How I’m using Instagram right now

11 February 2020

As promised, I’m working on a longer post with my thoughts about The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a recent change in how I use Instagram – inspired by the book!

First though, can I just stop and say part of me dislikes even having this conversation? I am usually in the social media camp of “don’t make it into a big deal – just enjoy it for what it is and move on.” I can get frustrated with the sway it seems to hold over so many of us, and how we spend entirely too much time thinking about it. It’s not worth that much of our time and attention!!

On the other hand, social media is here to stay and I am certainly not perfect at keeping it in a healthy place, and so I wanted to share something that has really been helping me lately:

The first week of January, I switched to using Instagram once a day. During the work week, I sign into the app when I break for my lunch. I scroll through recent posts, I post anything to my feed or stories that I’d like to share, and I respond to any comments or messages that have come in. Depending on whether I’m posting anything that day or whether I’ve posted anything recently, this can take between 10-30 minutes. Once I’ve done everything I need to do, I sign out of my account – and that’s it until the next day!

At the beginning of the year, fresh off my PowerSheets prep work and fired up to tackle a pain point in a new way, I committed to trying this for one week. Like many of you, I was frustrated with myself for reaching for my phone too often during my work day. (And since there’s nothing that interesting on my phone except Instagram, this was definitely an Instagram problem!) For a long time, I’ve used the excuse of my work being online to check in multiple times a day, but no one was asking me to do that – at most, I’m being asked to maintain a nominal presence. That fresh 2020 feeling had me motivated to try something radical to shake me out of my bad habit.

Why just once a day? For me, a harder boundary is often easier than doing something “less.” By committing to a hard boundary of just once a day, I reduced the number of times I asked my brain to decide whether or not I was going to open the app. Decision fatigue is real, and I’d rather keep my willpower for other things!

The result of this one-week experiment: I loved it so much that I don’t ever foresee myself going back! Here are three positives I noticed after the first week:

No. 1: I was less distracted during my work day. I expected this one, and it delivered! At the beginning of the week, I’d find myself habitually reaching for my phone. Instead of spending a few seconds or minutes scrolling to see what was new each time (they add up!), I’d just put my phone back down once I remembered I was signed out and continue on with my work. (By the end of the week, I had broken that pick-up habit completely.)

Without these interruptions, I was able to sink deeper into work and felt more satisfaction with what I had accomplished each day. I don’t actually know if I was accomplishing any more, but my experience of my days felt better.

No. 2: I was much more likely to engage deeply with posts. Friends, I was putting the social back in social media! Whether leaving a comment or simply reading posts more deeply and gleaning what I could from them, my time on Instagram was suddenly more fun and meaningful. Just like a budget, I felt like I was directing my time and attention, and so I was free to enjoy the time I intentionally allocated to the app instead of guiltily scrolling as quickly as possible before getting back to what I was really supposed to be doing.

No. 3: I was using my “fringe hours” with more intention. The bookends at the beginning and end of my day (the 15-30 minutes before I pick my kiddos up or after I drop them off at preschool) were much more productive and joyful. Instead of chasing a rabbit trail on Instagram, I used that time to do something that made the rest of our day run smoother: starting dinner prep, running a quick errand, catching up on personal email. Knowing I used that time well instead of being frustrated with myself for wasting it put me in a great headspace to jump right into having fun once we were all back together.

Worth mentioning: even with only signing on once a day, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything! (I even caught most stories!) It’s also worth mentioning that I only follow about 50 people, so it’s reasonable for me to catch up on each and every post in just a few minutes.

Friends, all in all, this felt like an almost unfair trade: I gained several amazing benefits, and I gave up nothing in return. If you’re struggling with your experience with Instagram, I’d highly recommend giving this a try! What have you got to lose? :)

Now, I’d love to hear: are you tired of people talking about how they use social media (usually while on social media, ha), or do you crave resources and new ideas with how to engage in a healthy way? Have you found a way that works for you?

P.S. The approach I’ve described here refers to my public account. As many of you know, I also have a personal account for family. I still am on that account in the evening with no hard boundaries around my use, but since there are only 2-3 new posts a day from the people I follow, there’s no compulsion to check it often. Plus, at home in the evening it’s easy to keep my phone tucked away and out of arm’s reach. More here.

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Kelly Strawberry
February 11, 2020 6:55 am

Love this post and laughing about people “talking about how they use social media (usually while on social media, ha!).” Ha!! I’m still using a suggestion I got from the Cultivate What Matters blog a couple years ago, which was to remove the Facebook news feed, which was easy to do with the news feed blocker download that was suggested. Facebook is no longer a draw for me, but I like still having an account to check for our neighborhood FB group, etc. I also don’t use the Instagram app. Viewing Instagram on the web/Safari is a much less enjoyable user experience. I still scroll through daily but not nearly as much without the app.

