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“I wake up, read the news on my phone, check my emails, then do a YouTube workout. After a day packed with Zoom calls, I wind down by FaceTiming friends and family, or watching Netflix. When I saw my screen time notification, I was stunned. It said I’m using my phone three times as much during lockdown as before.”
Feeling overwhelmed by screentime during lockdown? Like Caroline, many of us are experiencing screentime overload during quarantine. If you’re working at a computer all day, then socialising online, #StayAtHome can feel more like stay on your phone.
So what’s the impact? Artificial light from our screens can disrupt your circadian rhythm and lead to sleeping difficulties. It can also affect your vision, concentration and mood, increasing anxiety at an already stressful time.
That’s not to say that screen time itself is bad. Researchers say we should be concerned about quality over quantity, so there’s no need to cancel all your catch-ups with loved ones. But if you want to reduce your screentime, you’re certainly not alone.
We asked our friends and colleagues what’s working for them. Here are ten top tips.
Research suggests that reaching for your phone first thing can affect your whole day. “I try to start the day with meditation, and no phone for the first hour of the day. Keeping to my morning routine can be the difference between a good day and a bad day” says Ryan. Try using an alarm clock instead of your phone, and charge your phone in another room overnight.
Break it up
Download a free stretch reminder and you’ll not only move your body more, but also give your eyes a break throughout the day.
Switch off notifications
“As an Instagram creator with an audience, I used to leave my notifications on. It made me check my phone throughout the day, as opposed to just getting it all done in one go” says Malvika. Pick a few times each day when you check emails and social feeds, then respond to your messages in batches.
“Screentime is great if I’m watching a film or catching up with friends, but mindlessly scrolling through Instagram for hours doesn’t feel so good.” says Aaron.
In Indistractable, behavioural scientist Nir Eyal offers three tips to stop yourself numbing out by reaching for your phone.
Nir Eyal’s three tips:
- Identify the urge. When you find yourself itching to pick up your phone, notice what you’re feeling. Anxious, bored, tired?
- Write it down. Note the time, and what you were doing when the urge struck.
- Explore the sensation.
His advice can’t eliminate your daytime video calls, but it might help you decide if you want to be attached to your screen all evening.
Go old school
Ask yourself: would my great-grandparents have called this a hobby? Swap Twitter and Instagram for drawing, painting, baking, jigsaw puzzles or card games.
Give your phone a curfew
“After 9pm, I put my laptop, phone and iPad away in another room. I find that TV doesn’t affect me too much, but all other screens are a no-no.” says Lucy.
Create an evening ritual
Sharleen, a vocal coach who works with artists says, “I have a cut-off point where I put all screens down. I tidy the house because I love waking up to a clean house the next day. I light scented candles and read a book – usually something meaningful and ‘feel good.’ Then I feel sleepy and it’s time to rest.”
“I teach over webinar all day, so I can’t handle video calls every evening. I give myself three ‘social’ nights a week, and the other nights I stay off my computer. I try to cook or read a book instead” says Ben, a primary-school teacher.
Track your time
Some people find it motivating to see how much screentime they’re getting. “Now that I can see how much time I’m spending on my phone, I’m less likely to just pick it up while waiting for the kettle to boil” says Dipesh. But not everybody agrees. Try disabling your screen time notifications if they’re adding to your stress.
At the time of writing, government advice allows people to go outside once a day for a walk, run or cycle. Try using your outside time to break up the day. If you normally drift into social media scrolling in the afternoon, try taking a brisk walk after lunch.
You aren’t going to swap your evening of Netflix for four hours of yoga, and setting unattainable goals is a sure-fire way to fail. So start small.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear outlines his 2 minute rule. He says, “The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. Anyone can meditate for one minute, read one page, or put one item of clothing away.” Instead of setting out to do four hours of meditation, why not just get your yoga mat out?
Be kind to yourself
And if you’re still racking up more screen time than there are hours in the day? Cut yourself some slack. Video-calling friends, learning new skills, connecting with our interests and passions isn’t wasted time, and connection matters now more than never.