How much time should you spend on social media?

10 October 2023 |
Episode 16 |
22:58

Episode summary

Do you find yourself spending hours on social media each day? Whether it’s watching viral TikTok videos or incessantly swiping through Instagram stories, we all seem to be clocking up more hours than intended on our favourite social platforms. But have you ever wondered how much time it is healthy to spend on social media? In this episode, I share the 4 key questions that you need to ask yourself about your social media use, and reveal how much time the experts recommend you spend online. I also challenge you to do a mini-audit of your social media time, to get a better understanding of your personal social media habits and decide for yourself if you should be spending less time on social media.
 

Episode notes

In this episode, I talk about:

  • Why the answer to the question “how much time should I spend on social media?” is not a straightforward one
  • Uncovering whether it’s yourself or others in your life who think that you are spending too much time online and what this means for your relationships
  • Understanding the reasons you use social media and the distinctions between work and personal use, and temporary vs. permanent increases in screen time
  • The importance of knowing how your social media use affects your mental and emotional health
  • Deciding for yourself how much time you are comfortable spending on social media
  • What the research says and expert recommendations for daily social media use
  • The 7 day social media time audit challenge

Resources and tools mentioned:

 

Episode transcript

Expand to read a transcript of this episode

[00:00:33] Hey guys, welcome back to The Digital Diet Podcast. I hope you’re doing well, I hope you’re having a good day. If you are new around these parts, then welcome! Welcome to our little space on the interwebs. And if you’re a regular listener, then it’s really good to have you back. Thanks for joining us.

[00:00:52] Before we get started, I have two quick announcements. Number one, if you are enjoying this podcast, and you want to know more about digital wellness and how to create healthier digital habits and better balance in your own life when it comes to technology, it would mean so much to me if you would hit the subscribe button on the platform that you’re listening on.

[00:01:13] This really tells me that I’m going in the right direction, and that I’m serving up exactly the kind of stuff that is actually useful and helpful to you, which of course is the whole point of the show. But it also means that you automatically get notified every week when there’s a new episode, so that you don’t miss any of the other digital wellness goodness that we’ve got coming up on the show.

[00:01:36] And the second thing is that this episode is sponsored by the #TechTimeout Challenge, which is the only 30 day digital detox plan created specifically for busy women. For 30 consecutive days, you ditch all your devices, once a day, to complete a single, simple offline activity instead.

[00:01:56] There are 30 activities. They last anywhere from five minutes to a few hours. So it’s really easy to fit into your existing routine, and around any commitments or responsibilities that you may already have. And these activities are so much fun. Trust me, you will be so much more focused on enjoying the activities than you will be on the fact that you are disconnected from your devices and the rest of the world.

[00:02:20] All of the activities are proven to boost your physical, mental, or emotional health because they are designed to help you reconnect to yourself, to revive the most important relationships in your life, and to discover old and new passions. Absolutely everything is planned out for you, I’ve done all the hard work.

[00:02:38] There is a guide with step-by-step instructions. There’s a printable, ready-made digital detox plan. There’s a planning template, if you’re someone that wants a bit more control over what order you do the activities in over those 30 days. And, of course, loads of hints and tips, and practical tools and resources to guarantee your success.

[00:02:59] It’s a completely free challenge. The guide is completely free. All you have to do is head to thedigitaldietcoach.com/techtimeout-challenge, pop your name and email address in the box, and you will get your free guide sent to you along with access to all of the tools and resources. I will put a link to it in the show notes.

[00:03:21] It’s honestly so much fun. You can start at absolutely any time but, depending on when you’re listening to this episode, there are coordinated challenges going on that I take part in at the same time as the other women in the community. So, if you want to join lots of other women, including myself, and do the challenge together for some extra encouragement and accountability, then make sure you get your free guide ASAP. You can get access to the space where we talk about the coordinated challenges and join the next one.

[00:03:52] Alright, enough with the announcements, on to today’s episode. We are, if you’ve been listening, in the middle of a mini-series on all things, social media. So, if you want to make sure that you’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle, then check out Episodes 13 through to 15, and that will give you a much better understanding of why social media platforms are built the way that they are; how they use behavioural psychology and deliberately hack into your brain’s neurobiology to get you going online as much as possible, for as long as possible; and it will set you up for what we’re going to talk about today.

[00:04:26] It’s a really important question and it’s one that I get asked often. And it’s this: how much time should you be spending on social media? I am going to answer the question, but I’m going to answer it at the end of the episode. And you’ll see why. You’ll see that it’s not a straightforward answer because it depends on so many different factors. And I believe that it’s more useful for you to take what I’m going to share with you during the course of the episode first, and use that to work out a time period that makes sense for you in your life.

