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Ask HN: How do you manage Facebook/Whats App/Twitter/Email/Etc addiction?
48 points by pedrodelfino on Feb 4, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments
In Hacker News we have the "no procrast" mode. Nonetheless, that's not a common function in social media or email apps.

I have been using Rescue Time (to track my activities) and StayFocusd Extension (yes, "focusd" without the "e" and it basically blocks the access to a determined site after some time).

Rescue Time and Stay Focusd have been useful on my desktop. But in mobile (I have an Iphone) I am lost.

Especially, concerning to Whats app, I definitely use it more than I should.

Does anybody have this problem? How do you manage it?

I'm embarking on a Slow Information Diet modeled after Tim Ferris' Slow Carb Diet. Six days a week, no Twitter, no Facebook, etc. On cheat day (for me, my slow carb diet cheat day and slow information diet cheat days are the same, Friday) I get to read and consume and binge all I want. Because Slow Carb really resonates we me, this concept does to and has worked out well. YMMV of course.

Did you make up the Slow Information Diet yourself, or did you read about it somewhere? I want to emulate it so was curious if there was more written up about it somewhere. Thanks!

Tim Ferriss discussed the idea in the Four-Hour Workweek and on his blog here [1]

[1]. http://fourhourworkweek.com/category/low-information-diet-an...

Honestly, the easiest way for me is to just use a "dumb" phone. I switched to an old Nokia and love it. I also use the SMS search engine Text Engine (http://www.textengine.info/) if I ever need to look up an address or directions. I definitely feel more productive, and most importantly present in my daily life.

Curious to hear if others have had success with other methods or if anyone else has tried going back to a non-smartphone.

Great question.

Do you miss being able to use the phone for distraction, say for example when stuck in line at the bank? That is why I'm always sneaking a peak at twitter or facebook.

Also as lame as it is, I worry about not keeping up with the Joneses on social media and being seen as irrelevant because I don't have an online "presence." I applied for a job via HN a few weeks ago that wanted links to my facebook and twitter accounts. I ended up withdrawing my application because that seemed frivolous and nosy. But it did give me pause to consider my "online brand" and whether or not it was professional, and if I should work on keeping that up.

Can you name and shame the company that wanted your Facebook and Twitter account? That's absurd.

I do miss it sometimes, but after that initial FOMO the urge quickly disappears. For me, it helps to know that i'm simply unable to endlessly scroll through Twitter or whatever else. I do still use social media while on my computer and like the intentionality that I now use my computer with.

Hey Gonzo, appreciate the comment. I'm the developer of Text Engine. Glad to hear it's been useful for you. Let me know if you have any questions about the utility.

I turn off all phone notifications. My information consumption is pull only, no push. Once you no longer the little 'reminders' the urge starts to subside and becomes more manageable and less distracting.

I used to have a problem logging onto Facebook, Twitter, and other social medias every few minutes. Even while I was at work. It was really bad. Every time I had a spare second that's immediately where I went.

What I learned in one of my courses where we talked about addictions, is that people with addictive personalities tend to replace one addiction with another. Now, saying this doesn't present it as a positive thing, but it can be.

I started by completely taking these socials medias out of my life for a whole entire month, strictly. I didn't get on a single time to any of them once. And I replaced the addictions with something else. At first I thought maybe games would be good, but it was hard to get on my phone without going to these sites. So what I did is I replaced them with reading. I would take 2 minutes to read a couple pages, read on my ten minute breaks, read on my lunches, etc.

You don't have to do that, although I recommend it, but I would try to replace it with something that didn't have access to it, and then you'll have more control over it.

This is a really good point. I've deactivated my Facebook account (going on 4 months, feeling much happier without it) and one of the "addictions" I've replaced it with is Duolingo. If I know I'm going to be addicted to some kind of distraction, learning a language (of a country I hope to move to one day) makes it a much more positive thing in my life.

Of the items listed, I only use email. Call me a Luddite but all of those other things are just unnecessary distractions. I find that my life is much more focused when I control the funnel of noise. I have an RSS reader for news and email or a phone for communication. All these other potential streams of data are like road signs or commercials: I know they're there but I've made such an effort to ignore them that they just don't register.

Try this:

$ cat /etc/hosts|grep face facebook.com www.facebook.com

There should be newlines in there...

$ cat /etc/hosts|grep face facebook.com www.facebook.com

The problem with /etc/hosts is that it is too easy to simply undo. I use https://selfcontrolapp.com, which lets you block a list of sites for a set period of time and does not have a way to circumvent that.

