If you’re reading this, you’re looking at a screen right now – whether that’s on your phone, laptop or desktop. But, before you beat yourself up over this, it’s important to know that screens are great! They allow us to look at so many different things simultaneously, multitasking, switching between tabs and watching videos in impressive definition.
But, we’ve also come to realize that excessive screen time can impact an individual’s health and lifestyle, especially a child’s. Adults are not excluded from this concern, though.
Unlike children, many adults must spend a lot of time in front of screens for the sake of their careers or education. In many ways, screens have become a part of everyday life. According to The Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, more screentime is associated with prolonged sedentary behavior in adults and children alike. It’s also been shown that excessive screentime may cause problems with sleep and vision and lead to weight gain and mental health problems.
So, what is too much screen time, exactly? As the Pew Research Center discovered in 2018, more than a quarter of American adults say they’re “almost constantly” online. Studies have also found that spending more than six hours a day watching TV or using a computer is associated with a higher risk of depression. As it turns out, though, there is no one-size-fits-all response to how much time a person should spend looking at a screen. Instead, it’s important to balance your time between screen-based and non-screen-based activities.
To help you find this balance, we’ve gathered some advice and tips on limiting screen time. While it may seem impossible to escape the clutches of your TV, phone or laptop, you can make an effort to spend some of your time as screenless as possible.
Try a “digital declutter”
Research from Dscout found that in just one day, we’ll touch our smartphones 2,617 times, check email 74 times and receive 46 notifications. Because smartphones and other digital devices are designed to keep you engaged – even hooked – on them, stepping back and using them less could require you to declutter them and start over when it comes to your digital life. Making a big shift in your habits all at once could work best for you.
So, what do we mean by decluttering? In this context, we’re talking about taking a break from the technology you don’t need and cleaning up the devices you must use. As prescribed in Cal Newport’s book, “Digital Minimalism, Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” a digital declutter works kind of like an elimination diet, but for devices.
The first step is to eliminate all technology you do not need for 30 days. That means only using your work laptop for work or only doing work from the desktop at your office. It also means getting rid of all of the apps on your smartphone that aren’t necessary – no social media, no games, no dating apps, no Netflix.
Then, when you’ve figured out what you need to get rid of, you’ll also want to find other ways to fill your time so that you don’t feel like you’re missing out. This means scheduling non-screen time activities like going to the movie theater, hiking, going out with friends to meet face-to-face, picking up a creative hobby, setting up a weekly date night or taking language learning lessons. In addition, you’ll want to assign yourself meaningful activities to fill up the time you previously were spending online or on your devices.
After the initial 30 days, you can start reintroducing “unnecessary” technology back into your life based on what you truly want to keep around. Do you really want to get back on social media? Is Tinder something you want to keep using? Or do you feel better off without these things, enjoying time off-screen instead? Taking a little detox from daily use may give you a clearer picture of your priorities.
Use your device’s settings
On some smartphones – like iPhones, for example – you can make changes within your phone’s settings to help you spend less time using it. Essentially, you can “trick” yourself into being less addicted to your phone.
Screen time limits are one option. Check your device’s setting to see if you have a “Screen Time” option. For example, if you have an iPhone, you can select the “Downtime” option and schedule or immediately activate it. Once this feature is activated, only calls, messages and apps you choose to allow are available during the allotted time.
In the “Screen Time” tab, you can also choose to limit the time you spend on specific apps by tapping “App Limits” and selecting apps that you wish to spend less time on. You can select the amount of time you allow yourself to use these apps each day. So, if you feel you spend too much time using Facebook or Instagram, this is an excellent way to limit yourself without deleting the apps.
Turning off notifications for apps that don’t require your attention could prompt you to check your phone less. You can also grayscale your phone to make the screen less attractive to your eyes and minimize your time staring at it. This trick works because our eyes tend to be more attracted to the brightness. Removing the color from your screen could be a deterrent and is possible on both iPhones and Android devices.
You can also reduce the brightness or the white point on your screen to make it less distracting. Although devices nowadays are aesthetically designed to keep your interest, you can change the settings to make them less likely to distract you or draw your attention.
Create screen-free occasions, events and spaces
Another way to keep yourself away from screens is to encourage those around to put theirs down, too. After all, if you’re with a friend and they take out their phone to check Instagram, chances are you could be tempted to check your own social media feeds. At home, you can designate certain rooms as “screen-free” or “laptop-free.” Places like family rooms, dining rooms or bedrooms may be optimal for this kind of rule.
Moreover, when out to dinner or going to events with friends and family, you can set a “no phones” rule. You can use the honor system or have everyone turn their phones over to one person and only be allowed to use them for an emergency or similar unexpected situation. Without the distraction of phones, social interactions can become more focused and fulfilling in real life.
However you decide to begin distancing yourself from constantly being online and tapping your fingers at your phone or keyboard, there isn’t necessarily any wrong path to limiting screen time. Whether slowly or suddenly, beginning to take back in the world around us is a breath of fresh air from the hold our devices often seem to have on us.
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