How to stop procrastinating on social media with iOS shortcuts

I discovered iOS Shortcuts recently – one simple use case is to give yourself a nudge to get back to work when you're using social media apps.

If – like me – you’re wary of social media apps becoming a drain on your time and – also like me – you’re not wary of tinkering becoming a severe drain on your time, then iOS’s Shortcuts app is for you. Here, I show you a shortcut that nudges me five minutes after opening Instagram or LinkedIn on my iPhone. You could easily do the same for any other app.

It’s difficult to show you step-by-step how I did it, but I can point you in the direction. Here, you can find an overview of the steps, a video, and the iCloud links to the shortcuts themselves. None of these is perfect, but with any luck, together they’ll get you where you need to be. Or you read this far, think “I can do that!” and just go away and work it out for yourself. Good on you.

What the Shortcut does

My shortcut is triggered every time I open either Instagram or LinkedIn on my iPhone. (Use “Automations” within the Shortcuts app for that.) Every time I open Instagram or LinkedIn, it sets me a reminder with an alert five minutes into the future.

The basic steps you have to carry out are:

  • Create a list in the Reminders app – something like “SM naggers” – to separate the nagging reminders from the others
  • Create the shortcut itself, with steps to calculate a time five minutes (300 seconds) into the future, or take the input from the automation (for advanced use but probably not necessary), then create a reminder with an alert for that time and add it to the list you created
  • Create an automation – when app XY is opened, run the shortcut

Grab the shortcut here

I’m not going to go into detail about how to do it: just check out the shortcut itself by clicking this link. (You’ll need to allow untrusted sources in your Shortcuts settings.)

Deleting unused reminders

For bonus points: I’ve set up another automation that detects when I close the app (in case I close it before the time’s up), then runs a shortcut that deletes the reminder. This is where the list in the Reminders app comes in handy: you can just tell it to delete every item on it.

The upside of this approach: if you’re concentrating on something other than social media because – the model of self-restraint that you are – you’re back at your desk being productive, this stops you getting distracted by the reminder. How counterproductive would that be?

The downside: you have to confirm you want to delete the reminder, which is a bit cumbersome. However, every cloud has a silver lining: I find it makes it easier to break your procrastinatory flow by demanding your attention.

You can get the shortcut by clicking this link from your iOS device.

How-to video

Here’s a five-minute screencast video I made, which shows you through the process – although I think your best bet is just to use the iCloud links and feel your way forward.

Hooray for Shortcuts

Shortcuts are great for tinkerers and there are so many options. They are – be warned – as much a threat to your time as social media itself though. Especially once you realise they can pull in JSON data from a REST API. Or create GIFs. And PDFs. And say swear words out loud. And respond to QR codes and NFC tags