Well, since the app is open source, you surely could just read the code and figure out a method. However, doing that requires enough focused effort to source-dive and debug something. It is much much easier to prevent oneself from doing that than to keep oneself from editing a file.

If anyone is thinking of responding to this comment by speculating how to circumvent the tool, take that to another thread.

you can just:

$ grep face /etc/hosts

I don't see the point either way. Maybe they mean `echo ' facebook.com www.facebook.com' >> /etc/hosts`?

it's declarative programming! you say what result you want and let the machine figure out how to get there.

Just don't use them. Really. The addiction will go away or at least decrease after a couple days or so.

I'm really only addicted to HN these days, but I solve it by not going to HN at all when I need to be in Get Shit Done mode. After a day or two I don't find myself thinking about it that much.

If you find that this is actually not your experience and you find that you are addicted/distracted for an extended period of time, know that you are not alone.

Simple. I don't have an account on Facebook/Twitter/whatever. While others might find it necessary I find them utterly boring and irrelevant. I think that not owning a smartphone helps a lot in that aspect. I have a dumbphone with a battery that lasts for weeks and I'm happy with my choice. As for e-mail, I have two accounts, one for work, one for everyone else. I don't check the latter while at work, ever.

Same. I deleted my facebook account shortly after being talked into creating it. I learned way too much about my friends and lost respect for many of them. I've never had a twitter account. I have a dumb throw away phone registered to an obviously bogus name. For email, I just dump everything from a domain into a text file and parse out the subjects. Very little makes it into that mail server.

What kid of phone do you own?

I have a Samsung E-2600. Brilliant phone. The battery lasts for at least two weeks with moderate use and also it's light and compact. I have to admit, every time I see someone pulling out a behemoth with an 5.5" screen to talk puts a smirk on my face. The model is currently obsolete so I guess anyone interested will go for the next in line.

That's awesome. I had a similar one back in the day. Yeah, the phablet trend is a bit silly, but I guess to each his own, right? What would your ideal feature phone be if you could redesign it?

I consider the one I own as ideal, so I guess I'd go for that or the next in line, which is probably a Samsung C3750. My needs are quite basic. It has to be light and compact with long battery life and that's all :)

I found when I was very addicted to facebook that if you turn off all mobile notifications and don't have it pull for updates, since I wasn't getting any notifications I wasn't checking as often. This eventually led me to be okay with not opening the app to check something and then lingering on for a while looking at the same thing over and over again. That's how I was able to become facebook-free. It's very similar to other addictions, if you see less things that remind you of it, it'll help you in the long run

I heartily recommend the same, I have notifications turned of for all social apps, and for email/messages I only have the badge icon. Almost everything on social platforms don't require your attention right away. It's okay, people can wait.

IFFT has a recipe to silence your phone when you're in focus time with rescue time.

I also put my laptop in a bag once in a while, padlock the bag, then put my phone and padlock key in my ksafe (http://www.thekitchensafe.com/). Offline heaven.

Switch off all notifications to start with. That's an easy first step.

Good tip, I have done that 2 years ago!

Having a Pomodoro [1] app on your desktop/laptop helps. It sounded lame to me initially (do work in 25 min chunks), but it seems to work for me.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

By way of disclaimer, I don't really have the problem OP describes; don't really even understand it.

But I'll second pomodoros for pushing productivity and focus without killing yourself.

I'll add that daily exercise improves clarity of mind (read: more focus and other benefits). And having a busy schedule limits my ability to spend time on social media or sites like Hacker News; so when I do spend time on them, I tend to be more efficient with it (i.e., focus on those things most important to me) and feel like I get more out of it.

I think that last bit may be part of the problem for OP: the reward becoming harder and hard to get, requiring more and more time. Going cold turkey and then slowly introducing Facebook et al., back in might help a lot.

You might also find that a different cadence than 25 minutes works better for you. I personally use 90 minutes because I find that if I make it shorter than an hour, that the timer is just an annoying interruption.

Every now and then I just delete the phone apps I think I'm using too much. If it's a stock app you could just put it on the kiddie block list instead, that's probably enough hassle to undo to make you think twice before impulsively falling into the email hole or whatever.

Come to think of it maybe I should delete Tweetbot from my phone for a while. It feels about time.

Coming at it from the other end, I find that the "Pomodoro Technique" [1] of timeboxing works pretty well to keep me on task, when I go through the whole ceremony of picking up the cute ladybug-shaped kitchen timer I've modified by painting out anything beyond 25min, giving it a twist, and having that kinesthetic memory plus the soft ticking reminding me that I have A Thing I Have Promised Myself I Will Work On For This Block Of Time.

I haven't been doing that much lately either. I should start doing it again.

