Does Deleting Social Media Make You More Productive?

I took myself offline for a week to find out.

(Image: PIXABAY)

I am always reluctant to agree with my Nan on anything, as that would normally mean agreeing that Meghan Markle should be arrested for attempting to murder The Queen. But she is right about one thing; us kids these days really do spend too much time on our damn phones.

I don’t have to tell you the benefits of being ‘online’ and connected, but many of us frequently use our favorite social media sites past the point of actually being entertained by them, often just scrolling because it’s the easiest activity to do. This is a massive source of procrastination for students and with next term being the busiest of my entire degree, I wanted to kick this habit, so I asked myself; could I go a whole week without social media? And would such a detox actually help me be more productive?

Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, and Tiktok, all of them deleted. The only exception was Facebook since, as anyone who has been to university in the last decade will tell you, Facebook and Messenger have become essential for anyone even remotely involved with student life. So while I remained logged in, I was to only use Messenger and not the main site itself. And with that simple rule in place, the challenge began.

Monday – Less than 4 hours after I went offline Will Smith hit Chris Rock and created one of the biggest cultural moments this year, so it was nice that I got my fear of ‘missing out on good content’ out the way early.

At breakfast I usually read Twitter and r/soccer (I know, I know), so this was replaced by BBC News and The Athletic. While I appreciated the more in-depth reading, I did miss the variety of opinions and humour, and was ready to get ready the second I finished my coffee.

I started work at 10am, which is early for me. It may have been that I just happened to reach a pivotal point in my dissertation project that day but I was much more focused and enthusiastic about working than usual, and whenever I got stuck I would wander around for a bit and come back with a new approach rather than checking my phone and getting distracted for a while.

At lunch I Wordled and Heardled, and was forced to browse Will Smith memes on ‘Indy100.com’ like some kind of sick Victorian child. One thing I did notice is that without Twitter or TikTok I found it much harder to wind down in the evening. I wanted to use this time to read, but reading the (very enjoyable) book felt like work, where just mindlessly browsing my feeds would let me chill out. So instead my evening time was spent, erm, writing this article.

Tuesday – The novelty of a social media-less week wore off and I found myself bored and struggling in the morning, burning through all the ‘-ordles’ before 7am with little happening in the news to make for intriguing reading. My dissertation work required long simulations, and while they were running I found myself preferring to stare into space rather than actually write anything up. I never felt a compulsion to log back in, just a lack of compulsion to do anything else aside from the occasional bit of work or YouTube rabbit hole.

That was until the afternoon, when I realised the dissertation work I had been doing the previous two days had been all wrong. In that moment I just wanted to scroll through Twitter to help me forget the stress, but I stayed loyal to the challenge by taking a break in the form of gaming and cleaning my room. While those activities did distract me, I didn’t get my energy back the same way my usual online habits might have recharged me, and ended up having an unproductive evening.

Wednesday – I forgot that I was even doing this challenge today. I had a nice walk, played a nice Wii Sports Resort session and acquired a new love language of “people screenshotting and sending me tweets they think I’ll like”. It seemed like there was generally less going on in the world, allowing me to focus on my work. I felt like I could opt in to being troubled by world events rather than having them forced into my consciousness any time I opened my phone.

Thursday – A snag has been hit. My productivity levels have returned to last week’s levels, but instead of filling the overly long gaps with social media I’m filling them with a John Green book and Wii Sports Resort. I feel like I’m 12 again, just with a tenfold greater workload. With these new nostalgic distractions I barely registered not being able to look at my feeds, but also barely noticed the benefits of having logged off.

Friday – I’ve become apathetic to the idea of being informed. I couldn’t be bothered to check the news this morning, I did my workout and went for a walk without knowing a single thing occurring outside of my little corner of Dartford and I felt fine. Apart from that, not much else to report, the work was once again slow.

Saturday – I can say at this point that, aside from making getting out of bed in the morning easier, deleting my social medias has had a negligible long term impact on my productivity. There was the boost at the start of the week where I found myself with so much extra time, but by now this extra time is being filled with other forms of distractions rather than work.

The lesson here is that (at least for me) productivity is driven by your own desire to work rather than your exposure to things that can distract you; Twitter is where I go when my mind is wandering, instead of its existence on my phone causing such a wandering.

Sunday – In order to avoid this article getting repetitive, I redownloaded all my social media with the aim to only follow people whose content I actually get something from. I unfollowed a load of Twitter accounts, about a quarter of my Instagram, and still refuse to install TikTok because the algorithm is too good at knowing how to distract me.

I think we all need to assess if we follow accounts because we like to follow them, or we like the IDEA of following them. For example, I have a problem with following accounts and pages that I feel like will keep me informed, rather than accounts that I actually read and become informed by; if you continuously glaze over and scroll past wordy tweets from important accounts, you’re not keeping yourself informed, you’re just killing time.

So to conclude, deleting all your social media is only good for a quick 48 hour burst of productivity, and the much more sustainable way is to reduce who you follow to a small amount of high quality accounts. You probably already knew that, but hey, at least I improved my Wii Swordplay score.

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