It’s now officially 40 days since I removed the Instagram app from my phone.
It’s also about 8 days since I deactivated my Twitter account.
It was planned and the reasons behind the Instagram app removal as well as the Twitter deactivation are explained here and here.
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But there’s a bigger lesson that happened as a result of these two choices which was further amplified by the book that I’m currently reading, The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey.
And that’s what we will discuss in today’s post: How to reduce your screen time as an adult.
How much is your Average Screen Time per Day?
If you’re a parent, you’d have read extensively about the dangers of screen time for your kids and chances are you also probably limit the amount of digital time for your children.
But there’s always a bigger question that many parents and adults do not acknowledge:
How much time do you spend looking at screens every single day?
Now, let’s remember that when we talk about screens, we refer to all kind of screens and not just our smartphones.
Yes, our smartphones are usually the biggest culprits, but add up the minutes that you spend on your laptops, your Kindle device and your TV screen and let me tell you, that number is not looking good.
I’m not even going to profess that I’m ahead of you here.
My Rescue Time extension on my Chrome browser tells me that my average screen time, just on the laptop, per week hits approximately 50 hours!
That’s more than 7 hours a day!
Add the one hour of TV that I watch, another hour of Kindle reading time and an hour of smartphone use and what do you get?
About 10 hours per day are spent looking at a screen, which is ridiculous and humbling all at once.
So what do we do about it?
All of the tips I am sharing today are as a blogger, knowledge worker and full-time blogging coach. Meaning, I actually make my living from looking at screens throughout the day.
UPDATE September 7th, 2020:
After writing this post I became even more conscious of my time spent looking at screens. In the week following this post’s publication, here’s a shot of my screen time.
It’s down by 13.5 hours for the week!
So if my tips can help you take better control of your time and efficiently complete your tasks everyday, then I’ll consider my job done.
Identify your Screen Consumption
Note that this particular activity will vary significantly based on the number of devices you own.
Identify the number of devices you own.
Track how much time is spent on each device everyday for one whole week.
A) For the phone you can use one of the following tools:
Moment for iOS
Digital Wellbeing from Google for Android
Stay Free: Screen Time Tracker for Android
B) For your desktop browser, I highly recommend the Rescue Time Chrome extension.
For your offline work on the desktop, download and install the Rescue Time Application which will run in the background as you work.
C) For your Kindle or other reading devices, use a notepad to determine when you start reading and when you stop reading.
D) For TV watching, do the same thing.
Note that we’re not really aiming for an absolute or perfect number of hours. We are just assessing how long we tend to spend looking at screens.
Become More Aware of How you Spend your Time
After about a week of tracking (automatically as well as manually) you need to assess where you stand on the screen consumption scale.
Remember, no judgement. We’re just taking stock of how we tend to spend our time.
Assuming you spend 7 to 8 hours per night sleeping (if you don’t, you really should, by the way), it’s time to figure out how you spend the remaining 16 hours of your day.
If you, like me, notice that you’re spending upwards of 10 hours per day looking at a screen it’s important to figure out why you’re doing this exactly.
Where does your time go when you’re looking at screens?
In my case, it was largely dependent on a few channels (and all on the desktop):
>Facebook group (I run a niche Facebook group on organic blogging strategies)
>Twitter (where I was checking news and updates and looking at my timeline)
>Instagram (where I was responding to comments on my posts and replying to Direct Messages)
>E-mail Inbox (Replying to emails and troubleshooting queries)
>Whatsapp on the Web ( Checking and responding to messages)
Understand how the Attention Economy Works
What does the report above tell me?
That I spend a lot of my time pursuing tasks that effectively fracture my attention and destroy my focus.
Why does this happen?
Because we tend to take things for granted when it’s available for free, such as social media, email and communication apps.
But there’s an important expense we don’t consider: Our Attention and our Time!
Ever heard of the attention economy?
According to that article, it takes the human brain an average of 23 minutes to recover after a distraction and we get distracted every 3 minutes!
I’m not even going to attempt the arithmetic on that one, because I know that I’d fail miserably when it came to realising how much actual ‘work’ I get done in a day.
Every single time you spend looking at an app that is ‘free’ (Think Facebook/Twitter/Instagram), you’re actually putting money in the pockets of advertisers.
Of course, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that my own site runs ads and that they generate revenue for me.
But there’s one thing that I did two months ago when I was keen on curating the best possible experience for my readers.
I turned off all in-content ads within my posts.
That means, you (hopefully) won’t get a distracted reading experience when you read this blog. The only ads I have running are those in the sidebar, my banner and my footer.
(Aside: If you still find it cumbersome, let me know in the comments and I’ll attempt to reduce the ads even further)
Strategies to Manage Distractions
Now, most of the time, our attention is fragmented because we have our devices very close by and accessible at all times.
Here are a couple of useful tips to stave off distractions from our devices.
Keep your phone (the biggest distraction) in another room or at least 6 feet away from where you’re seated.
The ‘Out of sight/Out of mind’ tip really works. Most days I have to call my phone from my husband’s phone or my fixed landline to learn where I’ve left it these days.
Keep a simple talisman or a physical toy at hand that you can pick up instead of your phone. Here’s an example of two things that I keep handy.
Any time I feel the ‘itch’ to switch tabs when I am working or reach for a device, I pick up my rosary/ japamala and close my eyes.
Or I let my hands flex with this really fun toy! It’s an auto-flip, weighted toy also called a fidget roller or Mokuru
Take Back Control of your Screen Time
Now here’s what you need to do if you’re in the same boat.
- Install those apps I mentioned above and watch how your time is used up through the week, looking at screens.
- Assess where you can afford to cut down your time. The first thing I did was reduce my phone time to one hour per day. I did this by checking my Digital Wellbeing app and consciously checking my phone only 4 times through the day and for 15 minutes each time.
- Remove distracting apps from your phone. If you don’t have them handy, you’re less likely to keep checking them. I don’t use Instagram, Twitter or Facebook on my phone.
Here’s a detailed post on how to declutter your phone
- Set screen time boundaries at night. I now turn off my phone at 8 PM everyday and only turn it back on at 8 AM the next day.
This again is a tip I picked up from The Productivity Project from Chris Bailey.
- Limit your laptop screen time to a total of 4 hours per day, if possible. That would mean deciding in advance how you’re planning to spend your laptop time.
Have a blog post to write? Have e-mails to send? Need to check in with your Facebook group?
Make a clear plan at the beginning of the day. Chalk it out in a bullet journal or notepad and tell yourself how much time you’d need for each task.
Once done, shut the laptop for the day and walk away.
- Create a list of screen-free activities that you can do whenever you’re free. I know what you’re thinking. Why do I need a list?
The truth is we have to re-train our brain to focus on non-screen activities until it becomes a habit. For that, the easiest thing to refer to is a physical list.
I have one taped to my bedroom wardrobe that is handy to check.
Here’s a post with over 21 screen free activities for adults
I am not going to advocate turning off all devices and becoming a hermit because that’s not practical.
However, I really want you to take a good, long look at the way you spend time on your devices and how much screen time you get daily.