How to Track and Limit Your Social Media Usage in 2019


One of my goals for 2019 is to decrease the amount of time I spend on social media. Between scrolling through pictures of my friend’s vacation two years ago and rage-reading tweets*, I squeezed in a few precious minutes to figure out how to track and reduce my addiction to Facebook and Twitter**.

* Another one of my goals for 2019 is to be less angry. Twitter may be related to that.
** Facebook and Twitter are the main culprits of my social media addiction but these steps would work for Instagram, Tumblr, etc.

Note:  I’ll be discussing the Mac and iPhone apps I’m using as we go along. I’ll include some PC/Android alternatives at the end of the article.


1. The Gentle Method

I tried this and it only decreased my usage by a little. I know it seems like a tiny step but I made a “Social Media” folder on my phone and put Facebook and Twitter in there. Out of sight and hopefully out of mind. If I didn’t use social media for business, I’d be tempted to remove the two apps altogether.

Since that didn’t work for me, I decided to go with a combination of steps 2 and 3.


2. Track Your Time and LIVE IN YOUR SHAME

Image courtesy of Apple

Apple adding Screen Time to iOS has been both a blessing and a curse—I don’t know about you but it makes me feel terrible about how much time I waste! (Let’s just say I recently deleted Solitaire from my phone.)

For the sake of total transparency, I’ll post it here for the world to see, my averages for this week are:
Facebook: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Twitter: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Screen Time on iOS provides several helpful stats but doesn’t provide a useful way of exporting the data. It provides:

  • your data for the day and week
  • the app category you spend most of your time on
  • the apps you spend the most time on, including exactly how much time
  • how many times you picked up your phone in total and an average of how many pickups per hour
  • what apps you open first when you pick up the phone
  • what days of the week you pick up the phone most

For tracking on my work and home computers, I’m using Rescue Time. It just runs in the background while you go about your business, all the while tracking the sites you visit on your browser and what programs you’re using. The basic version is free and it works with a login so all my data from both computers are combined which is really useful.

In order to shame myself out of this bad habit, I made a chart in Airtable (learn more about my love for Airtable) but an Excel document would do the trick too.

Now is actually the perfect time to start habit tracking since we’re not quite a week into 2019. I start with a column with dates—I went by the week because Screen Time gives you a week of data and entering the data on a daily basis seemed like way too much hassle. I also set a reminder in Todoist (I love this app too and will talk about it to anyone who will listen) to enter this data on Mondays.

As long as your columns are labeled correctly, Airtable will add this time up for you automatically. I expect to find out I somehow spent a total of 10 years on social media at the end of 2019.


3. The Nuclear Option

If you can’t keep yourself off social media, have technology make you do it.

Screen Time has several options for this, all of which I’m too cowardly to try:

  • time limits on particular apps
  • “downtime” scheduler which turns off everything on your iPhone except phone calls and specific apps chosen by the user
  • parental controls

I haven’t set these up yet but maybe will next week after I get my first chunk of ultra-depressing data.

Creepy eye telling me I have 14 seconds of rage-tweeting left

For my Mac, though, I went with a Chrome extension called StayFocusd that lets you choose how much time you want to spend on chosen websites in a day (I went with Twitter and Facebook) and the timer starts whenever you creep onto your chosen sites. Since I have only a few Twitter/Facebook minutes remaining on my timer for the day, I have a very noticeable red eye staring at me from the side of my browser. And when the timer runs out…

If you work on social media like me, an app like this can be problematic so either give yourself enough time to do your work and look at a few cat photos or have a backup browser at the ready.

So, that’s my setup at the moment. I’ll report back in a few weeks with my times and, hopefully, my progress. Are you limiting social media in 2019? What apps and tricks are you using to help?

Here are those PC and Android app alternatives I promised:


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Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.

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