I Quit Social Media For a Month and Increased My Productivity By 75 Hours

Photo by Jacob Ufkes on Unsplash
What benefits could you receive from stepping away from social media? — Matt D’Avella

In the latter part of last year, I stumbled upon the concept of minimalism. Minimalism seeks to answer the question: what are the bare necessitates that you need in your life in order for you to be happy?

For me, the answer revolved around freeing myself of comparison to those online who (seemingly) have more than me — to stop feeling like I have something to prove to a group of strangers. In other words, I wanted to stop buying things that I don’t really need to impress people I don’t really like.

During my initial research, I stumbled upon a video labeled “I quit social media for 30 days” by YouTuber Matt D’Avella. In the video, he asks “What benefits could you receive from stepping away from social media? I was determined to find out.

This was the start my 30-day social media detox.

Game Plan

Remove all social media outlets from my iPhone and iPad: Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. I didn’t delete my accounts, I just took them off my phone.

The rules were simple, no social media on all devices for 30 days. No posting, no trolling, nothing.

I started at the end of the month so it was easy to keep track of the days.

Quarter 1

This was a damn weird time for me. Before my detox began, I typically listened to a podcast during my commute to work. Each red light signaled an opportunity for me to check my Instagram feed. I went through my normal motions; unlock my phone, swipe right, open Instagram; but then it hit me. I forgot that Instagram was no longer there. For the 20-something lights I hit, I felt like a moron continuing to my phone screen trying to make something happen. I also noticed that as I was driving I was holding onto my phone with my right hand, in a way I would hold on to someone’s hand. This was my first glance into self-awareness that this detox gave me. I was subconsciously engaging in social media, the same way I would put on my shoes or brush my teeth.

Quarter 2

I was having drinks with a friend at a local bar when she asked me, “What are you hoping to get from this?”

In that moment, I forgot. I actually forgot why I wanted to step away. The only thing I knew was that there was something in my gut telling me my routines weren’t healthy. I was spending up to 5 hours a day on my phone, checking my Instagram while driving, I even had my phone in the bathtub with me while bathing (I was watching Top Chef re-runs).

Scientists say the same neurotransmitters (dopamine) trigger in your brain when you get a hit of likes as you would a hit of cocaine. It was a high that I was consistently seeking.

Quarter 3

Things started getting a lot easier. I began to pick up better habits. I created the habit of leaving my phone in the other room while I was working — making it impossible for me to check my phone. My screen time before bed reduced by practically half.

But what happened next felt like a miracle. I got bored of having nothing to fill up my free time that I actually replaced my screen time with reading time. This was huge. As all my grade school teachers can attest to, I never read. Heck, I basically just bought all the Junie B. Jones series in the 1st grade just to make me look cool — never read the first page for any of them after the first book.

Quarter 4

I felt like I might have cheated. As a Bravo super fan, I occasionally checked up on the cast of Vanderpump Rules to see how they’re doing. This curiosity caused me to slip back into my baseline habits.

It could have been a case of senioritis. Because I knew I was going to be back on social media the next week, I stopped caring as much. My morning habits returned to spending 45 minutes watching YouTube videos. After a few days of feeling miserable that I couldn’t get out of bed because of my phone, I re-read the articles I researched before starting this social media detox. Turns out removing YouTube might have been beneficial my challenge. Duly noted for next time.

Benefits of My Social Media Detox

Increased self-awareness: YouTuber Anthony from Break the Twitch, explains that feeling when you feel like you need to check your phone as “the twitch,” This social media detox helped me develop my sensitivity to this twitch. I started to notice when I felt like checking my phone, which helped me check my phone less. When driving, I frequently throw my phone in the glove compartment. When working, I throw my phone in the other room. I’ve learned there’s usually nothing more important on your phone than what is sitting directly in front of you.

Increased time: As mentioned before, I’ve cut my screen time in half, and sometimes even less. I range around 2.5 hours a day on my phone now, compared to the 5 from my baseline. 2.5 X’s 7 days a week is 17.5 hours a week that I have freed up for different tasks; which leads me to the next outcome.

Healthier Habits: The detox gave me an absurd amount of mental clarity that freed me to focus on things I wanted to do more of, but didn’t know why I wasn’t doing it. I started to reading more, working out more, meditating more. My sleep habits even improved because I wasn’t staring at a bright screen right before bed.

My First Week Back

I was excited to download my social media apps again. Because of the positive outcomes I from this detox, I decided to only reinstall Instagram. On Instagram, I could curate my feed to display content that served me and my well being. Plus, as a visual person and a creative, it was my favorite app. I restricted all other platforms to my Macbook and iPad.

After reinstalling Instagram, I went through and unfollowed all the Instagram models that I couldn’t help but compare myself to (and perhaps spend a bit too much time digitally stalking). Once that was done, I freely scrolled through my feed. My first thought was, “That’s it?” I didn’t miss anything. Nothing changed. Also, did the algorithm change to displaying more ads? It was the practically the same content from last month — same low angle, a different set of palm trees and Balenciaga sneakers. I now find most of my periods on Instagram slightly boring. My screen time has now been cut in half.

My First Month Back

As the first 2 weeks back passed, I started to notice myself slipping into my old routines. The twitch to check my phone was back and I didn’t like it. It was the same feeling of numbness. I found myself checking my phone when I didn’t have to. In moments of boredom, I came back to swipe through my phone. I even started to whip out my phone in the middle of dinner again.

Eventually, I started leaving my phone in the other room while I was working again. Much like before, the twitch went away. I stopped feeling the need to check my phone because there was no phone to check. My social media notifications are turned off, no screaming urge to pull me away from the task at hand. Out of sight, out of mind. At dinners now, I frequently ask my friends if I can put my phone in their purse. I go for walks with my phone on airplane mode.

For anyone asking, “What if someone needs to get a hold of me?” There is an option for the iPhone user to give certain contacts “emergency bypass,” My mom has it, my grandparents, and anyone else I tend to worry about. Friends and family know that I prefer texting; calls are mildly restricted to more extreme cases.

Final Thoughts

Moving forward, twice a year is my rule of thumb. I encourage one mid-year and one end-of-year. I also suggest picking a month with holidays that annoys the hell out of you — like Valentine’s Day or New Years.

I wasn’t aware of my negative habits until I stripped away the most significant one. I was spending almost an entire work week on my phone and didn’t even realize it.

If you’re not ready to commit, try it for a day and notice your subconscious impulses to check your phone. Eventually, ask yourself if you really are in control of how you’re using social media. Or is it using you?

Actionable Steps

  • Get rid of all social media apps from your phone for a day. You’ll start to notice your subconscious actions as it regards to checking your phone.
  • Turn off notifications. You know that feeling when you have to look at your phone because someone messaged you? Get rid of it. Try it for a day or as long as you want.
  • Leave your phone in the car. Toss it in the passenger compartment and lock it. You’re going to dinner. You’re seeing a movie. Why do you need to bring your phone?

If you want to fly, you’ve got to give up the shit that weighs you down. — Toni Morrison

An additional thanks to Jason Zook from Wondering Aimfully for which this detox and writing structure was inspired by.