Ever go on Facebook for a quick peek, then find yourself 200 photos deep in a perfect stranger's vacation album? Here's how to reclaim precious time (and your right mind).
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Doll standing on phone charger cord
Credit: Jamie Chung

Understand That You’re Being Played

An embarrassingly heavy social-media habit isn’t entirely your fault. “Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter—they’ve all been designed to make you repeatedly use them and check back in,” says Levi Felix, the CEO of Digital Detox, a tech-free wellness retreat in Northern California. “FarmVille was engineered to keep you at your computer.” (After all, if you miss a specific window to harvest your crops, they die.) When you keep in mind that the technology is designed to hold you hostage, you might be motivated to set time limits. (Think of it as buying a snack-size bag of chips instead of the party-size.)

Implement Rules

Vow here and now to stay off social media during meals, when commuting, and when you’re in the bathroom or in bed.

Buy an Alarm Clock

If you use your phone as an alarm, the first thing you’ll do each day is stare into that screen.

Sign Off for a Weekend

A two-day respite isn’t enough to cure you of your habit. You’ll still be anxious when you return to the onslaught of electronic messages, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., the author of iDisorder ($16, amazon.com). But a little time away from the screen reminds you how nice life is sans status updates. Taking a break unlocks creativity. “When distractions disappear, ideas come,” says Louise Gillespie-Smith, the founder of Create Yourself, a life-coaching company in the United Kingdom.

Check With Purpose

Most of us wander onto social media aimlessly—usually when we’re bored. To cut back, set a higher bar for logging on. Ask yourself, Do I have a specific, positive reason for this? If you can’t come up with one (say, wanting to see a relative’s wedding photos), resist the urge and do something that will boost your mood, like calling a friend or diving into an engaging book.

Be a Tough Editor

Before you post a status update or a photo, question your motive: Are you just trying to prove that you’re having a good time? Is this the fourteenth picture of your baby that you’ve posted this week? If the answer is yes, try chatting with a friend or texting the picture to your mom. You could also jot down your thoughts in a notebook, or if you’re somewhere lovely, sketch the spot. “I call this intra-gramming,” says Felix. “When you really process a place by staring at it, drawing it, and reflecting on it, you can create a long-term memory.” Posting a photo has the opposite effect: You stop thinking about your experience and start contemplating other people’s responses to it.

Respond Off-Line

Did Facebook just tell you it’s your pal’s birthday? Skip the “Happy, happy!” wall post and pick up the phone. If a friend just got engaged, resist the urge to send a tweet or a Facebook message and instead mail a card. Both these actions will be more meaningful to the recipient.

Alter Your Settings

Disable all alerts and delete addicting apps. (That means you, Words With Friends.) When you need to work, block the Internet temporarily using software like Freedom ($10, freedomapp.us) or Self Control (free, selfcontrolapp.com).