How to Maximize Your Facebook Experience by Doing Less

I joined Facebook in the fall of 2004 – within a few months after it was established. I remember the site being a great way to interact with others at my college, which was pretty important to me since that was the start of my Freshman year in college. There were no applications, no like buttons, no games, no farms, no fluff. Just a plain ol’ profile pictures, photo albums, basic information, and a wall.

Over the years, I accumulated hundreds of ‘friends’, was tagged in hundreds of photos, had thousands of wall posts, and so forth. It was an information overload and kind of an addiction. I hated it. I tried to leave a few times but ended up coming back to the same mess. Finally, at the end of the summer of 2010, I deleted the account and left. It was a little bit hard to stay away from the website for the first few days, but then it was great. I felt free.

When I started hanging out with a new [wonderful] group of people this past October, they constantly mentioned that they used Facebook to share information and pictures within the community. I resisted. I was fine without Facebook and I could receive information through e-mails and word of mouth. Then one evening, a friend asked me to take a bunch of pictures because her camera was unavailable. I took the pictures on my phone. She asked that I put them on Facebook (‘pleaseeeee’). So what did I do? I created a new account under a new ‘junk’ e-mail account and uploaded the pictures. I friended her. She tagged everyone in the pictures. They friended me. And all of a sudden, I had Facebook again. I was really disappointed with myself for giving in (I really was just fine without it and loved being the odd one out!).

I think my main issue with the use of Facebook was time. We spend so much precious time online. I had spent too much time perusing Facebook pages until hours were wasted away when I could have been reading a book instead. I’m sure you do the same thing.

But here’s what I’ve done differently this time around. If you want to minimize the use of Facebook in your life without getting rid of your account, try some of these methods if you absolutely must have an account:

  • Create a new account. It’s better to delete (not deactivate – that’s only temporary) your crowded account and make a new one. Start from the beginning! A new clean slate! You can make it what you want to be instead of sorting through all the old names, pictures & posts.
  • Don’t use your real full name. The day I signed up for this new account, I used a fake name (Laura Love) and had a picture of a smiley face. Needless to say, a few of the people I sent requests to (there was only a small handful) denied me because they didn’t know who I was! Now they know. Since then, a few object pictures have graced the profile page until only a few days ago, when I felt compelled to put up a nice picture of my fiancee and I. I still don’t have my full name displayed.
  • Make your profile private. Only allow friends to search for you and friends of friends to add you. Facebook used to have a setting where no one could see you at all or request you — but I guess now the site wants to make things more public, so sadly, this option isn’t available anymore. People have been able to find me if I leave a comment on a mutual friend’s wall or picture and this has led to a few undesired requests in the past few months (mostly denied, some accepted). If you’re reading this, please know that I don’t dislike you. We just don’t hang out much so I don’t see a need for an internet friendship. If you really want to hang out with me and get to know me more, shoot me an e-mail! And honestly, I don’t really send out requests anymore. After the initial 20 people  I requested when I signed up again, I just let people find me… if they can.
  • Only request people or accept requests from those who are in your life right now. You don’t have 726 friends. You only have a small handful of immediate family members (do you really need to add your third cousin once removed and your classmate from third grade?) and a small group of friends that you really keep in touch with. Trust me, you will feel good doing this. After all, our brains are theoretically hardwired to maintain only 150 stable social relationships.
  • Don’t put any profile information. Two reasons: 1) The more Facebook knows about you, the more they will try to advertise to you and use your name in some way. 2) If people really know you, they don’t need to read a list of your interests. And you can’t ever know anyone just from reading what they choose to put on their profile. Not at all.
  • You don’t need to post pictures of every single thing you do. People don’t care that much. I know I don’t.
  • You don’t need to say every thing you do. Again, people don’t care. The best kind of updates are ones with important information that is shared once a week or so. If you have something really important to share, make sure you tell important people first in person or e-mail before making it a public status.
  • Disaable e-mail notifications. By cutting out e-mail notifications, you reduce Facebook’s ability to interrupt your life on a constant basis and take you away from being present in the moment. You will also lose the urge to respond to notifications right away – they don’t need immediate attention! To do this, go to account settings, choose the “notifications” tab, and click “off” on all the e-mail notifications you don’t really need.
  • Don’t install the Facebook app on your phone. Just don’t. If it’s on your phone, you will check it more often, use it more often, and be much more distracted. Nothing on Facebook requires your immediate attention – if it does, that person should know to contact you directly via a phone call or text message. Set aside a certain time each day (or week) to log in and that’s it.
  • Turn off wall comments. This will encourage friends to contact you directly via a personal message, text, e-mail, or comment on a status thread rather than leaving a vague message for all to see about regarding a private joke or how wonderful it was to see you at such-and-such event. It will also make your profile seem less cluttered and you can control the content more – especially if you want to filter some things about your life from some of your friends.
  • Don’t take the time to read the mini-feed. This is probably hard to do because it’s one of the main reasons people keep Facebook, but avoid looking at the mini-feed if you can. Just limit yourself to checking unread messages and notifications and then logging out. If you read the mini-feed, you will be overwhelmed with information that will have you clicking around endlessly until you’ve wasted hours. If you must read the feed, then hide unnecessary update notifications by clicking the ‘x’ next to the item in your newsfeed.
  • No games or silly applications! Don’t play the games on Facebook. They suck up your time. You’re most likely on Facebook to connect with friends, not grow a farm. If you wish to use Facebook as your gaming platform, so be it, but please spare the rest of us from those updates. Your friends don’t care if you’ve managed to harvest 300 crops of purple pumpkins.

Of course, depending on your purpose behind having an account, you may or may not do all or some of the above. Maybe you want to be fully included on Facebook with 1,017 friends and update about everything you do (in which case, we need to talk personally about cutting back). Maybe you use Facebook to just check out your sister’s baby pictures and stay in touch with a few relatives. Maybe you use Facebook to share your blog updates –  in fact, that’s probably how you stumbled across this post. Ironic.

You might be interested in Facebook Made Simple by Mike Donghia at The Art of Minimalism.
Defanging Facebook by Gwen Bell & Patrick Reynolds also offers more tips and point of views.