Being Social Expands Time. Social Media Kills It.
Let’s say it’s a Monday at lunch time. You’re ready for a break. You could pull out your phone and peruse Facebook while eating your salad. Or you could text a friend who works nearby to meet you for a picnic in the park.
Both might consume the same amount of time. But one will make you feel like you have a lot more time than the other.
At least that’s what I found while researching Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. I have long wondered why some people with busy lives feel relatively relaxed about time, while others feel harried and stressed. So I recruited 900 people with full-time jobs to track their time for a day on a normal March Monday. Then I asked them questions about how they felt about their time. I could compare the schedules of people who felt like time was abundant (i.e. high time perception scores) with the schedules of people who felt time was scarce (low time perception scores).
In doing so, I found this simple truth: being social expands time. Social media, on the other hand, tends to be more about killing time than anything else.
Making time for friends and family was definitely associated with feeling good about time. I found that people’s time perception scores rose in direct correlation to how much time they spent interacting with friends and family on that March Monday. People who felt good about their time spent a lot of their non-working hours in the company of those they felt closest to.
People with low time perception scores, on the other hand, were more likely to spend their free time on social media (and watching TV).
In thinking about this difference, I believe the discrepancy doesn’t stem from the obvious answer — that one form of leisure time is inherently more “fun.” Obviously, socializing is fun in its own right, but reading snarky comments on Twitter can be pretty fun too.
Instead, the difference between the two types of pleasure is that social media is “effortless fun.” You don’t have to make plans, or do much of anything. You don’t have to go anywhere. Socializing is “effortful fun.” It often has to be planned in. It requires that people be intentional about how they’re spending their time, and think about what they’d like to do, be it meeting a friend for a drink, going to an exercise class, or taking the family to a playground after dinner.
People naturally drift toward the effortless. In fact, the idea that fun might take work often stops people in their tracks. If fun requires effort, then forget it.
The issue is that too much effortless fun makes time itself feel forgettable. It’s always easier to look at photos on Instagram of other people’s dinner parties rather than hosting your own, but then this time is like it’s nothing. It’s as if it doesn’t exist.
If you host your own dinner party, you will look forward to it, enjoy the time during it, and then remember it afterwards. This makes time feel more vast.
Consequently, people who engage in the effortful fun of socializing feel like they have more time. That doesn’t mean anyone needs to get off social media. Sometimes it’s fun to kill a little bit of time. Just recognize that that’s what you’re doing — and that being with people you enjoy can, by contrast, make time come alive.
Thanks so much to Laura Vanderkam for sharing her insight. Make sure you check out Off The Clock, a calming, practical guide to claiming your time back — and an absolute pleasure to read! And don’t miss Laura chatting about the book on our latest podcast adventure, Simplify Spotlight. If that whets your appetite for a more in-depth chat, you can also listen to an older Simplify interview with Laura here.