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5 Tips for Less (and Better) Screen Time

This year I want to focus more on returning to living a little more simply, and feeling less busy, rushed and stressed. When I think about what this looks like in my life, I’ve realised one area I’d like to work on is the amount of time I spend online: I’d like to spend less time looking at screens.

I know it isn’t good for me to be staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, only to switch off the laptop and open up my phone to see what’s going on over there.

I love writing my blog, and I love social media, but all things in moderation.

It’s something I’m always conscious of, and often think about, but this year I intend to be more proactive with it. Whilst I don’t feel that I spend a huge amount of time on screens (and I don’t have a TV), there’s always room for improvement.

I don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to share some of the tools and some of the techniques I’m using to unplug a little. And ask for your help in telling me your own experiences and tips. I’m far from perfect, so if you have your own suggestions I’d be over the moon if you’d share them!

Less Screens

For me, screens can be divided into two: my laptop/computer, and my mobile phone. Because the way I use them is quite different, I’ve divided them up to talk about each separately.

Less Laptop / Computer Time

When you work for yourself and you don’t have a defined work day, it’s easy for laptop time to extend into evenings and weekends. I’m definitely guilty of keeping my laptop on well into the evenings. It’s not that working in the evening is bad per se, but without boundaries in place, it can feel like all I do is stare at the screen.

It’s also incredibly tempting to open the laptop for a few hours on the weekend to “get ahead”. Sadly “ahead” isn’t a place or something solid and attainable, it’s just an idea that sounds good.

Changing this is the challenge for the year.

What it’s going to look like, I’m not sure yet. One reason I like working for myself is that I don’t have to subscribe to the rigid 8am – 5pm model, so imposing that restriction doesn’t really make sense.

Yet the idea of saying “whatever happens in the day, the computer is off by 6pm” is incredibly appealing.

I’d like to reclaim my weekends, and keep the laptop turned off for at least one day, and ideally both. I’d like to keep my work day to a reasonable amount of hours, so if I start work early, then I don’t work late. I’ll let you know how this works out!

Less Mobile Phone Screen Time

When I first decided I wanted to reduce my mobile phone screen time, I realised I didn’t actually have any idea how often I used it, or what I was spending the most time looking at.

To figure this out, I downloaded a (free) app called AntiSocial. It tracks usage (number of minutes per day), number of unlocks, number of minutes spent on each app, the most used app, number of minutes on social media, and more.

I found it quite insightful, and think it is a good place to start when wanting to reduce phone time. The app also has the ability to block or restrict certain apps, by setting a daily limit, schedule or timer. Personally, I haven’t needed to use these.

There are plenty of other apps that offer these blocking services too.

When it comes to restricting my phone use during the day, I use the oldschool approach of turning my phone onto silent and putting it into another room, unless I am expecting a phone call. If someone calls and I miss it, I can always call them back, and not being able to hear the bleep or vibrate of a notification stops me being distracted.

I’m also conscious of the apps I use on my phone. I do not have Facebook on my mobile phone, meaning if I want to look at it I have to log onto the laptop. This works for me.

I also noticed recently that I have started reading the BBC news app more and more, which tends to tell me about all the terrible things happening in the world and puts me in a bad mood. I’m considering deleting this app too. AntiSocial tells me I spent 4 hours using the BBC News app in the past month. Was that a good use of my time? I’m not sure. Sometimes I’d rather not know what is going on in the world!

Less Ads

When I am on my computer I want to keep distractions to a minimum, and removing ads is one way that works for me. I’ve installed an adblocker on my laptop (you can also install them on your tablet or mobile). They work by removing advertisements from the sidebar and content, and replacing with white space.

I use AdBlocker Plus: it’s free to install.

Removing adverts remove the temptation to click away from what I’m trying to do, and stops me finding myself inadvertently shopping for stuff I don’t really need. It also means that if I do look at a product or service online, I’m not followed around by said product or service through retargeting adverts, trying to encourage me to make a purchase.

Another tip that’s worked for me is to unsubscribe from all shopping websites or anything that sends high volumes of sales emails. I find the constant “sales” and “limited offers” arriving in my inbox to be incredibly distracting, and the temptation to click through is always higher than if the email simply wasn’t there.

Better Screentime (When It Can’t Be Avoided)

I do not want screen time to take over my life, and more importantly, I do not want it to interfere with my sleep. Sleep is important to me, and a good nights sleep makes all the difference between a good day and a bad one.

Computer screens have a lot of blue light, which can affect sleep when we use them late at night. One option is simply not to use screens at night, but it isn’t always practical.

To help with this, I’ve download some apps that reduce the blue light, to help with sleep. On my phone I download the app Twilight, and on my laptop I’ve downloaded the app Flux. I can tell the app when the sun sets, and when I get up in the morning, and it will adjust the amount of blue light.

The screen looks a little strange at first, but I definitely feel that it strains my eyes less. The science says it works, and if I can’t avoid using screens late at night, it seems like a better option.

As I said at the start, I don’t have all the answers, but slowly I’m finding solutions to help me unplug. Freeing up my time from screens is going to let me embrace all the off-screen things I’m dying to do but simply never seem to be able to fit in! Not that I want to fill all the time. White space is good too.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you reduce screen time? Are there any apps you recommend? Any old school techniques and tips you recommend? Anything you tried that didn’t work at all? Please share your knowledge and experience in the comments below!

