Get a Grip on Your Screen Time

screen time

Today’s big idea is pretty straightforward: while some times screens are unavoidable–hello, most forms of office work and remote school. And sometimes they are very helpful–like when you’re using them to research something, or navigate to your destination. And even promote creativity–whether you’re writing, making art, or shooting and editing videos and films–we have all gotten overly acclimated to using screens. I mean, the average American spends 60 hours a week online. That’s a LOT of hours–the equivalent to one and a half full-time jobs!

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And when you’re on a screen, you’re typically not moving your body all the much, and your head is jutting forward and your neck back and shoulder muscles are working extra hard to support that weight, and your posture is probably not great, and your brain is getting acclimated–even addicted–to constant input. 

Of course, the pandemic did NOT help our screentime totals be in a healthy range. We were staying put much more, and using screens in unprecedented ways to work and learn and stay in touch with friends and family. It leapfrogged us ahead in terms of how reliant we are on screens. All of which means that now is the perfect time to take a step back and assess our screen time, and to give ourselves the chance to remember what life is like when we’re not looking at screens all the livelong day. 

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to think of one or at most two practical steps you could take to start to change how much time you spend on screens. There are so many ways to do this, I’ll give you a three different ideas to get your wheels turning: 

The first: Choose a 2-hour time period during the day when you are notifications-free. 

The second idea is: Track your screen time for a day. 

And finally: Plan for a screen-free day as soon as you can. 

As far as going notifications free, there are a few ways to do this

You could put your phone in airplane mode, power it off, or put it in a drawer. You’d also have to turn off email and message notifications on your computer–so your email program, if you use iMessages or other messaging service, and any social media accounts or games that might be sending you little pop-up notifications.

For this reason, the first time you go notifications-free will likely be more labor intensive than subsequent times. You might find that once you turn off all those little things that pop up on your computer that you quite like it, and you don’t ever turn them back on. But you don’t have to commit to anything, the tiny assignment is just for two hours so you can experience it. 

You also need to decide WHEN to be notifications-free

It could be first thing in the morning, your prime working hours (which for me are 10-12), the hour before and after dinner when you’re spending time with family, or the 2 hours before bed. It doesn’t matter when it is, just that you think about it and decide a time that you think will be the best fit for you.  

If the thought of going notifications free makes you feel anxious, you CAN set an automatic response for text messages on your phone using the ‘do not disturb while driving’ feature on an iphone. I’m sure there’s a way to do it on Android, too. You’ll have to google how to set it up, and then remember to get out of that mode when your break is through, which is clunky, I admit. Why is it that you can set an away message on your email and you used to be able to do it on AOL instant messenger way back in the day, but it doesn’t exist for texts?? It seems really dumb (and yet another reason why smartphones are so addictive). 

Luckily, tracking your screen time for a day is more straightforward. Just jot down somewhere every time you look at a screen and for how long. For bonus points, also make note of whether you’re doing something creative (like making a video), something constructive (like checking the weather), or something that’s just pure distraction (like watching videos, or playing Boggle). Just do it tomorrow–don’t wait for the perfect day. I learned from time management guru Laura Vanderkam that there really is no typical day, so that means most days are typical days. 

You may not even realize how much time you’re devoting to your devices

And seeing how that time adds up can be great motivation for finding ways to reduce it. You can also look at the screen time function on your phone, but you won’t get to categorize your screen time, only measure it in total. But that is still useful information–so keep your own record and then look at your screen time usage and see if your own assessment of how much time you were on your phone jibes the app. 

And finally, planning for a screen-free day is pretty straight forward, too, although not necessarily easy. Most likely, it will need to be a non-work day. And you’ll probably need to do a little advance planning, like if you need to go anywhere to figure out your route beforehand, so that you aren’t tempted to use your screen. If you can’t manage a whole day, aim for at least a six-hour stretch, and plan something that will make it easy to be screen free, like yard work, or a hike or a picnic, or get that book you’ve been wanting to read, or even plan to run errands. Whatever you choose, allow yourself to be completely immersed in whatever you’re planning. It’s like a little reset for your brain, and can inspire you to find more ways to step away from your desk and leave your phone at home. 

Your choices again are: 

Choose a 2-hour time period to be notifications-free, and figure out how to do it so that it can become something you do more than once. 

Track your screen time for a day. 

Plan for a screen-free day as soon as you can. 

I promise you, whatever you choose, your body and your brain will thank you. 

Just like I thank you for listening this week. Come back next week, when we’re looking at different ways of making decisions and trusting the choices that you make more. Have a great weekend!


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