Giving up social media but what to do instead?
March 9, 2021 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out how to fill my time without scrolling on my phone!

I've been trying to give up social media but I still find myself constantly reaching for my phone. I've just been replacing social media with news sites, which probably isn't a net gain for my well being. I've read past questions about curbing phone usage in general (things like leaving your phone in another room or turning it off). I'm looking for ideas for things I can do NOT on my phone during small blocks of time when I might be interrupted a lot. I have two small kids, so my time and attention are often too fragmented and I'm too surrounded by grabby hands to work on my hobby (garment sewing) or sit down with a book or even a magazine. I do carve out time for these things, but I'm talking about the times that aren't suited for that. So what kinds of things can I do when I'm taking a quick break and find myself reaching for the phone? "Be present in the moment" is a perfectly reasonable response and I could probably work on doing more of that, but I'm really hoping for more creative ideas. Thank you!
posted by lomes to Grab Bag (37 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Language learning app. Kindle app (for books that are easy to put down and pick up a lot).
posted by sillysally at 7:54 AM on March 9, 2021

Is the problem with social media or your phone in general? (A problem is the phone these days is a hub for so many things.) If it's just social media and not the phone in general, could you use your phone to listen to music, podcasts, or an audio book?
posted by Leontine at 7:55 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Two things I've found simulate the quick bursts of mental stimulation I would otherwise get from social media:

• The New York Times Crossword app.
• A flashcard app to study whatever random thing I feel like learning. I use Anki, which is powerful and customizable but has a little bit of a learning curve. Clever Deck is easier to start with (and may be more suitable for a distracted parent.)
posted by yankeefog at 7:55 AM on March 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

OK, this is very much a your mileage may vary kind of situation, but I recently got a recorder and I'm teaching myself to play it, and it actually fits very nicely into those little chunks of time where I tend to reach for The Internet (obviously not ALL of those times, because here I am). I live alone in a detached house so obviously that makes it less... controversial than it might be otherwise. But also it doesn't have to be a recorder, could be any other inexpensive, durable, pocketable instrument (harmonica, penny whistle, thumb piano/mbira, spoons) or even something a bit less portable like a ukelele or bongos. Kids will likely still be grabby but maybe they can sing/dance/percuss along.
posted by mskyle at 7:55 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Find some kind of quirky thing in your environment that you can count - even-numbered groups of things, certain-colored birds, red things, dachshunds - and keep a tally. When you reach some milestone (50, 100, something like that) you can reward yourself with a cookie.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is how I read; I pull out my Kindle and might only read a page or two. But I know not everyone can dip in and out like I do.

It depends why you're quitting social media/your phone, but if it's not the phone, some kind of puzzle app--Words with Friends, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, etc.--could work.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

kittens game

do 30 seconds of mining whenever it suits you, get back to whatever you're doing
posted by phunniemee at 7:59 AM on March 9, 2021

Find a piece of art on your walls and contemplate it seriously.
Put on some favorite music and dance dance dance!
Write a note to yourself or someone else.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 7:59 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! Just to clarify since I see how my question is a little muddled between talking about social media and the phone in general. I'm really hoping for things I can do that are NOT on my phone.
posted by lomes at 8:00 AM on March 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Listen to a chatty podcast, but not on headphones on a speaker so you can hear and interact with the children while it just keeps on playing in the background. Try and pick something chatty not indepth so you don't feel the need to rewind if you miss something. Just let it play like a radio in the background. You get the mental stimulation and new input of social media while being able to be present and do other things.
posted by wwax at 8:06 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about...

Language flashcards. You can get little packs of blank flashcards to write yourself.

A yoyo.

A Rubik's cube.

Standing on one leg.

A crossword puzzle, printed out and folded in your pocket.

