Screens are everywhere. In modern life, we increasingly interact with a multitude of digital devices and social networks to work, get information, access services and connect with the people around us.
In the first half of 2020, our reliance on technology justifiably increased as we navigated through the realities of physical distancing and the effects of social isolation during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While technology is vital to how we live, there’s also a huge risk of not understanding its full impact on our well-being.
Technology is a tool that we should control for our benefit, not the other way around.
Finding a balance that works for you is key. Screens will inevitably be part of your life, but mindfully managing how you use them puts you in charge of how they’ll affect your daily routines. Here’s how to get started.
Know your triggers and have productive alternatives ready
The average adult in the US touches their smartphone 2,600 times each day and isn’t aware of it.
At some point, boredom will strike and you’ll reach for a screen. It happens to everybody. Be ready by making a list of five things you’d love to accomplish instead. It could be anything from meditation or a quick jog to that one household chore you’ve been putting off for months. Make the items relatively small and achievable in 30 minutes or fewer.
The next time you’ve got some free time and feel yourself heading to YouTube, go to your list instead.
As a reward, give yourself 30 minutes of screen time to scroll Insta if, and only if, you’ve completed one of the five items. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and be training yourself to use technology as a tool when you choose it, not as something that just happens.
Keep a screen-time log for one week
American children aged 8-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours each day interacting with a digital screen for entertainment. That adds up to a whopping 117 days each year and doesn’t include the time they spend on education and homework.
Right now you’re probably thinking that your own family couldn’t possibly be spending the same amount of time on their devices. Hopefully you’re right, but there’s only one way to know — by tracking exactly how much screen time you’re actually exposed to. You might think you’re aware of it, but one in three Americans underestimate the amount they use their phones.
Commit to keeping a manual log of how you and everyone in your household use screens for one week. (No cheating!) Once you have a realistic idea of the time your family spends with technology, you’ll know how badly you need to make changes.
Set limits and reminders
Having a few ground rules with yourself and your family will get everyone on the same page and set up expectations for how you’re going to limit screen time.
- No phone mealtimes
One of the biggest risks of unchecked screen time is that it takes us away from the extremely important social connections that are the cornerstone of our relationships. Pick times each day — mornings and communal mealtimes are a great start — where everyone commits to turning screens off and connecting with each other.
- Add checkout times to your calendar
Set up calendar reminders each day for when you’ll log off from work, put your phone away and disconnect. If you’re starting off in need of a bit more help, there’s a whole range of tech-blocking apps available that will do the work for you.
- Make plans for what you’ll do together instead
Looking for ideas? Start our Two Weeks to a Happier, Healthier Family health program for easy ways to get healthier as a group.
Give notice to your notifications
Notifications have one purpose: To grab your attention from whatever you’re doing. This works really well for sites that want you to pay attention to them. It’s also really bad for your mental health and ability to focus on what matters to you.
This is particularly true for social networks. A recent study showed that limiting social media activity to 30 minutes or fewer a day led to “a significant improvement in well-being.”
Remember that turning notifications on for an app is giving them direct access to your mindset. We have a finite amount of attention in a day. Each time a notification pops up it consumes a tiny bit of your focus. Over time, that adds to a tremendous loss in your attention span.
Be brutally honest about what you really need to be notified about and what can wait. Chances are you can significantly reduce the number of non-essential apps that you allow into your headspace.
If you want to cut back on social media but are concerned about how to keep in touch with others during the COVID-19 pandemic, start our How to Stay Connected While In Self-Isolation health program for tips.
Go screen-free before bedtime for better sleep
90% of Americans sleep with their phone within arm’s reach. That’s great for making sure you don’t miss an email, but it’s terrible for getting quality sleep.
A good night’s rest is one of the best things we can do for our overall health. But between getting the kids to bed and that looming work deadline, it’s easier said than done. We get it.
Digital screens, especially at night, not only make it harder to fall asleep they also lower the quality of the sleep you eventually get. Then, when you’re more tired the following day, your self-control is lowered. That makes it (you guessed it) more likely that you’ll stay on your phone instead of falling asleep again the next night.
When it comes to starting new habits, don’t let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” A little change is better than no change at all. Over time, small improvements add up. Begin with the tips you feel most comfortable with right now and soon you’ll have a healthier relationship with the tech in your life and more time for the people you really care about connecting with.