How I replaced doom scrolling with productive media routines

The best way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with a new one. Or in my case, multiple new ones.

It’s no secret that platforms that make money with ads try to keep your attention as long as they can. After all, more time spent means more ads viewed means more money.

Several years ago I noticed that this wasn’t a theoretical problem to me anymore. First Facebook got me hooked, with me checking the timeline habitually while rarely seeing anything interesting. Once I picked up my phone three times walking from the door of our apartment to my bike. I felt ashamed for behaving like an addict and it wasn’t the first time. I promptly removed the app. Only to replace checking the app with checking the Facebook website, replacing Facebook with Twitter, and so on. For a while I even made a habit of checking Pinterest several times a day.

So it wasn’t just a platform that got me. I found it difficult to stop the habit of checking feeds in general. I still haven’t stopped it, but it’s a lot less. And more importantly, I don’t have 30 minute long scrolling sessions anymore.

Because I can’t be the only one who believes they spend too much time reading rubbish, I’m sharing here what worked for me.

Step 1: Break unhealthy habits

I would have thought that this is the hard part, but it turned out to be okay. This is how I broke my compulsive checking of my phone:

  • Unfollow everyone
  • Take a break for a month
  • Delete your passwords (not your accounts)
  • Delete your apps and bookmarks
  • Leave your phone at the charger
  • Don’t replace the habit of checking one feed with another

I go into more detail in my post Breaking unhealthy media habits in six simple steps!

Step 2: Form healthy routines

Habits are things you do without awareness. Routines are things you intentionally do on a regular basis. This worked for me:

  • Optimize your home screen for good habits
  • Don’t use the social platforms on mobile
  • Disable all notifications
  • Don’t take your phone to the bedroom
  • Block words that trigger you on Twitter
  • Use tech to beat tech: Screen Time and browser extensions can help you!
  • Stay logged out by default
  • Don’t use Log in with [Facebook/Twitter/Google] features for other services
  • Avoid the platforms and find other ways to share things online

In Here’s how I maintain healthy media routines (most of the time) I also describe these steps in more detail.

Does it work?

I found that breaking habits wasn’t too hard, once I was committed to do so. Forming new habits and not relapsing was more difficult though. It was only for this blog that I wrote down all my rules. And only now I realize how long a struggle it was. It’s been almost two years ago since I consciously started forming healthy phone habits. Before I may have felt more shame writing about this. But now it feels both far enough in the past and successful enough that I can share and recommend this!

That said, I don’t think perfect behavior is possible while staying engaged with the powerful algorithms. For example, I’m still online enough to hear about things like about the Capitol Hill insurrection as it happened. I couldn’t but watch two livestreams while scrolling all of Twitter in the meantime.

Screenshot of the Intention browser extension showing a 184 day streak of not exceeding the time spent on restricted sites
I marked my Twitter usage during the Capitol Hill insurrection as ‘Productive’ to not break my Intention streak. Was that cheating?

I still think phones, internet, websites and apps are awesome though! Some companies valuing shareholder results over ethics and user experience doesn’t make all tech bad. I even use Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, (sidenote: Slack deserves to mentioned because at work we have channels with some pretty good content in which I could loose myself for hours. ) and Telegram almost daily. No longer out of habit, but because they bring me value.