[00:04:59] This is a very coaching approach to do, to kind of answer questions with more questions. But I think that it is important because I am not somebody, I’m not a coach, who believes in a one-size-fits-all answer. I can give you the scientific answer, and I said I will do at the end of the episode, but I think it’s much more valuable to work through the series of questions I’m going to ask you, and put to you, for yourself.

[00:05:23] So, the first question that I would normally ask, in answer to the question of how long you should be spending on social media, is what has made you ask? Or, you know, if I’m being less polite, where is this coming from? And my guess is that you’re likely asking because you think that the amount of time that you’re spending right now either is, or might be, a problem. And you’re not alone in this.

[00:05:44] According to an Ofcom report into adults’ media use and attitudes that was published earlier this year, almost 40% of UK women feel that they spend too much time on social media apps or sites. But the thing is, this feeling or this belief can stem from different places.

[00:06:01] It could be from your own perceptions. So, intuitively, it might feel like you’re spending a lot of time, your screen time app might be telling you that you’re spending more time than you thought you were, or maybe you’re noticing that other things in your life aren’t getting done or they’re getting pushed aside because you’re spending time on social media.

[00:06:19] It could also be because of other people’s perceptions. So, maybe your partner, your kids, even your friends or your co-workers are making comments. Or you’re getting into fights and disagreements, which are obviously uncomfortable or unpleasant, even if you personally don’t think that you spend a lot of time on social media.

[00:06:38] Or vice versa, maybe you are worried about the amount of time that your partner, or your kids, or your friends are spending on social media, or it’s irritating you and that’s causing you to get into fights and disagreements. But it is important to understand where the question is coming from, because how much time anyone should spend on social media is largely subjective.

[00:07:00] As a coach, I’m concerned with the person that’s in front of me, and what they do and they don’t want. Not what their partner wants or what they want for their partner. So it’s really important to ask yourself why you’re concerned about how much time you’re spending on social media in the first place.

[00:07:14] And often this question unlocks a very different understanding of your experiences and of your values. Because maybe you’re not spending that much time at all in real terms, but it’s bothering your partner so much that it’s creating discord in your relationship. And fixing that is much more important to you than proving a point about your social media use being ” normal” or acceptable. So, that’s the first question. What is making you ask how much time you should be spending?

[00:07:42] The second question is, well, what are you doing when you’re on social media? There is a really big distinction between using social media for work-related purposes and what could reasonably be called personal or social use. If social media is a huge component of your work, so if you work in marketing or you run a small business like I do, or if you’re an online influencer or a content creator where using social media is a big part of your job, screen time tracking apps, and even other people around you, can’t always understand or distinguish between this type of social media use and other types of social media use that are perhaps less essential.

[00:08:22] If you work in recruitment and you’re using LinkedIn to source candidates, and network, and manage applications, your use is obviously going to be much higher on this platform. And the same goes for personal use. If you are job hunting and you’re doing applications for hours a day on LinkedIn, obviously that’s going to skew your social media screen time. But it’s also likely a temporary situation.

[00:08:45] If you’re someone who uses YouTube to learn new skills by watching videos, or you’re using LinkedIn Learning to take a course, again, you’re going to find yourself racking up hours and hours of screen time on social media. And if you use Twitter, or X as it’s now known, and I still can’t get used to that. But if you use X for your daily news or you’re part of community groups on Facebook that coordinate real world events, like a monthly book club let’s say, then your social media use is quite purposeful and quite intentional.

[00:09:18] But it doesn’t even have to be as practical as this. I like to listen to podcasts on YouTube while I’m doing things around the house. Some of those podcasts are an hour and a half long and that racks up hours, and hours, and hours. But those hours are the same hours in which I get my laundry done and I clean my house, I change my bed sheets, and I also like to think that I’m learning something from those podcasts.

[00:09:41] I’m not watching cat videos or celebrity gossip. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you enjoy. I’m not judging you. But it’s misleading to think that I have spent hours on these platforms at the expense of doing something else. I also like to put on random lo-fi background music with different scenes. So when I was preparing for this episode, I had a beautiful beach scene with waves crashing onto the shore in the background.

[00:10:06] And in the winter, there is this video that I really love, which is like a little log cabin and it has a crackling fire in the background. There’s one which is like a cosy penthouse apartment in New York, which has got snow falling outside while jazz music plays. It’s probably a little bit niche and a bit random, but I will link all of them in the show notes, in case anyone’s interested.

[00:10:25] I find that having those on in the background creates a certain vibe. That vibe helps me to relax and it transports me to a place where I can get into a really focused mode of working. But again, if you look at my screen time spent on YouTube, which is where I’m watching these videos or playing these scenes from, you can’t tell that from just looking at the time alone.

[00:10:45] Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to always have a hard core reason why you are on social media. You could simply use social media for entertainment and enjoyment, or connecting with friends and family. Especially friends and family that it’s not always practical to see in real life, like those people that live or work abroad, or just live really far away, or have busy lives and you can’t always connect with them in real life.

