A friendly primer for those who are addicted to Facebook and want their lives back.
tl;dr version: Be intentional in how you use Facebook. Think about what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, every time you log on.
Too many of us have a tendency to think, “Facebook is free, so why not take advantage of anything and everything it has to offer?” We Friend, Like, and Join everything in sight. Facebook soon becomes a cluttered, overwhelming mess that devastates our productivity.
That’s when we start thinking, “I should just delete my Facebook account and learn to live without those little social fixes throughout the day.”
I say you don’t need to close your Facebook account to regain your productivity. Just use these tips instead:
1. Avoid all Facebook games.
Want to play video games for three hours after work every evening? Hey, if that’s your passion, go for it. But don’t subject yourself to the constant temptation of Facebook games. Every time you log on to touch base with people, you’ll be in danger of wasting half an hour playing some pointless game.
Facebook games are mostly stupid, anyway, and they’re specifically designed to be addictive so that you’ll spend more time on the site. Save your playing time for a high-quality video game that actually gives you pleasure and expands your imagination, not one that simply distracts you from your real duties in life.
A great way to inoculate yourself against Facebook games is to turn off all notifications from these games. That way, when a friend is playing Demon Bathtub Races, you won’t keep getting notifications that he has reached a new level—and you won’t be tempted to go see what this game is all about.
To turn off Facebook game notifications, follow the instructions in Facebook’s very helpful Help Center.
2. Only Friend your actual friends.
Only send or accept Friend requests from people you’ve met in real life—or at least people with whom you’ve corresponded in some meaningful way. This probably seems like an easy enough rule to follow. Most of us instinctively Friend our actual friends and relatives. We may also choose to include certain co-workers in our personal lives, along with various levels of acquaintances.
But that’s when Facebook presents us with some tough decisions. As your circle grows, you’re going to start getting Friend requests from random people you barely knew in college, or from distant relatives with whom you don’t really want to share every detail of your personal life.
You’ll also get requests from Friends of your actual Friends. What’s the deal? It’s often because they see that you’ve provided some brilliant responses to a mutual Friend’s Facebook status updates. They try to connect with you because they’re a sucker for anyone who can craft a creative Facebook status.
This may seem like a “Sure, why not?” situation. But in my experience, the person sending the Friend request is often a Facebook addict who posts 10 or 20 times a day about where he’s having lunch, what he’s buying at Target, and so on.
These folks also tend to have many hundreds of Friends. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having hundreds of Friends, but stop and ask yourself: Does this person intend to make a meaningful connection with me? What am I hoping to get out of this connection? How is this person going to help me Win the Day?
Never feel bad about simply ignoring a Friend request. It’s your Facebook and your life.
3. Block Facebook at certain times of day.
Some people insist that you should always start your day with real work and only check Facebook after you’ve completed X amount. I don’t necessarily agree. If you have a highly curious or even addictive personality, you may be better off checking Facebook first thing in the morning and getting it out of your system. Then you can tell yourself, “OK, time to buckle down.”
What comes next? Can you wait until lunchtime to check again? Or mark off a milestone in your work and not let yourself log on again until you’ve reached it? That’s up to you, but I’ll remind you of what I said in the tl;dr version above: be intentional about every Facebook visit. If you’ve found that logging on and checking Facebook for two minutes out of every hour is a nice mini-break for you, great.
But if you find yourself staying on for 10-15 minutes at a time, endlessly scrolling for more posts, then you should put stricter controls on yourself. Consider using a service such as RescueTime. With RescueTime, you can actually configure an alarm to notify you when you’ve spent more than, say, 30 minutes today using Facebook (or other distracting sites that you designate).
Better yet, with the Premium version, you can actually block certain sites entirely for a finite amount of time. Think of how much you could get done by blocking Facebook for hours at a time!
4. Turn off Facebook notifications on your phone.
If you use Facebook exclusively on your phone (which may be a great idea; see Tip #10 below), this one may not apply to you. But if you’re a typical desk worker who’s fighting the temptation to jump over to Facebook every 15 minutes, having phone notifications turned on will only waste more of your time. Do you really want your phone buzzing or beeping every time someone comments on one of your posts? It’s hard for me to picture a scenario in which this won’t decimate your attention span.
5. Turn off Facebook notifications in your email.
Remember what I said about being intentional in your Facebook usage? To put it simply, it’s either time for Facebook, or it’s not. Why let yourself be dragged back onto the site by emailed Facebook notifications?
