Coach's Corner

Unplug to Upgrade

Smart Ways to Slash Your Screen Time and Unlock a Healthier You


Posted in

Jeni O'Neill

April 30, 2024

Mobile phone hidden in a drawer

    What do sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, eye strain, neck and back problems, social isolation, and even addictive behaviors all have in common? They all have connections to an increase in the time we spend looking at our screens.

    In today’s digital era, screens have become an inescapable part of our lives. From the moment we wake up to the time we go to bed (and even beyond), we’re bombarded with digital stimuli. While technology has undoubtedly made modern life easier and more connected, excessive screen time can have a detrimental impact on our physical and mental health.

    We all know that spending most of our time on screens is not the path to an organized mind, healthy relationships, or a strong, healthy body. And an increasing reliance on our devices – whether for work, pleasure, or personal or family responsibilities – makes it ever more difficult to set healthy boundaries.

    The line has become blurred between using our devices as tools and using them as socially acceptable anesthetics.

    In previous articles, Dr Hartman has recommended that we limit the time we spend on screens – for both our kids and ourselves. So I thought I’d gather some practical ideas for setting healthy boundaries around our devices. Many of these have been helpful to my clients, and I use some of them myself.

    8 Practical Ways to Quiet the Siren of the Screen

    1. Set Physical Boundaries
      Family sharing a meal

      The first step to reducing screen time is setting physical boundaries around when and where your tech will have access to your attention. For example, it is helpful for some people to put their phones in another room during focused work blocks or when they’re spending time with family or friends. It’s ideal to keep tech out of the bedroom whenever possible. You might designate your table in the kitchen or dining room as a screen-free zone, put your phone in a drawer while making dinner, or plug it in where you keep your keys.

      Intentionally and thoughtfully designating screen-free zones in your home can set healthy boundaries, encourage more mindful eating, better sleep hygiene, encourage better posture, and even enhance relationships. As our minds are freed from the urge to check our phones, we can experience heightened creativity and deeper connections with people and ideas.

    2. Start Small to Create Your Own Digital Sabbath

      How would it feel to put your phone in a drawer while you make dinner, shut it down for an hour while you eat with your family, or leave it at home (gasp) while you run an errand? How long can you go before you get the itch to check it? Could you go without it for an hour? An afternoon? An entire day? Recruit a friend or a family member to do it with you. Then take some time to process how it felt to do that. What did you notice? Even if you’re not ready to go sans screen for an hour at a time, we can all take short tech breaks. Step away from all digital devices for a few minutes every hour or so. Use this time to stretch, take deep breaths, or do a quick mindfulness exercise. These brief pauses can help reduce eye strain, boost concentration, and lower stress levels.
    3. Creating a Reading Routine
      Girl reading a book in bed

      For the best night’s sleep, it’s best to avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime, and ideally after the sun sets. Replace nighttime screen time with reading. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, or personal development books, reading can reduce stress, improve brain function, and help you unwind before sleep. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to learn and grow.
    4. Use Built-In Tools to Help You

      Our phones have increasingly useful features that can help us to be mindful of our time spent using them. These have improved recently, so if you haven’t considered these in a while, it might be time to have another look.
      1. Greyscale

        This is an easy win! Some of my clients find it very helpful to use a setting called greyscale, which makes their phones completely black and white. Social media apps are definitely less enticing in black and white. I’ve had a few clients who have been able to improve their sleep habits significantly with this one change, and I also use it when I feel that I’m spending too much time on my phone.

        Don’t worry, your camera will still take color pictures and even screenshots will be taken in color.

        Want to try it? Check out this article to learn how to quickly set this feature on Apple or Android devices. And don’t miss the tip at the bottom on how to easily toggle back and forth when needed.

      2. ScreenTime or Digital Wellbeing

        If you haven’t been in ScreenTime (iPhone) or Digital Wellbeing (Android) in a while, you might find some newer features useful. Beyond parental controls, you can turn off certain apps that you’d like to avoid and you can also set up “downtime” while keeping personalized key features (like phone, maps, etc.) available all the time.