Unit origami with really tiny paper, if you can put the folded units down without them wandering off somewhere before you've had a chance to put them together. Or fold origami stars from strips. The linked ones there glow in the dark!
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:11 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Have a little notebook with a pen or pencil, and doodle. You can aim high or just... doodle.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:11 AM on March 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Knitting is perhaps more portable than garment sewing and is something that can be done in quick, discontinuous bits of activity, but might scratch a bit of the same itch. Quilting might also be amenable, at least while you work on small pieces. And I'm a middle aged man who never stopped loving LEGO, so I have the LEGO Architecture kit and will sometimes dive into that, but I don't have kids. I'd imagine that would not work the same way for you as it does for me.

You could get a book of crossword puzzles or sudoku, which for me would be crossword puzzles since a sudoku easy enough to solve like that would not be hard enough for me to maintain even that amount of engagement, while a crossword can be done a clue or two at a time. But maybe easy sudoku is your speed.
posted by fedward at 8:13 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Stash a small sketch pad and pencils in a handy drawer or on a shelf. When you have a few minutes, do a little sketch of whatever is in front of you. Or pick a theme each week, like bowls and other round things; what's outside the window; toys; house plants. Maybe date each page.
posted by happy_cat at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Two tips from me trying to do this:

Turn on black and white mode on your phone
Uninstall all distracting apps on your phone

A fidget spinner is pretty good at this. I bought a mini one that is just as satisfying as the big ones, but looks much smaller and less child-like. I've also found having music on helps with the urges.

You can also "hack" social media a bit. avoid news feeds with plugins, and open friends pages directly. All of a sudden, you see everything you wanted to see on social media and it's a lot less interesting than before.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:24 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Why are 80% of these answers phone-centered? People, there's a world out there that needs you.

My suggestion for a _solo_ activity: get a book about whatever aspect of your environment interests you (insects, ants, trees, plants, soil, architecture) and go outside and identify things. While you're doing that, you will see, hear, feel, and smell (hopefully not taste) a lot of new parts of the world that are beautiful and complex. Bonus: something to talk about with other people.

However, the thing I would try to find, if you can, is a way to connect with someone else. If you live with another human, go for a walk outside, phone-free, with them. Both of you prepare yourselves for this being awkward the first couple of times, but eventually you'll find something to talk about -- maybe identifying trees.
posted by amtho at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2021 [8 favorites]

Consider looking into single purpose handheld gaming devices. For example, a Nintendo Switch Lite. (You can go more vintage and get like, a PS Vita, or a Nintendo DS, or get a dedicated iPad that you lock down for just games and never link to social media or what have you.) There are games out there for every taste and piles of them are designed specifically for those little chunks of in between time. If you go this route, make another askme for specific recommendations.
posted by Mizu at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2021

This is a great time for some exercise or stretching. Don't wanna get up? Lift your elbows and pull back and forth using your shoulder/back muscles. If you're like me you don't use them that much and you can work those muscles quite a bit. Jumping back and forth from foot to foot, lifting little 3-lb weights, there's lots of smalls short bursts of exercise you can do. Maybe you could research and practice a specific type of dancing?

Crochet is really easy to pick up and put down whenever. For me, comic books/graphic novels are easier than books to pick up and read a few pages and then put down. If you're willing to use a speaker with manual buttons (so you can avoid your phone), a podcast that's interesting but you don't feel you need to hang on every word. Could also be a good time to listen to Pandora or Spotify's suggested music to find new music you might like.
posted by brook horse at 8:39 AM on March 9, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I am constantly working on figuring this out (same situation...actively working to reduce phone dependency, small kids, frequent interruptions, feeling cranky and unfulfilled because I end up feeling like I'm just standing around wasting my life until the next event is ready to begin). It can be a big mental struggle. I end up falling back on chores often but then: cranky and unfulfilled.

Stretching or squats are my go-to when I remember to use those time fragments on myself instead of the house because I can never do enough of these. Or just getting down on the floor more where my kids are. I do some light yoga poses, or just sit and gaze around. Everything looks different from down there, and the different body movements feel sooooo good and also really novel.

