Why and How to Drastically Reduce Your Screen Time
I didn't care until I developed a severe migraine
When the quarantine first started, I spent the first few weeks glued to my phone and laptop — primarily on social media, gaming, or binging YouTube until my eyes became bloodshot and watery.
When I decided to limit my screen time, I turned to books and got back into a consistent habit of reading. I read more in those 2 months than I had done in the past year.
Reading along with working out and other hobbies kept me off screens for most of the day.
But when I started writing on Medium, my screen time again hit the skies. I didn’t take it seriously until I developed a severe migraine.
When I roughly calculated my screen time, it came up to a whopping 12 hours. I knew what I had to do even before the doctor said it,
I had to drastically decrease my screen time.
Why You Should Decrease Your Screen Time
A migraine is just one of the harmful side effects excessive screen time can have on your health.
Eye strain. Not only eye strain and dryness can also potential retinal damage and blurred vision.
Sleep problems. The blue light emitted from electronic devices interferes with the brain’s sleep cycle and can disrupt your sleep.
Obesity. Too much time engaging in sedentary activity, such as playing video games or watching TV, can be a risk factor for obesity.
Chronic neck and back pain. Too much screen time can lead to poor posture, causing chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain.
Depression and anxiety. Research suggests that higher screen time, anxiety, and depression could be connected along with an increase in suicidal behaviors.
Now that you know how harmful excessive screen time can be, I want to share a few tips that helped me and hopefully you to drastically decrease screen time.
Don’t Take Your Phone to the Toilet
Yes, this is first on the list. No, don’t be surprised as most of us including me are guilty of doing this.
A survey conducted by 11Mark found that 80% of men and 69% of women use their phones on the toilet, albeit some more often than others.
Yes, 4 out of 5 men are toilet texters.
The problem with this is that you tend to spend much more time in the toilet than you otherwise would. Not only does this increase your screen time but also has a slew of other side-effects on your health.
I would take my phone with me and as a result, would spend more than 20 minutes every time.
Assuming two to three visits a day, ceasing to take my phone to the toilet reduced my screen time by close to an hour.
Turn Off Notifications
I would keep my phone aside and be doing something else when a notification pops up. Thinking that I’ll just check the notification in a jiffy and resume what I was doing, I summon my phone.
Lo and behold, it’s only after an hour that I finally set it aside again.
One moment you could be checking the notification and the next, be deep in your ex’s six months Instagram feed.
According to a survey, the average US smartphone receives 46 notifications in a day.
This means that even if you spent only 5 minutes every time you received a notification, it is still close to a whopping 4 hours a day.
When I disabled notifications, not only did my screen time but even my stress levels decreased and my productivity greatly improved exactly as a study from Carnegie Mellon University found.
Disable notifications or at least make generous use of “DnD” and thank me later.
Use Apps to Track and Limit Your Screen Time
Only when you are aware of how much your screen time is, can you actually think of reducing it.
Screen time tracking is insightful as we tend to greatly underestimate how much time we actually spend hooked to screens.
Not only can you track but you can also limit your screen time. You can set limits for individual apps and the overall usage.
Here’s a blog post on some of the best apps to track and limit your smartphone usage.
Have a Family “Unplug” Time
Spending time with your family without the use of any electronic devices can be a great way to not only reduce screen time but even connect with each other.
A family “unplug” time is where you disconnect from electronic devices to connect with each other.
With the quarantine, going out wasn’t a viable option so I and my family would spend time conversing, playing cards, cracking jokes, and having a fun time overall.
Before I knew it, an hour or two would have flown by leaving me brimming with positivity and energy instead of feeling drained and miserable when mindlessly scrolling through my phone.
I have written an article on exactly how I unplug every day.
Don’t Use Electronic Devices Lying in Bed
A couple of years, I would make my bed, grab my laptop, and decide to watch a few episodes of Anime before I slept.
Lying in bed, I would say to myself, “Just one more episode” till it was 3 or 4 AM in the morning and my eyes shut close out of exhaustion.
When you use the couch or a desk to watch or use electronic devices, your tendency to binge is much lesser.
Explore Hobbies That Don’t Involve Electronic Screens
Hobbies are great. They can alleviate stress, relieve you from boredom, release “feel good” hormones, and make you happy overall.
Having been an avid reader all my life, reading is one of my favorite hobbies.
Apart from reading, I recently started learning the guitar, jotting down ideas in a notebook, and exploring music. I have also been planning on learning card tricks. These hobbies help me spend a good amount of time off screens.
There are gazillions of options for you to explore — gardening, musical instruments, painting, cooking, baking, card tricks, traveling, playing sports, writing, etc.
The 20–20–20 Rule
Basically, when you are using a screen — every 20 minutes, try to look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds.
A study published by the Nepalese Journal of Ophthalmology found that taking frequent breaks to look at faraway objects during screen time significantly lessened eye strain symptoms.
This won’t reduce your screen time much but will greatly reduce eye strain.
Avoid Mindlessly Scrolling
This is no trivial issue, in fact, social media addiction is an actual thing.
Once you start scrolling, it is hard to stop and I understand as I have spent countless hours scrolling mindlessly.
Be aware of how social media apps are designed to encourage “mindless scrolling”. Once you are aware, you will reduce or even stop doing it.
I have made it a point to not spend more than 2 minutes every time I check my phone.
No matter how strained my eyes feel, a hard workout leaves me energized and refreshed. The benefits of exercise are many:
Better brain functioning
Good for your muscles and bones.
Better mood due to the release of endorphins
Reduced risk of obesity, chronic diseases, and heart diseases
Overall better physical and mental health.
Exercise is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Apart from reaping all these benefits, you get to shave off an hour or two from your screen time as well!
So put on your headphones, play your favorite music, and break a sweat!
Speak on the Phone or In-Person Instead of Texting
Who doesn’t love furiously typing away, stringing together words, emojis, and gifs, and hit the send button?
I used to text for hours together before and this along with social media scrolling took the lion’s share of my screen time.
I still think texting is great but only for short conversations. Phone calls or in-person conversations have texting clearly beat when it comes to long conversations.
Nowadays the only texting I do is to schedule calls, short replies, or short formal conversations.
I managed to reduce my screen time to 6 or 7 hours a day from the previous 12 hours or close to a 50% decrease without compromising my productivity. To summarize:
Don’t take your phone to the toilet. Doing so not only increases your smartphone usage but also causes health problems.
Disable notifications or at least make generous use of “DND”.
Use apps to track and limit your smartphone usage.
Have a family “unplug” time to disconnect from electronic devices and connect with each other.
Don’t use electronic devices lying in bed. Use them on the couch or desk instead.
Explore hobbies that don’t involve electronic screens such as reading, painting, gardening, journaling, music, etc.
Use the 20–20–20 rule while looking at electronic screens — Every 20 minutes, look at an object that is at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Avoid mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds.
Exercise. Put on your headphones, play your favorite music, and break a sweat!
Speak on the phone or in person instead of texting.