I Tracked My Online Time for a Week — Here's What I Learned
You may have heard the stat that the average person spends 135 minutes per day on social media. That’s more than two full hours each day spent scrolling through brunch photos, strangers on vacation, and celebrity endorsements for fat-burning tea.
I’m guilty of this — I begin every Monday morning with an ambitious set of goals, and by the end of the week I’m left with empty takeout boxes, “where have you been?” texts from my workout buddy, and an ever-growing to-do list. I’m just so busy! And yet I always seem to find time to watch garbage TV shows and refresh my crush’s Instagram feed.
But was I really wasting 135 minutes a day?! That’s enough time to take a yoga class, train for a half marathon, or meal prep for the whole week. To get a better grasp on my time management — or lack thereof — I downloaded RescueTime, an app that analyzes exactly how you spend your time online. Here’s what I learned. (Hint: It wasn’t pretty.)
The Harsh Reality of Tracking My Hours
Setting up the time-tracking app was simple: I installed it on my phone and went about my normal life for the week. At the end of the week, my online time was compiled into a handy graph. (Quick note: RescueTime tracks your total mobile usage, but it only tracks the time spent on individual apps when you’re on your desktop.)
My weekly total was just under 45 hours, which averages out to around 6.5 hours per day. Yikes.
Of course, some of that time was spent doing actual work, like sending emails and researching stories. But I also definitely spent two hours on Amazon one afternoon, looking for the perfect two-tone woven basket that I never ended up buying.
Did I go for a run on Monday? Nope, I “couldn’t find an hour” — but I managed to spend more than five hours partaking in a group text and watching Fauda on Netflix.
I promised myself I’d do 25 minutes of personal writing each day to help get out of my creative funk, but did I follow through? Eh, almost — but I logged a solid 80 minutes watching The Bachelor and screaming, “Cassie’s totally there for the wrong reasons!” Priorities, right?
And let’s just go ahead and acknowledge the full day I spent on my iPhone this week.
I’m not proud. But I also know it’s not practical for me to swear off social media completely — I use it for networking, staying in contact with friends, keeping up with local events and new trends, and getting much-needed validation on new haircuts.
So going cold turkey isn’t an option — but it’s clear I can definitely cut back a bit, and maybe free up an hour or two each day to do those workouts and personal projects I never have time for.
Here are a few tips I learned from time-management experts on how to reclaim some of those online hours.
7 Ways to Reduce the Amount of Time You Spend Online
1. Stay focused.
“The key is being deliberate about your goals,” says Kate Zabriskie, time-management expert and business consultant at Business Training Works. For example, if you go online to look for job opportunities, it’s okay if you just happen to peek at your ex’s LinkedIn profile — as long as you quickly get back to the task at hand. “What isn’t good is giving them the same amount of attention,” Zabriskie says.
2. Fight tech with tech.
One of the best tools at your disposal for outsmarting your smartphone habit is… your smartphone. Use your phone’s Do Not Disturb feature to block notifications, messages, and calls during your most productive hours. Or turn off your notifications altogether: “The notifications and the badges — the little icons that say you have a new message — will lure you into spending time on your phone,” says time-management expert Lorena Prime of Clearly Organized. “Be really picky about what you let interrupt you.”
If that doesn’t work, Prime says, you may want to install an app-blocking software like Offtime to prevent you from opening the most distracting apps for a certain window of time.
3. Set screen-free hours.
“Choose an electronics-free time block each day,” Zabriskie says. “Set time limits on time wasters.” Plan your day in advance, and schedule in gaps of time to go without using your phone or accessing the internet.
4. Keep an eye on your goals.
Literally — research shows that writing down your goals increases your odds of achieving them. “Each morning, identify the one or two tasks that will get you toward a larger goal, and start with those,” Zabriskie says. Write those tasks on a Post-It note and make sure you tackle them before you start checking Pinterest.
5. Get comfortable with doing nothing.
“Learn to relax without the constant need to be online,” Prime says. “Not every second of the day has to be spent looking at something or doing something.” Instead of reflexively opening Facebook when you’re bored, try going for a walk and leaving your phone at home.
6. Create phone-free areas in your home.
Identify a few zones where screen time is simply not allowed, like the bedroom or the kitchen table. A tech-free bedroom can even encourage better sleep patterns and sleep quality.
7. If all else fails, delete the apps.
Nobody wants to go full digital ghost, but if you’re really struggling to avoid mindless screen time, delete the biggest time-wasters from your phone. (Based on my RescueTime results, that might have cut my weekly screen time in half.) “You can’t check what isn’t there,” Zabriskie says. You can always log on to your social media accounts from your desktop, but at least the constant distraction won’t be at your fingertips 24/7.