[00:11:08] I spend a lot of my Instagram time trading stupid and funny memes and videos with my best friends, but it makes us all laugh and it usually sparks a conversation. All the point of this question is really trying to get to is for you to know what you’re doing on social media. And for you to determine, for yourself, if the things that you’re doing are purposeful and they’re intentional and they’re adding value to your life in some way.

[00:11:32] And if they are, then great. But if you’re aimlessly scrolling, or you’re bored, or you’re just using social media as a way to escape from your real life or to procrastinate, then it’s probably something that you want to take a closer look at. Which brings me to the third question that I think you should ask yourself. How does being on social media make you feel?

[00:11:52] And this is a big one, so I’m gonna go light here because I’ll be deep-diving into social media and mental health in the very next episode, because there is an incredible amount to unpack. But really ask yourself, what emotions and thoughts come up for you when you’re using social media?

[00:12:09] Broadly speaking, if they’re mostly positive, then great! If you feel good about yourself. If you feel happy, you feel relaxed and calm. If you feel like you’re connected to other people or to the world at large. If you feel like you’re learning something, or achieving something, or being productive, depending on whatever it is you’re using your social media time for, then these are all really positive thoughts and emotions.

[00:12:33] It would suggest, to me at least, that social media is not having a serious detrimental effect on your mental or emotional wellbeing. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s not having any effects, and that you can or you should spend all of your time there. It just means that your use of social media is not an immediate concern when it comes to your mental health.

[00:12:51] If, on the other hand, social media is making you feel bad about yourself or your life. If you notice that social media makes you feel low, or depressed, or tired, or anxious. If the content that you’re consuming regularly makes you feel stressed out or angry. If you find trying to keep up with the pace of social media overwhelming. If you find that you’re spending your time comparing yourself to other people, and that just doesn’t feel good or it makes you feel like an imposter. That’s a different story altogether.

[00:13:22] Now, there are lots of reasons that social media can make you feel these things. And, as I said, I will talk about them more on the next episode. But this is again one of the reasons why I say that the amount of time you should spend on social media is so individual and so subjective.

[00:13:37] I could tell you that it’s totally fine to spend three hours a day on social media. But if those three hours a day make you feel miserable, then that’s terrible advice. And if you keep spending three hours a day surrounding yourself in such a negative space, things are likely to get much worse for you very quickly. And obviously, nobody wants that. So, you might be guided towards spending even less time on social media than recommended for the average person, or even be advised to quit social media completely for your own wellbeing.

[00:14:10] Now, I do realise that that probably sounds a little bit too clean cut. And I’ll be honest, it is. It’s perfectly possible, and highly likely in fact, that social media makes you think and feel both positive and negative thoughts and emotions. Sometimes all at the same time. So this is really a case of making a general assessment of what holds true for you, in your life, most of the time.

[00:14:33] But something that you might find interesting, and for what it’s worth, is that this duality of both feeling good and feeling bad has a name. It’s known as the digital fatigue paradox. And the digital fatigue paradox suggests the same technology which energises us can also fatigue us, sometimes at the same time. Although we typically tend to believe in our minds that the energising and uplifting effects of technology are much stronger than the fatiguing ones, the opposite is actually true.

[00:15:03] In practical terms, that means we often turn to technology, including social media, when we’re already feeling low on energy. Or we want to take a break, or find a way to relax, or recover from something in our lives. And in seeking that recuperation online and through places like social media, we’re actually making ourselves vulnerable to the fatiguing effects of technology, and invariably making these feelings worse.

[00:15:29] So, think about when you take a break from working on a big stressful project or in the middle of a long meeting. You may find yourself reaching for social media because you think it’s going to relax you and provide a temporary escape or a brief respite. Which it does, but it’s also likely making you tired and stressed at the same time.

[00:15:49] And since these effects are stronger, the net of this is that you’re returning to your project or your meeting even more exhausted than you were when you left. So, really think about where that balance lies for you, and whether the positive or negative feelings that you get are worthy of the amount of time you’re spending on social media. Only you truly know the answer to that.

[00:16:12] The fourth question that I like to ask, or I think you should ask yourself, is how much time would you like to spend on social media? What would be acceptable to you? What would you be comfortable with? And this is really the crux of it. It’s about how many minutes or hours of daily social media use won’t leave you regularly questioning whether you’re spending too much time online.

[00:16:34] Maybe it’s 15 minutes, or maybe it’s one and a half hours. Your answer is going to be much more balanced and considered, if you’ve answered the previous three questions for yourself. Maybe you have identified that your use is purposeful and intentional, and you actually don’t need to change anything. Maybe you will have worked out that your use is higher than usual because of something that’s going on in your life right now, like the job search. But it’s temporary and so you’re okay with that.

