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I quit Instagram for a month, and it was awesome.

The first of many “new month’s resolutions” to come.

Dominik Nitsch
6 min read
I quit Instagram for a month, and it was awesome.
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

72 minutes. That is, according to an unofficial poll of 33 people, the average time per day they spend on Instagram. This means that on average, each of those people spends close to 8 hours every week on scrolling through newsfeeds with beautiful, shiny photos.

That’s an entire workday.

If could work one day less and still receive equal pay, would you do it?

No-brainer. Of course.

Yet somehow, many of us (myself included) spend a similar amount of time on the app. Perhaps even more.

I wondered: what would happen if I simply stay away from Instagram for a month?

For the month of May, not opening Instagram was my “new month’s resolution”. So on May 1st, I uninstalled the app, swore to not access it through the browser either, and off I was. Here’s what I learned:

You have a shitload of free time, with better focus

No shit, sherlock. After all, people spend 8 hours on Instagram every week.

Yes, it’s true. 8 hours is a lot of time. In the month of May, I spent a lot of time doing things I normally don’t “have the time” to do, such as stretching or playing the guitar.

I also increased the amount of time spent on deep work significantly, because there were by far less notifications on my phone to distract me. Especially in the first week, I often grabbed my phone, unlocked it, saw that there was nothing to see and put it away again.

That’s a huge advantage. All those things are a lot better than mindlessly scrolling through photos.

You actually sleep better

I also tended to go to bed earlier since there is nothing to distract you on the phone at night. This also has a positive impact on sleep quality. According to my fitness tracker, while sleeping for equal amounts of time, I increased my short-wave sleep from 1:24 to 1:30 and my REM sleep from 1:22 to 1:36 every night.

That’s an increase of more than 10% in restorative sleep. While you can attribute this to other factors, I believe that not looking at Instagram every night definitely made a difference.

Your mind still wants to procrastinate

While some of these activities were reasonable, I also noticed a few other things. Instead of going on Instagram, I started by compensating with other apps. I swiped more on the dating apps of choice, read more on Medium and especially discovered the beauty of Reddit. Thanks to r/insanepeoplefacebook, I’m now aware of everything going wrong in the US right now.

Reading more on Medium is always a good idea, but I don’t know how I feel about the dating apps and Reddit. Probably still a waste of time, but I do believe that I spent significantly less time on the phone without Instagram. I do not have the data to back up that claim, though.

It’s hard to switch off procrastination. It seems like my mind needs these small timeouts every now and then. For me, that was the biggest takeaway: procrastination is normal, and it’s okay to give into it — sometimes.

The key here is “sometimes”. Procrastination needs to happen in a controlled fashion. If you work for 5 minutes, and procrastinate for 20, you won’t get anything meaningful done. But a short break every now and then (for example, 5 minutes after 25 minutes of work as in the Pomodoro Technique) is perfectly fine.

Nobody’s perfect. You just need to recognize your imperfections.

You don’t need Instagram to survive

While I’ve missed it at times, the world didn’t end, and I also didn’t miss out on anything meaningful. Well, except for a few awesome Lacrosse workout videos and the awesome content from Friday Beers.

Interestingly enough, my biggest worry that I would miss out on communication. Instagram has become my second biggest messaging app after WhatsApp, and I just quit cold turkey without informing anyone.

But it turned out that it wasn’t bad at all (had messages from 8 people, and 21 organic notifications), and it turned out that …

Your friends actually care about you

Three people reached out to me on WhatsApp to see if I was alright, as I hadn’t posted anything in a couple weeks.

That was totally unexpected and gave me such a warm feeling. Sure, without Instagram you’re not getting the social validation of 98 likes on a photo, but a message reaching out is 1000 times more valuable.

A few more asked me why I had stopped posting agility workout videos. So maybe there is a demand for those too, after all.

Instagram cares about you, too

I said I had 21 notifications. Well, that’s not entirely true. I actually had a lot more than that, because Instagram all the sudden tries re-engaging you. Hardcore.

Here’s a screenshot from my app:

Screenshot of my Instagram notifications. Source: the author.

It nudges you to follow someone, look at things, every single day. By uninstalling the app, I was saved from this barrage, and by default I have email notifications off.

But holy shit that’s a lot of re-engagement and quite frankly, a bit scary. Although, if I were to run Instagram and would need to engage my users, I would probably do the same.

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And now, back to scheduled programming.

It can be a decent source of content

If you curate your newsfeed properly, Instagram can be a great source of content. Recently, I’ve been following lots of Lacrosse players and strength coaches, and I’ve learned a lot of things from simply watching what they post on Instagram.

The problem is that for each useful post, you look at three ads and five photos that are utterly irrelevant. Which is highly inefficient.

But given the fact that most people use Instagram as their main line of communication these days, it might be worth a shot to try and thoroughly curate my own content.

And now, the most important takeaway:

You can actually break the habit

I reinstalled Instagram on June 1st, the first day after my month off. So far, I’ve spent an average of 14 minutes on the app, which is pretty solid if you ask me.

I’m not unconsciously looking at the app anymore. There currently also isn’t that much to see, thanks to #blackouttuesday. But I’ve gone from mindlessly opening Instagram to consciously doing so.

I’ve gone from unconscious procrastination to conscious procrastination. It’s still procrastination, but awareness is the first step to improvement.

Take Action

After this experiment, I’m torn. I love and hate the app. I love the kick I get out of it, the validation of posting something, some of the content I can consume. I hate the fact that it steals my time, my energy, and my attention.

So here’s what I’m going to do:

  • Curate my content better by thoroughly unfollowing everyone and everything who does not post things that are relevant to me
  • Stop consuming Instagram before bedtime, just during the day
  • Set a timer for procrastination breaks

But most importantly, I’m going to strictly monitor my time spent on the app. Peter Drucker once said: “what gets measured, gets managed”.

I recently discovered a neat feature called “My Activity”. There, you can see your average time on Instagram for the past seven days. You can find it when you click on your profile, go to Settings and then “My Activity”.

There, you can set a notification for when you’ve surpassed your daily limit. For me, that’s 20 minutes.

20 minutes is an amount of time I’m very much willing to dedicate to dabbling around and not thinking too much.

72 minutes is not.

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