Play again? (7 Ideas for Reducing Screen Time)

Last Friday my boyfriend and I went to an Ecoburbia community movie screening to see the documentary “Play Again?” The tagline of the movie is “what are the consequences of a childhood removed from nature?” It follows 6 teenagers who usually spend 5-15 hours a day behind screens, and takes them on their first wilderness adventure. It also features the commentaries and observations of a number of experts including journalist Richard Louv, sociologist Juliet Schor, environmental writer Bill McKibben, educators Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, neuroscientist Gary Small, parks advocate Charles Jordan, and geneticist David Suzuki. This is how the offical Play Again website describes the film:

“One generation from now most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature. New media technologies have improved our lives in countless ways. Information now appears with a click. Overseas friends are part of our daily lives. And even grandma loves Wii.

But what are we missing when we are behind screens? And how will this impact our children, our society, and eventually, our planet? At a time when children play more behind screens than outside, PLAY AGAIN explores the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds. Is our connection to nature disappearing down the digital rabbit hole?”

It was an interesting movie and it was great to see six kids getting back to nature for the first time. There were some interesting observations from the teenagers – like the younger boy who observed that “outdoors was more realistic”, and the older teen who noted when playing team games that in the virtual world he was the commander and could manage and control teams successfully, whereas in real life it wasn’t so easy.

Another comment that stuck with me was when the teenagers were making bows and arrows, and the younger boy told the camera that on computer games it was really easy to shoot and hit a target, whereas in real life it was actually quite hard. That’s the thing about real life, isn’t it? There’s a lot of loss and struggle and disappointment that go between the successes and triumphs and wins.

Although the movie dealt with the issue of screen time in regards to children, these issues actually affect all of us, and it’s interesting to reflect on how much screen time we use as adults. Especially since the dawn of smartphones, I think most people would agree “too much”. Even if they don’t, I’m pretty sure those health experts would have a different opinion!

It made me think about how we use screen time in our household. We don’t have a television, we share a single laptop and we both have smartphones. Through our phones we have access to screens all day every day, and we use them for significant amounts of time. I’ve been feeling like we use them too much and should cut down but hadn’t really done much about it. This movie was a reminder that there’s a real world surrounding the virtual one, and we should re-connect with it more. So here are some ideas I’ve come up with for using screens less.

Ideas for reducing screen time:

1. Get a watch (or a clock)

I don’t wear a watch and we don’t actually have a clock in the house, so I use my phone to tell the time. But once I pick it up, it’s so easy to ‘quickly’ check Facebook/the news/my email, and before I know it I’m engrossed in the virtual world. I got some inspiration from another blog post I read, and I’ve decided that we will get a clock so we know what the time is without the need for screen time.

2. Remove phones from the bedroom

This is one thing we actually changed before watching the movie. My boyfriend used to use his phone as an alarm, but would also end up straight on social media within two seconds of waking up every morning. It’s also a temptation for those nights when it’s difficult to get to sleep and can be a luring distraction –  but it’s not going to help with sleep! For that reason, plus the fact that sleeping with our mobiles next to our heads is probably not that good for our health, we got a new alarm and have removed the phones from the bedroom.

3. No screens at mealtimes

This may seem obvious, and if my boyfriend and I are eating together at the table we never have our phones there. It’s just plain rude. How much nicer to actually talk to each other?! However, if I’m alone it’s super easy to grab lunch and head straight back to the computer and eat in front of it. How many people have lunch in front of their computer screen at work? So now I have a new rule – no mealtimes in front of screens. It means I give my eyes and mind a rest, have a proper break and also appreciate exactly what I’m eating. How easy is it to polish off a bowl of food without even noticing when you’re engrossed in something else?

4. Resist the urge for instant answers

The thing about the internet, it can answer all of our burning questions almost instantly. Which means whenever we want to know ANYTHING we can simply look it up online and the answer’s there. No need to wait. I’m not sure this is a good thing. Isn’t patience a virtue?! Is it possible to write those burning questions we want to know down, and check them all together at a later time? I don’t know. I’m as guilty as the next person of needing to know answers immediately whenever burning questions present themselves. But once I’ve connected, I’ll look at other things too, and before I know it time has slipped away. So I’m planning to try it out.

5. Limit the number of check-ins

Have you ever checked your e-mail, Facebook, twitter and whatever other social media you use to find that you have not had one single new message/update since the last time you checked? Do you ever check them just for the sake of it, even if you suspect nothing has been updated? On a typical day I check everything in the morning, at lunchtime, and again in the afternoon. (Most people who commute by public transport seem to use their time in this way.) I might also check last thing at night. I think it makes replying and responding manageable. I wonder though, whether it would make any difference if I just checked twice a day? What if I took a book to read instead? I always say I don’t have enough time to read and I always have a pile of library books that invariably get returned half-finished or untouched. If I cut down my screen time, I’d have plenty of time for other things I think I can’t squeeze in.

6. Allocate screen-free time

I’ve suggested this to my boyfriend in the past and he thinks it is a good idea – yet we’ve never put it into practise. Does that mean we find it too hard? Surely we can commit to something? Not being able to makes me feel like some kind of addict! It also seems pretty ridiculous. It’s not like we spend all our time in front of screens, either. The movie inspired me to finally come up with a screen-free time at home when neither of us are allowed to go near any sort of screen. I’ll let you know how it goes!

7. Start a diary

The other thing that I realised when writing this was I have no idea how much screen time I actually use. I’m pretty sure it’s too much. I want to cut down, but to what? What is realistic? Am I more hooked than I think? I’m pondering keeping a screen diary for a week to find out how much I actually use. It will probably be a revelation – but am I too scared to find out?!

So there’s my ideas… now I’d love to hear yours! Feel free to share any thoughts you have in the comments below.