1: http://pomodorotechnique.com

I had the same issue on my phone. Unable to switch to a dumb phone because of job requirements. Along with using some sort of ritual, I use an app on my phone called "forest" (iphone). Does a pretty good job of locking me out of distracting apps for chunks of time.

I like this question. I'll see what other better answers come out out of it.

Which features would a dumb phone need for you to consider to switch?

Semi-computer functionality. I'm often working remote without access to a good wifi connection. Website goes down, I have to be able to respond no matter the time. Smartphone allows basic troubleshooting and provides notifications easier than standard SMS (notifications through slack and other apps).

Any recommendations?

Yeah that's a tough one being on-call. Think you need a smartphone. Or setup some IFTTT triggers to notify you via SMS for emergencies. Sorry I don't have a better suggestion!

I have a daily schedule/ritual to keep productive, after a week it just became the norm https://books.google.ca/books/about/Daily_Rituals.html?id=-t...

Basic rules that have helped me over the years:

1 - No social media apps on my phone[1] that might be tempting to check during the work day

2 - No social media logins on my work laptop of a distinctly personal nature[2]

3 - Only checking social media when getting home and after a few minutes it's just tiring to wade through stuff and it makes it a lot easier to close it up and not be conditioned to think those outlets are worth the consistent attention

[1] This doesn't count Periscope which I use for promotional purposes or might come in handy in a pinch for sharing (but I don't open during work or watch many other streams)

[2] Social media doesn't include some forums, I'm strictly speaking FB/Twitter/etc. Forums are a different beast. Thankfully I tend to get tired of some which enable me to avoid them, or if I return, I've deleted my account and just read.

Deleted my Facebook about a year ago or so now. I've never been happier. It's funny how unsocial social networks really are.

I uninstalled a bunch of apps and put a domain blocker on chrome. I can get past all of that if I need to, but the extra 5 seconds of work needed to get to 'social' gives me some time to catch myself.

What domain blocker is there available on chrome for mobile?

not sure, i'm an ios guy

I like to keep my computer 'clean' so that when a colleague comes over and asks me to look at some problem the browser auto-complete/suggest does not suggest any non-work things, whether they be news sites, social network sites or anything else that I read in my own time. The most embarrassing things my auto-complete suggests are things like the man page for 'strpos' (I should know whether the needle comes before the haystack by now).

If I really feel the urge to read non-work stuff then I have my phone, which costs money, has a useless keyboard and a diminutive screen. If I am making a cup of tea then there is plenty of time there to see if anyone has sent me email etc.

Regarding work email, I do not read a lot of it and I expect my colleagues to know that I don't read emails. I do read important ones but social events and other work emails that are non-critical I just move to the 'almost read' folder. Generally my email is just used for test purposes, lots of systems cc me in on things so real emails are hard to find amongst the reports etc.

I do have problems with 'slack' at the moment, some people are a little evangelical about it and I just find it to be lots of noise. I wish 'slack' would go and that I could return to the lame 'Skype' as that did work well for my needs.

Maybe it won't work for you but this is how I see my way to deal with social addiction. YMMV.

I don't really manage it. I just let it flow, I don't feel guilty. That's the first step.

I also disable browser & desktop notifications. It's fine to see a highlighted tab or a number in the systray.

My mobile is always on vibration. Social apps are muted. All of them. I wear a Fitbit wristband synced by Bluetooth for phone calls notifications.

I use Serializer[0] as main input of news. I check it between tasks, scanning the titles and sending the articles to Pocket (important!).

I let myself check anything at any moment. When I feel "the urge" I just ask myself "should I check something?". Take a few seconds to answer that and I usually keep going on my task and check later. If not, it just happened. No big worry.

I also keep myself away from Twitter & Facebook using Buffer to plan my publications. I use Goofy or Pidgin to connect to Facebook chat.

Finally, I use Evernote with a keyboard shortcut to open my "brain dump" note. Here I jot down quick ideas that come across my mind while I'm doing a task. You can use anything else but Evernote is useful even walking. You can write down in your mobile and sync it later at home/office.

[0] http://serializer.io/

I use this "Block site" plugin [0] to redirect facebook.com -> openlistings.com because I still want FB pixels, etc to work for web development.

Keeps me addicted to the right things :).

[0]: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/block-site/eiimnmi...

Just turn notifications off from non-important apps. Or, put a "non disturb" mode for a few hours when you want to be focussed.

This article has an interesting approach -- the author cut FB cold turkey for 2 weeks, but was able to return and be a more responsible, casual user:


I quit facebook cold turkey every 2-3 months. Slowly it seems to creap back into my life. I noticed I was replacing addictions...apparently this is common.