Graphic novels is a fantastic suggestion. Those don't hurt my brain to pick back up and re-find my spot when I'm inevitably interrupted, and I can be equally happy just absorbing and appreciating all the details in the artwork. Plus my kids are

I've been re-buying copies of books I loved as a kid, intended for my children's use, but it's been an unexpected pleasure to reread them silently on my own (in addition to my kids' bedtimes) because wow do I have a different perspective on them as an adult. Nostalgia and novelty in one go, that's pretty rare.

I used to journal on the computer but lately I've been experimenting with handwriting in a little notebook. Not long passages like morning pages or whatever because that is super annoying to be interrupted and hurts my hand anyway, but I've gotten a lot of joy out of journaling lots of little lists. Recent ones have been things under $5 that bring me joy, what things make up my "baseline" to be healthy and happy and feeling good, ranking and ordering little house projects I'd like to accomplish over the next few years, same with my financial goals, trips I want to take, and so on. I've been surprised by how clarifying it is, I used to think I needed to set aside big blocks of time to do my "thinking" but it turns out it's just as good to jot a few things, get up to get a kid more milk and have a few minutes to muse on it, and then sit back down and continue.

Now that I'm writing all this out, I kind of want a bird feeder or a bird bath. I'd love to watch that activity. Or a butterfly garden.
posted by anderjen at 8:56 AM on March 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, sometimes I just stare out the window for a few minutes at a time. I live in an urban area though, so there's often lots of activity to witness on my corner. But I find it good to a) refocus my eyes away from screen-depth and b) just take in my surroundings and slow down for a minute.

If I have 5 minutes, I'll try to wash some dishes or dust shelves or fold some laundry or water plants. Chores that don't take too long and don't really use my brain. Helps to make the chunks of time I do have free, like, actually free.

Sometimes I'll flip through a coffee table book and look at the photos or paintings or whatever is its subject.

If I'm feeling particularly ambitious, I'll do some stretching or wall squats or easy pushups.

It's also okay to not be entertained and just be a little bored for five minutes :)
posted by greta simone at 9:00 AM on March 9, 2021

Please, please, please do some of your reading in small bits while your kids are present. Make it light reading that's easy to pick up and put down, and it's ok if it's on your phone or a ebook reader or whatever, just so long as when you do it, you tell the kids "Mommy is reading" so they KNOW you're not just scrolling social media or playing a game.

I promise you, you will reap the rewards in the future. I raised four kids that are ALL readers, and were all through school. I've often been asked over the years HOW to get kids to read, and HOW to get them to like reading.

It generally takes me two questions for the parent to answer this:
- The first is, Do you read? If the answer is no, it doesn't matter what the excuse is - that they don't like to, that their eyes hurt, that they're not good at it, that it's boring, whatever, THAT IS THE PROBLEM. Change it. Model different behavior, and do so without a negative attitude.
- If they answered yes, my second question is, WHEN do you read? If they're having a problem getting their kids to want to read, this answer is always something along the lines of after the kids are in bed, on my lunch break at work, when the kids are napping, when the kids are at their other parents, etc. Never when the kids are present. And THAT IS THE PROBLEM. Change it, even if it seems like a hassle, or it feels like you really can't enjoy it as much. You'll get better at it with practice.

My kids are readers because, even though they were all two years apart in age, born late 95-mid 2002, they saw me read. Constantly. When they were very small, I mostly read physical books or on my Treo phone. Any wait time is reading time. The phone, and later ebook readers, made reading much more portable. Just so long as they know that what you are doing on the device is reading, not playing. My 2yo granddaughter calls my Kindle, with cover, "grandma's book". She's never questioned why grandma only has one compared to her multiple board books, and she's already asked for a "big-kid" book of her own, which I've promised when she's old enough.
posted by stormyteal at 9:04 AM on March 9, 2021 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Keep a small notebook and pen/pencil nearby. Write for two minutes about: what's on the table in front of you; funny thing one of the kids did/said; what you saw on your walk this morning; which song is stuck in your head; etc., etc. Feeling stuck? Turn to the last page, make a list of things to write about. If you don't like writing, bulleted lists are fine. When you finish a notebook, chuck in a drawer/basket and start another one. Find it years later and enjoy the snapshots from your former self.
posted by tuesdayschild at 9:19 AM on March 9, 2021

Having a book to dip into at those odd moments is something I used to do pre-smartphone and is the only thing that really scratches that itch of mindless enough + distracting enough that it feels like a brain-rest/break from reality in the way that scrolling does.

