Nearly everyone talks about it. Nearly no one actually does it. Quit social media.
But I did it — for you and everyone who works and wonders: Is social media harmless or toxic, helpful or wasteful, or completely inconsequential?
While I don’t have all of your answers, my work experiment and life experience, plus expert research, should give you useful insight. Even better, the experiment is condensed here into practical tips you can use to get more done.
How I quit social media
The test: Stay off social media for a month (for me, that was Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn). Shut down alerts. Avoid in-person discussions sparked by social media. Don’t peek over people’s shoulders. Don’t “just look up something.”
Now, understand — I need social media to do my job. Beyond sharing stories (which, I still had to do through the hiatus, and I clicked off the apps immediately afterward, never looking at notifications or scrolling), I need to see the business buzz.
What I don’t need to see: Celia’s new puppy, Ryan’s rant about local politics, Liz’s newest listing or ski sweaters waiting to be bought.
Can you quit social media?
That leads us to questions and answers.
First: Can you really quit social media? If you’re on it now, I would say no. Like I mentioned above, I still needed to share stories during the hiatus. If you’re reading this story, you’re likely an employee who has some social media element to your job at this point.
The other pressing questions and answers:
- Is social media harmless or toxic? More toxic than not.
- Helpful or wasteful at work? Both!
- Completely inconsequential? It has consequences.
Let’s dig deeper (but not so deep as to bore you — and lead you to scroll elsewhere).
The problems with social media
You probably don’t need me to tell you there are problems with social media. But my angle is work, and we’ll stick to that.
Social media at work is:
- Toxic: A study published in Science Direct found more psychological harm in short breaks from work to use social media than benefits from the escape. What happens: Employees compare themselves to who and what they see and then and fall into “ego-depletion” — which negatively affects job performance immediately. If they go down the rabbit hole of scrolling or swiping deeper into a topic or people, the ego takes a bigger hit and so does performance.
- Wasteful/helpful. I don’t need to find research to prove this. I fall into social media rabbit holes, too. But I also find answers to my legitimate work questions, research to back up stories and experts to chime in on the stories on social media.
- Consequential. A Harvard Business School study found employees who use/browse social media at work are engaged, about as productive as their counterparts, but aren’t easily retained. “Social media doesn’t reduce productivity nearly as much as it kills employee retention,” said Lorenzo Bizzi, the researcher.
So, here’s how I hope this experiment helps you – four ways to better handle social media within the parameters of work.
If you haven’t gotten the gist of it by now, I found I can’t completely quit social media to do my job. If you’re a professional, you likely can’t either. Most especially, you’ll need LinkedIn. It’s not just about networking (although that is extremely helpful). It’s chock full of data, industry information and career help.
Tip 1: Assess your social media usage to find out what’s useful to work. Then commit to only opening those apps and accessing relevant information during work hours.
Once I accepted I had to use social media — and wanted to see it — I also had to accept that it can be a time-suck. And when I’m working, I can’t allow that. Even when I’m looking for information relevant to the job (or story) at hand, I can just as easily get distracted by irrelevant, but intriguing, information. For instance, finding a funny line from The Office turned into an hour of watching clips from old episodes (which, in turn, did turn into a fun-to-write and fun-to-read post).
Tip 2: Know you’ll find distractions when you want them. Try to choose and limit healthy distractions. For instance, if you need a break from an Excel project, and you love cooking, bookmark favorite recipe sites to scroll.
Here’s one thing that surprised me: I figured I’d be so much more focused and productive when I quit social media. And I was … at first. But, as it turned out, after the first week, I just found other online distractions when I needed them (let’s just say it usually involved shopping or celebrity trivia).
Tip 3: Once you give yourself permission to get distracted, use that time wisely. Whether it’s a useless dose of social media — such as scrolling TikTok for funny pet tricks — or a practical search — such as dinner recipes — set a timer. Cut the search when the alarm goes off.
This didn’t hurt my feelings, but it might hurt yours: No one seemed to notice I quit social media! So get over yourself. What you post on social media and how you respond to what others post probably aren’t as important as you think. Another reason I believe that: When I opened up my apps after the 30-day hiatus, there were only about eight things I needed to act on.
Tip 4: Take a break from social media. Try it one day a week. One week a month. A full month. Whatever it is, you’ll feel better — and here’s proof beyond my experiment: When researchers at Stanford and New York University paid people about $100 to quit Facebook for a month, participants spent less time with all online activities, spent more time being active and were more social, happier, and less anxious and depressed. And after the experiment, most curbed their social media use.
Finally, forgive me for the quit
Finally, if I didn’t accept your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram connection request, don’t hold it against me. I saw the notifications, and I diligently ignored them. I even brushed off my saintly mother who’s just finding her way on Facebook! Know that I’ll respond soon.