We can do nearly anything on our computers and our mobile devices: we socialize, we chat, we share, we work, and we make money. The hyper-connectivity of our world provides an endless stream of information and... well, connection. So what happens when you find yourself ninety-seven and a half minutes deep on mindless Facebook scrolling and Snapchat filtering?
With social media so integral in our everyday lives, both recreational and business, the line between work and pleasure can get really muddy. It’s becoming easier and easier to lose track of our to-do list in the black hole of social surfing. In fact, did you know that there is such a thing as social media addiction rehab? Really there is. No joke!
With that in mind, I have searched for and tested tools meant to help curb the social media binge and free up our minds and our minutes. I made my selections with a few criteria in mind: they needed to be effective and efficient, available to both iOS and Android users, and free. That’s right, these little tools won’t cost you a penny!
1. Cold Turkey
Its creators call this app “the simplest distraction blocker available” and I agree! Upon download there were zero registrations or logins to complete. I was greeted with just a simple screen with only one option: Go Cold Turkey.
Just select the amount of time you want to go “cold turkey” using the scroll bar and tap. The phone will be immediately locked. It is also available for Mac and Windows operating systems so you can return productivity to your computer.
It is completely customizable as well. You can choose to block all websites and applications or just select a few of your most notorious time suckers. You can even schedule specific times for the block. For example, let’s say you want to make mornings more productive. You can block Facebook and Pinterest from 8 a.m. to Noon, leaving Twitter and other social media outlets available if you need them for work.
However, this one is not for the faint of heart. The block is for real. It is very difficult to get around the block once you’ve gone “cold turkey.” Depending on your level of addiction you may want to start slow with shorter periods of time and work your way up.
My favorite features: ease of use makes it very efficient; completely customizable; the Frozen Turkey option allows you to lock down your entire computer to go completely offline; the program keeps track of how much time you have saved in minutes and hours (with the option to share with friends on Facebook...oh the irony).
This app also gets points from me for being clean and simple. It just takes a couple of taps on your phone to start saving time. OFFTIME creators claim that their ultimate goal was to create technologies and establish usage habits that help people stay focused, mindful, and happy.
You can use the app to customize your connectivity and carve out spaces of time that cuts the apron strings, temporarily, from your device in whatever way you choose. You can set-up different profiles for Work, Family, Me Time, you decide, and then dive into time off with this intuitive app.
The best part? The German creators are not just developers coming up with slick new code; they are also mindful entrepreneurs with a scientific concern about the hyper-connectivity of our world. They are currently working with researchers in Psychology concerning mobile technology use. And, if you’re ever in Germany, you can attend one of their detox retreats! I hear the schnitzel is delish.
There isn’t an application for your computer but the smartphone versions are extremely useful. I love the detailed feedback it provides about what you are doing, when, and for how long. It’s almost as much fun as those personality quizzes that tell you which Disney Princess you’d be in an alternate universe.
My favorite features: the detailed personal feedback about your habits; the ability to set reminders and milestones of progress; it’s completely customizable.
I don’t like: It takes a full minute from the time you cancel the block (if you cancel it earlier than your setting) to get your phone back. I mean, ain’t nobody got time for that.
BreakFree doesn’t actually block any apps or websites; it does, however, give you a very clear picture of how often you use your phone and, possibly, how distracting it may be for you.
This clever app gets my stamp of approval because of the adorable character Sato. He is your robe-wearing, spirit guide on the journey to regaining peace and productivity. He will gently let you know when you are disappointing him. Yes, he will hang his cartoon head in shame when you’ve spent too much time on your phone or unlocked the screen too often.
Unfortunately, the chubby guy can get a little annoying at default settings. He didn’t like when I used my GPS to navigate for thirty minutes, but my prompt and safe arrival often depends on that friendly little voice telling me when to turn so he had to take one for the team. Thankfully the app is customizable so you can tell the peace-loving guide to take a chill pill and select up to four apps to exclude from the usage tracking. I can now navigate to my heart’s content without making Sato sad.
I have to admit, because I am a people pleaser, that every time that little guy popped up to tell me I was doing a good job my heart skipped a beat. Also, the app calculates an addiction score based on how long you’ve been on your phone and how many times you’ve unlocked your screen.
My favorite features: Sato the friendly guide gets my vote; the addiction score is motivating and, well, addicting; you can select up to four apps to exclude from all usage tracking (if you’re curious my excluded apps are Maps, Pandora, Calendar, and Starbucks… because coffee).
I don’t like: While the app is free, a lot of features are available only when you purchase the upgrade; it’s exclusively for mobile devices, no computer option.
While not the most aesthetically pleasing app I tested, RescueTime is on my list because of all the features available. It runs behind the scenes on your computer and/or mobile device giving you detailed analysis of how you use your time. There are also scheduling and blocking tools that allow you to block distracting websites for specified periods of time. It can be a little bit more work setting up all the information and entering your schedule, if desired, but the results are very effective.
For example, afternoon social binges can be curbed by blocking social sites from 1pm to 4pm And, who knows, you may find that all that work you get done in the afternoon makes you forget about the dancing baby videos you’ve probably missed out on. You’ll live.
My favorite features: the scheduler is a game changer if you have the time to set it up; you can choose to not block any websites or apps and just use it to gauge your consumption and where productive hours may be slipping away.
I don’t like: It’s just not the prettiest thing to look at; the data analysis feature on the mobile app is a bit clunkier than the other apps tested.
5. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
That’s right. My fifth and final recommendation for helping curb the social media binge is actually the social media sites themselves. It’s so simple. Really, you’re going to kick yourself for not thinking of it. Here it is…prepare to be amazed:
Turn off notifications. Seriously. Turn them off. If you find yourself swiping or clicking every time your phone buzzes or your computer chimes, you’re productivity level could be in serious trouble. Perhaps the simplest thing to do is to turn off your notifications.
For your mobile devices, you can do this in your settings. Or, you can go full commando and turn off notifications on the social media sites themselves. You won’t get detailed tracking of how you use your time while on your device and there won’t be a cute cartoon character to cheer you on, but this may be the best place to start and it certainly can’t hurt.
What about you? Have you been a victim of social media addiction? What tools, if any, do you use to take a break and boost productivity?