Of course it depends on having the right kind of book, I personally like reading famous people's letters and diaries, light popular non-fiction, humorous light fiction (e.g. Nancy Mitford, P G Wodehouse), or formulaic detective fiction for this purpose- nothing that I really get driven to sink into or that is too thought-consuming to pick up or put down.
posted by Balthamos at 9:29 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Little bits of time but in a place you manage are good for getting poetry (soliloquies, etc) by heart. While I’m starting one I often have a print copy around and just write it out over and over; then I have copies to stash all over to check when I’m thinking it out. Or practicing saying it well, depending on where I am.

For little bits of time in bank lines, etc, if I don’t feel like 'listening to' any of these things I now have memorized, maybe I make up verses for the verse-y ones - or I work on rewriting them with a modern ethics and the same grand scansion - or I fix the last dumb movie plot I saw. I don’t know why I don’t write any fanfic down, given how satisfactory that last can be.
posted by clew at 10:15 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

This comes from Jenny Odell’s book How to Do Nothing: Deep listening. You pretend that the world is actually a symphony and listen to it like music.

Another idea: for school I had to sit and observe a public business for 20 minutes. Sitting and watching with purpose was fascinating. Choose a question you want to answer such as, “how many birds fly by the window this time of day?” Or “which windows in the house get the best light?”

I also want to recommend just lying down. I have a three year old so I know your kids will protest or climb all over you, but honestly, being prone for ten minutes even with protests and crawling all over me, helps me.
posted by CMcG at 10:44 AM on March 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

Oh also, I knit and I have some tangled balls of yarn that I try to straighten out sometimes for that “my hands need to do something” feeling. My kid often interrupts me and undoes my work but I figure I’m really not in a worse position than when I began (began with a tangled ball of yarn and ended with one). Perhaps there’s a similar type of project related to your sewing?
posted by CMcG at 10:49 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: You could buy a book on knots, get some rope and learn a new knot (or practice old knots) anytime you need a distraction. Knowing a bunch of knots is a weirdly cool and impressive skill. Grabby hands might still grab the rope, but it's pretty low-stakes compared to something like garment sewing. Or, the old classic: Rubik's cube.
posted by thebots at 11:59 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Make a mini project list. On it you can put things you'd like to do when five minutes of free time tempts you to look at your phone so it is there to consult when you have five minutes free but your brain freezes.

Your list might look like this

Finally put the snow shovels away.
Do a few push-ups
Call your sister
Look for a recipe to cook this week, something you have never cooked before.
Hop on the exercise bike for a kilometer
Play pitch and catch
Review the Periodic Table
Call the plumber, again.
Do a doodle in your doodle diary, making a crude drawing of something you did today.
Check if the bird feeder needs filling
Set up your child's stuffed toy so it is doing something different, such as reading a picture book, or looking out the window. (This will amuse your child if you do it once a day and come up with new things.)
Skim read the dictionary until you come across a word you don't know, and then write it down in your list of new words you are learning.
Do a yoga pose and hold it until you get interrupted or five minutes, which ever comes first.
Look around until you find something you haven't cleaned for months and clean it.
Read to the kids
Write a haiku
Write a limerick
Write an affectionate postcard or note to someone.

You'll want to do some ground work, such as investing in a stack of pleasing postcards and stamps, or getting a book on yoga with photographs of all the poses, or printing out the periodic table, or looking up exactly how many syllables there are in a haiku, or making a list of all those small chores you mean to get around to doing before next winter, or buying a bird feeder and putting it up.