[00:17:01] Or maybe you will realise that social media is making you more miserable than you thought. Or it’s interfering with your real life relationships too much for your liking. And then you might think about taking a break or quitting completely. And if you find yourself thinking that, you wouldn’t be alone.

[00:17:16] 25% of UK women say that they’ve deleted apps because they spend too much time on them. 25% have taken a deliberate break from social media apps. And 14% say that they’ve deleted apps because they’re bad for their mental health and self-esteem. So, there is clearly something going on.

[00:17:33] But wherever you land in terms of minutes and hours, the most important thing is that you should feel comfortable with it. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself trying to reach a level of use that either doesn’t serve you practically, or which you’re not really committed to or motivated to achieve. And that, my friends, is a recipe for failure.

[00:17:52] It’s also totally fine if where you want to be and where you are now are worlds apart. This isn’t a change that you need to, or likely will even be able to, make overnight. Remember from the previous episodes, that the social media networks have hacked into your neurobiology. So cutting down or giving up on social media is not an easy task at all.

[00:18:13] But later in the series, I will be doing some episodes on how to cut down your time or how to quit altogether. So make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast, so that you don’t miss those episodes. Alright, I promised to tell you at the end of the episode what the experts say. So here it is.

[00:18:30] According to research published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, ideally you should limit your social media engagement to 30 minutes per day. I should say that it was a very small study in a population of US undergraduate students, but the authors concluded that bringing your use down to 30 minutes a day leads to better mental health and positively impacts your overall wellbeing.

[00:18:53] The participants who kept to this 30-minute limit in the study reported significantly lower levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress. And they indicated that they didn’t experience FOMO, or fear of missing out, nearly as often as the participants that didn’t have to stick to the limit.

[00:19:12] So, 30 minutes a day is the official answer. It’s the one that you will probably see quoted in the media quite a lot. But I really encourage you to reflect on the other questions earlier in the episode, to help you decide if that’s going to work for you in your life.

[00:19:27] I can share from my own personal experience that I have got my frivolous use of social media down to about 30 minutes a day. But, given all the other things that I use it for that I’ve talked about during this episode, my total time is definitely higher than that. And I’m comfortable with that because it’s purposeful and intentional, and it works for me in my life.

[00:19:47] So, before we wrap up, it’s time for this week’s challenge. I challenge you to do a mini audit of your social media time this week. If you’re using an Apple iOS device, take a look at your Screen Time stats. Or if you’re using an Android device, take a look inside the Digital Wellbeing app for your stats. I’ll see if I can find some videos showing you where to find all these tools and settings, and I will link them in the show notes.

[00:20:10] But take a look at the stats and let me know what you notice. Which social media platforms are you regularly using? Are you using any specific ones more than others? How long are you spending on each social media platform daily? And the crucial question, are you happy with the numbers that you see? Does any of the data surprise you?

[00:20:30] Now, this might sound super simple, but you would be surprised at the number of people who either don’t know these features exist, don’t turn them on, or don’t look at the measurements. The insight that these data can give you into your own social media habits is so helpful when trying to decide whether you should be spending less time on social media or not.

[00:20:50] You don’t have to guess at what you’re doing, and actually if you guess you’ll probably be really wildly inaccurate. The numbers are right there in black and white, and they’re telling you what you’re doing. If you’re taking part in the challenge, the place to let me know what you discover and how you felt, and to connect with other people taking part in the challenge is in The Digital Diet Lounge, my dedicated community space for all things digital wellness.

[00:21:12] There is a link in the show notes. Come in. Come and tell me how you found your social media use. What level of time do you feel comfortable with daily? And if there’s any other questions that you want to ask about this episode, that’s the place to do it. I will be in there.

[00:21:28] As always, you can find the show notes for this episode over on my website at thedigitaldietcoach.com/016, and you’ll also be able to get access to any of the other episodes that you might have missed. That’s it for this week’s episode, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed it and I’ve helped you to really think about the ways in which your social media use is, and isn’t, serving you, so that you can figure out how much time is right for you personally to spend on social media each day.

[00:21:58] I’ll be back next week to go much deeper on the subject of social media and mental health, so make sure that you subscribe, or follow, or whatever the button says on the platform you’re listening on, because I don’t want you to miss a thing. I know that you’re busy and I know that your time is incredibly valuable. So, as always, I thank you for choosing to spend a little bit of your day with me and I’ll see you next time.

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Marisha Pink

Meet Marisha

Marisha Pink is a Certified Digital Wellness Coach who is on a mission to empower women everywhere to live life more intentionally in an age of digital distractions. She helps women create healthier digital habits that better balance the technology in their lives, so that they can take back control of their time, reclaim their happiness, and live their best lives offline.

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