feeds? I determine my entry points for each platform. And I never visit social media from any other entry points. For most platforms, I have just a couple of entries: my profile and notifications. On Facebook, I also use direct links to the groups. On Quora, I have a couple of favorite topics to explore.
Pro tip: don’t use social media on your mobile; the mobile applications are designed to make the main feed your default option.
It’s terribly difficult to define any other entry point for a mobile application, and even if you succeed, you don’t have any other option than the main feed to go back to. I struggled with Facebook on my phone for months (I installed it for FB Lives I watched on my long walks during the Great Lockdown). In vain. Finally, I removed the FB application.
I also removed Netflix because it used the exact same mechanism. I couldn’t defend myself from compulsive scrolling.
Expert pro tip: If you really, really, really need to have a social media app on your mobile for some emergencies, move it to the faraway screen and turn off all notifications. That way, you can use it only when it is your intention, not when something pops up on your screen.
3. Avoid Others’ Agendas, Continued.
The main feed is just one tentacle to drag you into the social media intestines… I mean, ecosystem. There are plenty of other means their lords use with terrifying efficiency.
Others Who Bought… You May Also Like… Recently Uploaded… There are dozens of traps set up on your time on social media platforms. And you should do all in your might to avoid them.
Some of them can be dealt with by useful browser plugins (yet another reason to visit social media on your desktop, not on your mobile). Others can be avoided by developing a specific “ad blindness” – you basically train yourself to ignore those specific areas of a platform.
For example, at the bottom of Quora answers page, there is always this “View other answers to this question” which I totally ignore. In fact, I trained myself to not scroll down so much to even see it.
4. Follow Your Own Agenda.
However, you need to have one in the first place to follow it. This is what I meant by intentionality.
Whenever I use any social media platform, I try to accomplish a simple goal:
“I’ll check the notifications.”
“I’ll check my stats.”
“I’ll research the Habits topic and look for new questions to answer.”
“I’ll reply to messages.”
“I’ll visit the Medium Mastery group, share my latest article and check out what’s new in the group.”
Once I’m done with such a goal, I’m gone. I have no more business in hanging around on Quora, Facebook, or Twitter. They are my tools, not the entertainment centers.
5. Set the Boundaries.
Soon, your small social media missions (check the notifications, visit a group, etc.) become your habits. When you train yourself to use a platform in a specific way, when you repeat and repeat the same sequence of actions, it will become your habit. It’s much easier to keep your boundaries intact, if you do this that way.
This is where I failed with YouTube. I had no boundaries, no goals at all. I just went there to mindlessly scroll. I set no intention.
A few examples of my boundaries:
“Don’t explore Quora, if I have less than five notifications.”
“Don’t explore Facebook, if I have less than six notifications.”
“On Twitter, go directly to the Polish Ministry of Health account and check out their reports; nothing more!” (I got myself into a very bad mental space when I started to read comments under those reports and got involved into s*itstorms there).
Sometimes, a tool can help you with sticking to your boundaries. On Twitter, there is a ‘trending’ feed on the right. I found myself ‘magically’ attracted to those headlines and images. But when I used ad blocker to block just the images, fighting the temptation to click became easier by an order of magnitude.
I think I need to go back to using a plugin that strips YouTube of everything but the current video and a search bar. I definitely also need to introduce a rule: “Only one Pitch Meeting video at the time.” Otherwise, I will be kept drawn into the abyss of humorous madness. This is not the way I want to spend my life.
Consider social media as a tool. If you use them as an entertainment center, you’d better set some ironclad boundaries as soon as possible.
Social media’s main objective is simple now: to make you spend (waste!) as much time as possible on their platform. In the attention economy, your time is the new currency, which directly translates into hard cash.
Be intentional how you spend your time on social media or you will become time-bankrupt; exactly like people who are not intentional with their money become financially bankrupt.
Originally published on Medium.com.