        For me, email is the app on which I spend too much time. So, I like to use ScreenTime to turn email off on my phone. When I’m out and need it for some specific reason, it is easy to turn back on. I also set downtime to start around 8 PM to remind me that I want to limit the use of my phone after this time.

      3. Focus Modes

        This is like having multiple phones for different uses. Do you ever wish you had a separate personal and work phone? Or that you could easily limit your apps and notifications during family time, deep work blocks, or vacations? Now you can!

        Focus modes allow you to set up different contexts and have them come on automatically on a schedule. For example, if you don’t want to hear your Slack channel pinging you on the weekend, you could set up a Weekend mode that automatically comes on Friday evening and turns off Slack (or other) notifications. On Monday morning, they’ll start up again. But that’s not all…

        Focus modes also allow you to customize your screen based on your context. For example, during work hours you could set your home screen with just the apps you use at work. You might have another home screen with limited apps during a Family focus mode in the evening. If you do more focused work such as writing, researching, or studying, you could set that mode to only allow the things you use during that time.

        The flexibility here is impressive, so here are some sites with more instructions for Android and iPhone Focus Modes. It can also get a little complicated, but it’s worth the time to dial this in. It may be helpful to brainstorm or journal about how your ideal focus modes would help you the most before jumping into the settings.

    5. Cultivate Some Non-Digital Hobbies

      Family gardening Girl painting a plant

      Rediscover the joy of activities that don’t involve a screen. Whether it’s gardening, painting, learning a new sport, cooking, or writing in a journal, engaging in non-digital hobbies can reduce stress, enhance creativity, and provide a fulfilling break from the digital world.
    6. Substitute Some “Exercise Snacks” for Scrolling

      What do you do in those “in-between” moments, like when you’re transitioning from one task to another, waiting in line, or waiting for a meeting to start? Many of us have a habit of pulling out our phones during these short breaks. And many of us also wish we could find time to be more active. Even a few minutes of physical activity counts!

      Schedule regular breaks to stand up, stretch, or take a walk. Make a list of 5 things you can do in the checkout line (e.g. Kegels or toe scrunches for strengthening your arches), in the kitchen (a few squats, lunges, or push-ups), or a few trips up and down the stairs. There are even stretches you can do in your chair at work. Try taking a real break and not just a screen break, then notice how you feel!

    7. Connect with Nature

      What do you do in those “in-between” moments, like when you’re transitioning from one task to another, waiting in line, or waiting for a meeting to start? Many of us have a habit of pulling out our phones during these short breaks. And many of us also wish we could find time to be more active. Even a few minutes of physical activity counts!

    8. Socialize Offline

      In an age where digital communication is the norm, prioritize face-to-face interactions. Plan social activities that encourage real-life connections, such as dinner parties, sports, group exercise classes, game nights, or outdoor adventures. Pickleball anyone? Personal interactions are vital for emotional health and can greatly reduce the time spent in front of a screen.

    Unlocking a Healthier You

    By using these strategies (or your own) to be intentional about your time on screens, you may just unlock a healthier, more vibrant version of yourself. Reduced screen time is linked to improved physical health, including better sleep and a lower risk of obesity. Mentally, it can lead to decreased feelings of anxiety and depression, enhanced focus, and greater emotional well-being. Socially, it fosters deeper connections with others, enriching your life in meaningful ways. As you work to implement some changes around your digital habits, remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself, and celebrate small victories along the way. Reducing screen time is not about depriving yourself of digital experiences but rather about creating a balanced life that prioritizes your goals for your health, well-being, and true connection.

    I’d like to encourage you to take the first step today. Choose one strategy from this (or come up with your own) to implement this week, and gradually incorporate more over time. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you for it. Here’s to unlocking a healthier, happier you, free from the digital chains that bind us.

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