Most of the notifications are not necessary. It just gives you bad habits and distract you. The addiction you describe is partly created by getting used of all these small notifications sounds that excite you and give you the habit of checking all your accounts in a terrific infinite loop.

When you think about it, it is not human, you have far more things to do than being distract by these little sounds. Most of the applications makes possible to set precisely when you want to be notified or not. Don't worry, even with notifications, you will still be distracted by your kids, cat, neighbors, flying birds and dust.

I don't think the browser extensions are a solution to this. You have to learn to control it by yourself.

For Android, I started using QualityTime. It tracks your usage. Annoyingly, it also counts background apps as "running". But it really helps to give me a snapshot of my day. I can see what time I woke up and started redditing on the can :P

Last week I got Modafinil. I've been using it every day this week. I've felt slightly happier throughout the day, and more focused than I've ever been in my life.

It used to take so much energy for me to start working. But on Modafinil I switch to emacs and start hacking.

I bet I'm going through a honeymoon period, but I'd say I've learned more about programming this week than in any (any!) month of my life. I feel really focused.

Many use it to avoid sleep. I don't; I get eight hours of sleep a night. I'm trying to avoid crashing, burning out, dependency et cetera by using Modafinil like an antidepressant, not a five hour energy.

- Took FB/Twitter off my phone. Laptop's never far away. This was the biggest 80% improvement for me.

- Newsfeed Eradicator. Keeps me from consuming FB. I can still post, lookup the groups I'm in, lookup specific people, use FB Messenger etc. But it's no longer a black hole.

- StayFocusd in Chrome to block Reddit/Twitter/FB/HN from 8am to 2pm. By afternoon, either I'm engrossed in my work and don't need to worry about distractions or my brain is mush and no more work is getting done today. Most crucial time is when I first get to the office. Can still use Firefox if necessary, but this eliminates the mindless CMD+T.

I uninstalled Facebook app from my phone. Don't miss it at all. I have muted all the Whats App group conversations, as it is mostly recycled jokes. I still get notifications from individual friends trying to contact me.

In case of Facebook the solution is very easy. In desktop version, when you put mouse over friend image there is a popup menu with item "Following" which contains one more popup menu with "Unfollow" item. When you unfollow friend his activity gets removed from the feed. The friend will never see that he is "unfollowed": no any notification fired. In several days i just unfollow everybody and now my feed is empty.

I'm actually really surprised facebook green lighted this feature to roll out. They had to know it would decimate their user engagement levels??

It's made their site much less sticky and I spend WAY less time on facebook now that I've unfollowed almost everyone on there. It's awesome. The only people I still follow anymore are my immediate family who I care about not missing any updates from.

I edit /etc/hosts, and block these sites, Ive been doing this for months with facebook and don't have urges to begin typing "face..." in my url bar anymore.

I really recommend it.

I think a bit part of it for me, was finding another site that interested me enough to not have me thinking "man, I wonder what <enter in lame fb user> is saying.

Hope this helps :)

One device.

I don't have a problem with most of these. Facebook can demand a lot of attention though. I learned others expect what you give. So I don't give much, others are fine with that and Facebook isn't a problem.

My Mac at home is the entertainment computer. It has all the problem stuff on it, potential problem stuff too. When I have time, I can hop onto that computer and enjoy. No worries.

My trick - cut down the people you follow.

Take 20 minutes one day and block all those on facebook that you really don't care to follow or post too much stuff. You don't need to 'Unfriend' them, just 'unfollow' them. This way you only see the stuff you care about and will inevitably spend less time on Facebook. This can be applied to twitter/snapchat etc.

At 8pm I go read-only. I tell my colleagues this as well. Unless anything is burning to the ground I don't care.

Sometimes I'll do an /etc/hosts block and shift that site I'm over visiting to another device. Makes me realize I'm using it too much. Once that moment hits I unblock when I feel I'm ready for it on my laptop again.

I've just crossed the three week mark of no Facebook. Scrolling through my newsfeed had become a bad mindless habit, one that sucked my time and emotional energy without giving anything back. But dang, it was hard to break. This hasn't been my first time getting away from FB, but it's been the most successful so far.

There is value for me in having a FB account. There are some people that I only communicate with through the service, and I'm part of some groups that do all their event organization through FB. Deleting my account, for me, was both undesirable and impractical. But I sure as hell wanted to break my addiction.

I started using a simple habit tracker on Android call Rewire to track my progress in breaking this habit. After a few false starts, "don't break the chain of success" became more motivating than I originally thought it would be.

