It took me a while to break the bad habits I had around social platforms and reading news. In fact, I found that picking up old habits goes a lot faster than breaking them.
Better routines didn’t just show up spontaneously after I gave up my bad media habits. To make sure that I wouldn’t fall back into old habits, I set some rules for myself.
Optimize your home screen for good routines
My first home screen only shows apps that are useful or help me form good habits. Like Day One for journaling and Pocket for reading long articles.
Don’t use social platforms on mobile
Be it Instagram, TikTok, or whatever, all those big platforms are designed to suck you in. Occasional visits can quickly turn into a regular visits. And then you have cultivated a new habit.
I want the platforms and their algorithms to serve me the best of what’s out there. And take that seriously. That’s not something I can do while waiting in line at the supermarket—I at my desk and give it the attention it deserves.
Disable all notifications
Slack, mail, WhatsApp and Telegram groups are also news feeds. When I pick up my phone to do something useful for 5 seconds, I don’t want two minutes of distraction added to that. The only notifications I allow are those for direct messages from people.
Don’t take your phone to the bedroom
For some reason when I’m tired, I can read news for hours. At the cost of sleep. Not reading news or work-related stuff before sleeping helps me sleep earlier and better though. Additionally, not having the phone on my night stand means I don’t check my mail or the news first thing in the morning. Reading about how the world’s on fire can wait till after breakfast.
Block trigger words
Some topics stir me up but will unlikely cause me to do something useful. I want to minimize my exposure to those topics, so I’m quick to unfollow people. Just as important as unfollowing is muting words. I now have a long list of them on Twitter. A few (sidenote: Now don’t worry, this isn’t exactly putting my head in the sand. You can’t really get around those terms if you spend any time on the web. But the tweets with those terms are unlikely to bring me actionable quality content. ) : AOC, Trump, Brexit, NRA.
Use tech to beat tech
Although a bit coarse, Apple’s Screen Time does help me. The Downtime feature is really helpful for me to shut down in the evening. I also use the Hide Feed and Intention browser extensions. They help me keep my time on platforms below 20 minutes a day. The unrestricted version of Hidefeed is expensive for what it is, but it’s invaluable for what it does: helping me to not waste time.
Stay logged out by default
I used to log out after every Twitter and LinkedIn session just to increased the friction to log in the next time. Since I no longer use the platforms on my phone, this is less relevant though.
I only visit Twitter and LinkedIn inside Firefox’s container tabs. That extension is based on the Facebook Container that isolates communication with Facebook to reduce tracking.
Have you ever read an article, clicked a link to a tweet and after reading it quickly checked your notifications, then your timeline and then realized half an hour later that that really wasn’t your intention? I no longer have that problem, because in normal tabs I’m not logged in to my accounts!
Don’t use Log In With [Facebook/Twitter/Google]
All the big platforms offer the option to sign up to other services by connecting them to the accounts you already have. These features do not only infringe your privacy and create vendor lock-in. They also make it difficult to stay logged out by default. It’s one of those instances where the platforms can claim they do something user-friendly (it is easier to sign up to a new service that way), but it also serves their interests at the expense of the user. Many times after that one sign-up.
Find other ways to share things online
I started blogging again as an alternative to tweeting. But sometimes I just want to share a link without writing a blog post. That’s why I added the Bookmarks page to this site.
Considering the time it took me to set that all up, I wouldn’t recommend doing the same. But I’m sure you can (sidenote: Until then: do share this post on all your socials! ) to amplify what you find important without having to expose your mind to the algorithmic newsfeeds.
My habits still aren’t perfect, but now micro-moments are my own again. I use them for mundane things like looking out of the window. Giving my mind a break. Taking a deep breath. On a good day I even can get bored for a bit. And I believe my brain and eyes have enough time with computer screens on any given day already.
If you have a tip for how to use the internet without it taking over your life, please share it in the comments!