Open Access

Could productivity apps combat students’ social media addiction in order to maximise efficiency?

Massimo Monks[1], Charlie Cutler[2]

Institution: 1. University College London, 2. University of Oxford
Corresponding Author: Mr Massimo Monks ([email protected])
Categories: Students/Trainees, Teaching and Learning, Technology, Undergraduate/Graduate
Published Date: 15/10/2018
Keywords: Social media; Technology; Efficiency; Productivity; Apps; Addiction.


It is commonplace for university students to spend significant periods of time using social media, yet studies have been unable to definitively determine whether social media has a negative impact on grades (Ahn, 2011). We read an article by AlFaris et al. with great interest given our generation’s ever-increasing use of social media (AlFaris et al. 2018). Two questions arose: why are students spending excessive time on social media and is there anything we can do to help? The article identifies entertainment and socialising as the primary reasons students use social media but does not consider an alternative; that many students display addictive behaviour, likened to substance dependence (Roberts et al. 2013). We believe that it is imperative to consider students’ addiction to social media if we are to reduce usage in the studying environment, improve time management, and productivity.


The authors recommend developing ‘strategies to strengthen active student learning and foster student engagement’. We believe that the use of productivity improving apps could be the answer. HOLD is an app targeted at university students that grants financial rewards for time spent off one’s phone. The app rewards students with points for every 20 minutes away from their phone which can then be exchanged for cinema tickets, coffee, or a donation to charity. The concept of apps or websites that enable individuals to limit time using specific sites is not new, but the addition of a reward system is. Previously, apps such as SelfControl for Mac simply blocked users from websites for any given time period. With HOLD, when a person has a compulsive urge to check Facebook they now have a secondary incentive to abstain, gain points, and get a free coffee. Thereby, lengthening study time and potentially increasing productivity. Comparisons can be made with apps used to aid smoking cessation. Rather than cash incentives being given, apps such as QuitNow! show users time since last smoked, money saved, and health benefits gained. HOLD has over 100,000 downloads on androids, yet there is currently little data on the effectiveness of productivity-improving apps; we believe this would be an interesting avenue to pursue in the future (Google Play, 2018).


In summary, we live in a world where social media is evermore present in students’ lives, and at times to the detriment of their studies. Social media has its benefits however we need to ensure that its use is limited in order to maximise productivity. One step that universities could take is by pre-installing desktop apps similar to SelfControl, or by encouraging the use of apps such as HOLD. This could radically improve the studying environment and help overcome our generation’s social media addiction.

Take Home Messages

  1. Students display addictive behaviours in regards to social media
  2. Productivity-improving apps are an avenue that should be explored, with the aim to improve studying effectiveness
  3. Further studies are required to determine the impact that social media use has on grades

Notes On Contributors

Massimo Monks is a final year medical student currently studying at University College London, UK.

Charlie Cutler is a final year medical student currently studying at the University of Oxford, UK.




Ahn, J. (2011) 'The effect of social network sites on adolescents social and academic development: Current theories and controversies', Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(8), pp. 1435–1445. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.21540


Alfaris, E., Irfan, F., Ponnamperuma, G., Jamal, A., et al. (2018) 'The pattern of social media use and its association with academic performance among medical students', Medical Teacher, pp. 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1080/0142159X.2018.1465536


Roberts, J., Yaya, L. and Manolis, C. (2014) 'The invisible addiction: Cell-phone activities and addiction among male and female college students',Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3(4), pp. 254–265. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.3.2014.015


Hold - technology tamed – Apps on Google Play, Google (2018). Available at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.hold.Hold&hl=en_GB (Accessed: September 28, 2018).




There are no conflicts of interest.
This has been published under Creative Commons "CC BY-SA 4.0" (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)

Ethics Statement

Ethics approval was not necessary as this is a personal view only.

External Funding

This paper has not had any External Funding


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Ken Masters - (30/10/2018) Panel Member Icon
[As my review takes issue with the views expressed in the letter, and I also award only one star, I need to explain my position clearly. This requires a lengthy review. Unfortunately, the review box has a limit of 500 words. As a result, I have taken the liberty of dividing my review into sections. The next part of my review is in the “Reply” area below]

[Part 1/3]
Although the authors raise an interesting topic, I’m afraid I must take issue with their approach, and suggest that their argument and suggestions would cause more harm than good. The main reason for my view is that they appear to make a fundamental assumption error that is prevalent in so many articles dealing with students’ use of social media: that the use of social media is something in opposition to valuable work, or other parts of productive life, and, therefore, is harmful. In addition, they appear to have ignored crucial evidence that comes directly from the very sources that they cite.

For example, medical students use YouTube to a great extent. So much so, that this may be considered “addiction”, especially in the classic reasoning of asking questions like “Do your family/personal relationships suffer because of the amount of time you spend on social media?” When one looks at what the students are doing with YouTube, however, one finds that a great percentage is academic and work-related: students struggling to understand stuff given in over-packed lectures, and so looking on YouTube for answers. (Khan Academy videos are a case in point – the video on “Hypothesis testing and p-values | Inferential statistics | Probability and Statistics” has nearly 2 million views, and who knows how many downloads and re-views. Nobody, and I mean nobody, watches a video on p-values because they’re goofing off and doing no work.) Videos on understanding ECGs are very popular too.

Some research (cited below) has shown that, when we take academic work into account, about half of this “addiction” to social media is actually “addiction” to work, so the two questions the authors ask (“why are students spending excessive time on social media and is there anything we can do to help?”) should translate into “why are students spending excessive time on their work and is there anything we can do to help?” But, in our society, for a medical student to spend “excessive time on work” is seldom seen as a problem. (If the authors wish to address these questions, I’m sure that would make an interesting study).
P Ravi Shankar - (15/10/2018) Panel Member Icon
This is an interesting letter by two final year medical students about the impact of social media on students and the use of productivity apps to reduce social media addiction. Addiction to smart phones and social media is becoming increasingly common. I saw a program about the HOLD app designed to reduce time spend on social media on television. The adverse consequences of spending too much time on social media is becoming increasingly well-known and some platforms may be taking steps to address this. However, the business model in which advertising and revenue is linked to the time users spend on a social media platform may undercut efforts to reduce social media usage. Social media platforms are built to be attractive and addictive. Rewarding people for time spend away from social media and the phone can be effective.