The point is to make a list in advance. When we go on our phones we are looking for something stimulating, but also something that doesn't require any executive effort so we can do it almost passively. This means that your list should change from week to week and get updated, say every Monday and you shouldn't have to decide how to do things, just which one you are going to do right now. If yoga gets boring, you might prefer to get some dumbbells and lift the weights instead. Once you have memorized the periodic table, you'll need to start working on Spanish verbs, or poems by Wendell Berry.

You may want to find something immersive that works for you, such as a fandom. Going on your phone is a distraction that soothes you, so find a place you can go that is immersive, whether it is BTS fandom, the Buddhist faith, or the nostalgia trip of making notes for your personal memoir. You want to find a place where you feel more comfortable every time you go there. Sometimes we look at our phones to turn off our brains and hide. Look for a soothing safe place you would like to go where you feel good and find ways to take short journeys there.

Take time to do the deep breaths that reduce anxiety and stress whenever you consult your list and pick an activity to do. While you do your yoga or doodle diary or set up the stuffed elephant trying on your toddler's socks, breathe deep and slow, in through your nose, out through your mouth to ensure that your break is psychologically restful, not a scurry around trying to complete a to do list. Don't try to do everything on the list, far better is only to do a few, and several of them repeatedly during the day because today was a good day for writing haiku or for biking. Move deliberately slowly and with good posture during this time.

Some of the things you do should be connecting to others you care about, such as writing the postcards or love poems for your spouse, or calling your sister. Your sister will probably be charmed to get three postcards a week, even if they end up getting mailed on the same day and arriving on the same day. Sometimes we look on our phones to make sure everything is okay out there and connecting with others will provide some of that reassurance.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:00 PM on March 9, 2021 [8 favorites]

In the quiet moments
capture the before mayhem
in three lines - Haiku!
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:06 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

We used to do lock picking, my husband and I... Hmmmm now I want to start that up again.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

An actual physical Kindle worked for me after deleting all social.
posted by bradbane at 2:36 PM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I did Sudoku puzzles (on paper) a lot. (But also found that having small children meant a LOT of boredom.)
posted by metasarah at 5:10 PM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Another vote for puzzle books! Portable, easy to pick up and put down, doesn't require an app. I personally prefer the lesser-known (?) slitherlink over sudoku, but I do enjoy them both. Also Train Tracks, but I'm having a hard time finding different versions for it; it might be developed by that publisher only?
posted by lesser weasel at 7:02 PM on March 9, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great suggestions! Funny to see how unsolicited parenting advice seems to sneak in no matter how you frame the question. But I guess that's the tax for mentioning kids!
posted by lomes at 10:43 AM on March 10, 2021

Best answer: Hi, fellow mom of two small kids. I do these things:
- read magazines or the physical paper - easier to pick up put down with interruptions. Or cookbooks! Save novels for when they are in bed and you can focus.
- knit! The ultimate no brain activity that really helps to relax me. Even if it’s just a few stitches at a time. Crochet also works.
- I asked for a bird feeder this Christmas and my husband put it where we can all see if out our kitchen window. We have a bird book and the immense joy I get from seeing a bird swoop down to eat and my rush to grab the book to identify it is almost silly. But I love it.
posted by elisebeth at 12:35 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Memorize poems. Print out a few poems you like, have at least one bit of paper with nothing on it that you can use to cover up the line you're learning at the moment, and just practice the poem when you have a few moments. There are lots of online tips about how to improve your ability to memorize. One tip: start at the last line and work backwards. That way, you're always progressing toward the part you know best.

Sketch. Get a little sketchbook and either a pen or pencil you really like, and see what you can draw in 60 seconds, or 5 minutes. Lynda Barry has lots of great material on really quick, non-perfectionist drawing.
posted by kristi at 7:15 PM on March 13, 2021

This is something I'm working on too. I now park my phone someplace away from where I'm sitting or working, so I have to walk through the house to look at it. As a replacement for using my phone as a watch, I have several alarms set that tell me when to do things like get ready for bed. I also have dogs, so they let me know when mealtimes are coming.
posted by answergrape at 12:43 PM on March 17, 2021

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