We've all been there: We're enjoying a night out when all of the sudden we succumb to the irresistible impulse to check our phone for the latest Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn update or to share our experience with "friends" in social media.
Don't blame yourself. Firms like Facebook have hundreds of employees whose job is to make the site as addictive as possible. Like chocolate or exercise or anything good in moderation, social media can become counterproductive when done in excess.
Spend too much time on social media and you can lose perspective, become listless and/or jittery and feel a lack of control. I know. When it comes to my social media usage, I've been there on occasion. Yet for most of us, we can't just swear off social media. It's an effective, free tool to connect with existing clients and colleagues, increase our visibility while forging new relationships in the process.
So the key is to use social media without feeling "used." Here's how:
1. Begin with the end goal in mind.
This is a great guideline for so much in life, but with social media in particular, remembering your ultimate goal will help you avoid wasting time.
For me, for instance, the goal is to keep my name out there in a brand-appropriate way. This helps me avoid getting bogged down in Twitter battles or discussions about topics that are outside my personal brand's scope.
2. Set time limits.
For me, three to five hours a week is a reasonable time to spend on social media. This ensures that I'm active enough but not so active that I'm wasting time.
Three to five hours may sound like a lot, but consider that the average adult spends 50 minutes a day on Facebook alone. That's about six hours a week.
3. Use site and app blockers.
Chrome plugins like Stay Focusd will let you set limits on how much time you spend on Facebook -- at least on desktop. On mobile, there are apps like Cold Turkey that don't block specific apps, but will block all of your apps for set periods.
4. Turn off your notifications.
It's impossible to limit yourself on social media if you are constantly getting notifications from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
But it's easy enough to turn these off so you can check these sites on your time and minimize the temptation to check them throughout the day.
5. Leverage social media to build in-person connections.
Social media is a tool that can be used for marketing, but it can also create interpersonal relationships. If you meet a like-minded person on Twitter then at some point you may want to meet them in real life or at least establish another form of communication with them.
But because interactions on social media are superficial, you shouldn't consider social-media-only relationships to be a goal.
6. Limit your social networks.
The average Internet user has five social media accounts, but that's too much. Most of us have enough mental bandwidth to be active on two social networks -- maybe three at most.
I have found that if you try out a few social networks, you'll find what works for you. Are you quick with the one-liners? Then Twitter's for you. Do you prefer to update less but have more impact, then it's Facebook. Visually oriented, then post on Instagram and so forth. Find the two that work for you and lighten up on the rest.
7. Take a break.
Some 61 percent of Facebook users have taken a break of a few weeks or more, according to Pew. Stepping away from social media is a great way to gain perspective. When writer Baratunde Thurston quit the Internet for 25 days in 2013, he found that he was able to question his constant need for information, his oversharing and his lack of appreciation for his surroundings.
Maybe you should consider a similar break? Social media will still be there when you get back.
If you don't have the latitude to take a break, think of restricting social media as sort of like restricting an item on the menu for your own health. For example, if you are watching your sugar intake to stay healthy, you might restrict yourself from eating dessert to no more than once per week.
Similarly, with restricting your diet of social media, the benefits should be easy to see after a few days and, in the long run, it will be better for your health!