February 11, 2020 8:04 am

I enjoy hearing about how others manage their social media use and what that looks for them. I have to keep my use in check or I’ll find that I’m constantly on and off the app. Last year I did a social media free first quarter of the year (this was actually in conjunction with the Nancy Ray contentment challenge). I learned that I spent too much time on social. But also that I missed certain aspects, such as engagement or pregnancy announcements. Achieving the balance of “being up to date” but not obsessed with others on social media is definitely a challenge many of us face.

February 11, 2020 8:45 am

As always, love your perspective on this! :) I am working on what healthy and fun Instagram looks like for me this year and I have a goal for the month to write down a specific social media mission statement and goals. As always, wanting to be on Instagram “less” isn’t helpful unless I set parameters around what “less” looks like! Thinking of doing a twice a day situation — once in the morning and once in the evening.

February 11, 2020 9:18 am

I always LOVE these types of posts from you, friend! I’m currently reading Rhythms of Renewal by Rebekah Lyons (I bet you would really enjoy it!) with the girls in our small group and at the end of the tech chapter she encourages hopping off social media for two weeks to reestablish healthy habits, so that’s what we all decided to do. We’re almost halfway done and in the first few days I realized that the biggest positive change I could make is be able to have “screen time” block me from opening the app more than once or twice a day. I genuinely enjoy getting on there and connecting, I don’t feel tons of pressure to buy things or be perfect, but I do know that I open it way too much out of habit. All of that to say, this was affirming for me and I connected with it a lot!

February 11, 2020 10:57 am

I work for a mental health organization, so I’m interested in the impact that social media use has teens and families, and how it influences our behavior. Also I don’t have children, but I’m always fascinated by how much parents post about their kids (who most of the time, I imagine, have no say in what’s posted about them!). So I guess I wouldn’t say that I’m tired of people talking about how they use social media; I think the discussion probably needs to continue since clearly so many are still struggling to find healthy ways to incorporate it into their lives. In the summer of 2018, I decided to accept that I wasn’t capable of using social media in a healthy way. I felt more bad than good when I was on it, and I hated how much I “scrolled” through it as a crutch in awkward social situations. So after a couple of test runs of “no social” for a day/week/month, I completely stopped using it. Do I think everyone should do this? Maybe not, especially if you genuinely enjoy Instagram or Facebook and get something out of it. But for me this greatly improved my quality of life and relationships.

February 18, 2020 1:44 pm
Reply to  Jewel

Jewel, this is the best!!! I think we all need to ask why we post so much about our children for the internet to store forever. I prefer instead to text my in-laws pictures of my child, which we can keep between us, talk about how cute the picture is, and that’s it. No lasting impact beyond a real, shared moment! It’s strange to me that I know so much about stranger’s children/families. For example, I know Em’s kids’ first, middle, and last names! Being that I don’t know those kiddos and likely never will, is that weird? Em, how does that make you feel?

February 11, 2020 9:30 pm

I love this post, Emily! I decided (with very little forethought) to take February off of social media, and it has been great! I am working long hours this month, which makes it easier, but it forces me to put my little free time to better use! And like you, I follow very few people on Instagram. It’s most pronounced when I check back in after my social media free weekends and catch up on every post from over the weekend in about 2 minutes. It’s a great reminder that I’m not missing that much!

February 12, 2020 6:45 am

LOVE this Em – I’ve turned off all notifications on my phone and it’s also been life changing!!
I have always been OCD about the little red numbers on my phone ,and now they don’t distract me anymore!

February 14, 2020 10:02 am

I have taken a stepwise approach and finally deleted my account. I am sure this says volumes about my self control, but after deleting the app icon, logging out etc. i finally realize it was best for me to delete it! While I know I miss out on some things, I don’t miss being envious/jealous of things I saw to buy on insta!

February 19, 2020 9:28 am

Ohhhh I love these kinds of posts, friend! Ha!

I used to fall into the camp of people-who-belly-ache about social media because I didn’t use it in the right way or for the right reasons. It took a lot of hard work to change that. Over the last year or so, I have come to a place where I took the pressure off myself when online, changed my expectations of the app, and really learned so much offline (when I used to learn so much ON). My time is now spent much more wisely and being online feels less stressful and like it’s overtaking my day (because it’s not).

I also want to add that social media seems to have a tendency to amplify existing emotions. Meaning, I’ve found in harder seasons (post-partum struggles, losing parents, awful illness, business fails, never-ending winters) that being online sometimes feels ickier than it does when I’m on my phone in a celebratory / happy / content / healthy and rested season. Again, a lot has to do with boundaries and healthy habits but I love that you started this conversation in your ET-way and hope it inspires many to find what works best for them with social media, too.

[…] habit you created: In January, I made a number of cold turkey changes to my Instagram usage, including checking my public account just once a day, quitting the Explore tab, and muting or […]

December 31, 2020 10:00 pm

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