I also ramped up the severity of my FB diet instead of going cold turkey right off the bat. This was roughly my progression:

1. Delete the phone app. There's not a great way around this. I still use Messenger, and for the first time I find myself really glad that the services are separated.

2. I started logging in and out of the service in a browser. When I finally tore myself away from the newsfeed, I'd sign out. When I was tempted to go back, having to sign in again was a usability barrier, but also a reminder to myself of what I was trying to accomplish. Sometimes it was enough to help me resist actually logging in.

3. No mobile FB. I did my best not to log in through a mobile browser. I still allowed myself to browse on a laptop or desktop.

4. No more FB. I configured my email settings to get notifications about very specific things and then looked at my news feed on a desktop browser for what would hopefully be the last time. My personal rule: if I get an email about something that was directed particularly to me, whether it's somebody posting on my page or somebody tagging me in a comment, I will log in through a desktop browser, address that event, and immediately log out. No looking at the newsfeed, no browsing to friends' pages. I also unsubscribed from all the promo emails FB started sending me when it detected that I was inactive.

I hope this helps! Breaking my FB addiction was tough, but very rewarding. I don't miss my newsfeed full of political vitriol and worthless clickbait. I've had more rewarding conversations with friends I care about through other means. I don't miss being part of "the conversation." So, A++, would recommend, but be realistic and gentle with yourself as you progress.

Good luck!

I use Focus[1] in hardcore mode, scheduled from 22:00-12:55 and 13:00-19:00.

I really suggest reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.

For my phone - I deleted all of my social apps (apart from Instagram, Swarm etc) and keep it in another room or in my bag as much as possible.

[1] http://heyfocus.com

If we can find "why" we go to all these apps/websites, then we can find a solution by ourselves by satisfying the "why" with some other one which can improve our skills (or any other desired quality)

For example, if we always check emails just to see how many new-emails we have got, so that we can act on them asap, Its a good case as its going to improve our productivity and time-to-respond lower.

Another example, if we always check fb to see what other people's activities are. Well, we can turn this around and make us the person who is doing lots of personal activities (outside of internet domain) and posting it to facebook (may be weekly), or restrict it to closer pals/family.

Personally, if we interact more with Nature around us, it feels great.

Restrict the use of these "virtual" worlds and try to participate more with the world around us. Instead of posting a message on facebook, may be call your best friends and say hi. Its million times better than seeing 1 like for the post in the virtual world.

If I start labelling a site as an addiction - like I habitually type in the URL of one of these sites when I open a new tab - I block the sige by adding it to my hosts file. After a month or two The hunger pangs on wanting to go to those sites go away.

I just dont do it, and dont do anything on my phone when i am not on the toilet or waiting somewhere where i could not work. Just a little discepline imho.

Take all the social networking Apps off your phone and just use the web versions when you really need to check them. You'll save tons of battery life and stop getting notifications every 5 minutes.

Quit using [insert service] for a period of time.

When you no longer feel a need to use it, then it is safe to use it. This has been the best cure for addictions for me in the past, but YMMV.

Deactivated my FB since 2012. Happier more productive ever since. These days I only do Instagram.

I assume the discussion around how to manage HN addiction will be conducted elsewhere?

Have kids. Addition will automatically go away.

Power on/off

I predicted there'd be a lot of sanctimonious "I just don't have an account, they're a waste of time" responses, and it seems like I was right. That's great for you, but that's really not helpful to someone who already has an account and is struggling to quit. And it can be a real struggle. The dopamine hits on likes and favs and the fear of missing out on a conversation can be really hard to break.

Like the OP, I'm using StayFocusd and I've used RescueTime in the past, and it's actually been very helpful for me. Right now I've given up Facebook and I'm tackling Reddit next. I don't have a solution for my phone, but it hasn't been a problem for me because I leave it charging across the room when I'm working. It's still difficult for me during evenings, but I'll probably try something similar for that soon.

I used StayFocusd for a while, and while it helped, I also had the same problem with my phone, resulting in periodic uninstalls of the social apps. I found this to be attacking the symptoms and not the root cause though.

I then started using the pomodoro technique, with strict no IM/FB/etc during pomodoros. A nice side benefit of disciplining myself to work in this way was to reduce the impulsive desire to check FB, and over time I noticed that my desire to go onto FB, even when it was "permitted", had been reduced. I don't have StayFocusd or any such plugins installed any longer.

Try "forest". It's the best solution I've found for "blocking" attention stealing apps. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/forest-stay-focused-be-prese...

Thank you. HN can be irritatingly sanctimonious. It's usually just slightly irritating but when someone comes and specifically asks for help about something it really makes this community look glaringly unhelpful.

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