It only takes a minute to feel productive on social media.
You answer a few tweets, click like on a few photos you see on Facebook, and post a new recipe on Instagram. This micro-productivity teases your brain and gives you dopamine rewards that feel legitimate, almost like real work.
Then the minute ends. Did you accomplish anything? Maybe not.
The problem is that moving from one app to another so quickly causes tension because our brains are not wired to make that many decisions so quickly. We’re always on overload, even as those feelings of extreme productivity make us feel good about our work.
Feeling good is not the same as accomplishing something. Our brains don’t quite grasp that, because finishing a task is often the goal, not making progress.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you need to type up a report for your boss about a new project starting this fall. You need to put some thought into the work, and type up sections that are insightful.
The entire process might take you an hour or two, and when you are done, you have a finished document you can share with others. The project can move forward, other people can contribute to the effort, and you have added real value to the firm.
On social media, you can type just as much text, click as many buttons, and even transmit the same number of bits and bytes. In fact, you can probably produce more text and send more information over digital channels. Your fingers might hurt, your back aches — the laptop still chirps at you that it needs a charge. You drink coffee and have to think hard.
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But look back at the time you spent. Sharing those tweets, posting that content for others to see, and clicking all of those links mimics real work but when you are done, you might not have anything to show for it but a few memes and quips you transmitted to the masses. No project moves forward, no coworkers can finish their own tasks, the company won’t be able to show you did anything that is quantifiable.
It’s not good news for anyone.
Now, if you work in social media marketing and schedule posts for a content marketing effort, this is not true for you. You can accomplish great things for a company and advance a cause. Most of us don’t have a job like that. We’re all living in the illusion of real work on social media and doing “stuff” that seems helpful and purposeful, but it isn’t.
How do you change that? I’m not about to suggest you avoid the apps altogether. For one thing, that doesn’t work. Quitting platforms just means you will find other ways to do fake work, because fake work is far easier and, as I mentioned, makes you feel like you are accomplishing as much (if not more) when you are constantly clicking and sharing.
Instead, I recommend a totally different strategy. It’s called timed usage, and it’s an idea I’ve been mentioning quite often lately. (I even wrote a book about it.) The idea is to set a timer for any activity that feels like real work as a way to make sure you don’t overload your brain. It means, you set a goal for social media (and other tasks like email) within a set window, and then move on to something else when the clock runs out.
It works. I’ve been timing myself doing tasks online for years. It teaches you to set parameters so you can avoid getting stuck in a loop of unproductivity that feels productive. If you want to try the system, here’s a quick challenge to test your social media obsession.
If you try the challenge, ping me by email so we can compare notes. After that, try timing yourself when you use social media and stop clicking once the timer runs out.