If you’re getting lots of emails telling you that someone commented on your post, video, or picture, and you find that you’re constantly going back to Facebook to see what they wrote, you should probably change your Facebook notification settings. Once again, Facebook’s Help Center is the place to go.
Now, some would argue that email notifications are actually a timesaver. After all, you can stop checking Facebook every 10 minutes and only go back when you receive a Facebook notification email saying that someone commented on your post. But I suspect that for most people, these emails are yet another excuse to “just take a quick look” at Facebook.
6. Be selective in your Likes.
If you Like 2,000 different pages, then you’re going to have updates from those 2,000 pages showing up in your feed. Of course, most pages don’t post updates very frequently. But can you really divide your attention amongst even 100 pages that provide daily updates?
Now, it’s possible you’ll want to Like, say, your dentist’s Facebook page because he’s a really nice guy who’s trying to grow his practice and you know that having more Likes will help him build credibility online. Fine. But you probably don’t need to read all of his Facebook status updates, do you?
Next time you see a post that doesn’t really interest you, click the little arrow in the upper right corner of the post and select “Hide all from Bob Smigelski, DDS.” Dr. Smigelski keeps the Like, and you’re freed from having to read about the change to his office hours during Thanksgiving week.
7. Be selective about Groups, too.
Groups aren’t an inherent time-waster. In fact, focusing your Facebook time on a few select Groups that are really important to you could actually streamline your communication with large numbers of people. But, much in keeping with the “Yay, Facebook is free!!!” mentality I mentioned earlier, many of us join dozens of groups simply because we agree with the mindset of the group members and want to give them a cyber-thumbs-up.
Keep in mind that you’re going to see notifications from these Groups in your feed. You’re going to be subjected to all sorts of comments from an endless cast of group members. Much of what they post may be irrelevant to you. You can always turn off Group notifications, but then if you’re not going to read the content, why join the group in the first place?
Here’s my advice: Join Groups only because you can directly benefit from exchanging information with the other Group members, not because you feel obligated to bump up their enrollment by one more member. If the irrelevance or sheer volume of content compels you to turn off notifications from a Group, consider leaving the Group.
8. Stop Sharing everything.
This one is more about not wasting other people’s time than it is about managing your own time. When you Share every darn article you read with everyone you know, you’re cluttering up their feeds with a bunch of stuff they never asked to see—which may cause them to Unfollow you.
But over-Sharing can affect you, too. Share 30 articles a day, and that’s 30 opportunities for all your Friends to comment on those articles. Some of those comments may be thoughtful and stimulating, but most will probably be knee-jerk reactions from people who only bothered to read the headline. You’ll receive constant notifications of people’s comments, and you’ll feel compelled to check in on all of them.
Why not save your Shares for the articles that really challenge you and expand your mind? Your Friends will appreciate your discretion—and they’ll probably sit up and take notice on those rare occasions when an article meets your lofty standards.
9. Hide all from <Website>.
Got one of those Facebook friends who Shares everything they read? Or even more likely, got a bunch of like-minded Facebook friends who keep posting the same articles ad nauseam? Even if the articles are from one of your main areas of interest, you don’t need to see them multiple times on Facebook.
Rather than Unfollowing these real-life friends whom you actually care about, look at the sources of the articles they’re Sharing. When you see an article for the umpteenth time, click that little arrow in the upper-right corner and select Hide All from <Website Name>.
This tip can be especially useful during election season. Even your closest circle of friends probably includes some folks who you don’t agree with politically. To minimize the risk of losing friends over online political bickering, consider blocking posts from certain websites that really go against your convictions. You’ll save your energy for meaningful face-to-face discussions about the leading issues of our time.
10. Consider using Facebook only on your phone.
The usefulness of this tip will depend entirely on your profession and lifestyle. But if your desktop or laptop computer is supposed to be for paid work or schoolwork, and your smartphone is supposed to be for leisure time, then perhaps you should use a service (again, I recommend RescueTime) to block Facebook entirely from your computer. That way, the only way you’ll even be able to see Facebook during work time is to intentionally and deliberately pick up your phone and open the Facebook app.
Which brings us full circle.
The best way to log onto Facebook is intentionally and deliberately. If you’re doing it as a reflex or a way to fill time when you’re bored, you’re leaving yourself at risk of wasting hours of your life on a largely unfulfilling activity.
Don’t let life pass you by. Use these 10 tips to control your Facebook usage—and Win the Day.