How to reduce screen time?

Phone showing an hourglass with apps dripping through the middle.

We have been looking at our screens a lot over the past year, for reasons we don’t need to get into here.

If you want to rein in the hours you spend looking at screens, whether on your phone, desktop, or gaming device, here are seven things you can do to start limiting your screen time.

  1. Track and measure your screen time
  2. Set a screen limit or use a timer
  3. Turn off notifications
  4. Go grayscale
  5. Delete (or hide) time-sinking apps on your phone
  6. Pursue offline activities
  7. Create phone- and device-free spaces
  8. Avoid video fatigue
  9. Pick up a new hobby
  10. Avoid eating in front of a screen
  11. Read a book instead of reading on your phone
  12. Take fewer photos
  13. Change your auto-lock settings
  14. Talk to your friends and family
  15. Take your work email off of your phone
  16. Disable the “Raise to wake” feature

 

1. Track and measure your screen time

A good starting point is seeing how much time you actually spend staring at screens, both during and after work, as most people tend to underestimate how much time they spend looking at their screens.

iOS, Mac, and Android have built-in screen-time functions—namely Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing—that allow you to see how much time you spend on which type of apps you spend most of your time on.

Set up on iOS

  1. Go to Settings > Screen Time.
  2. Tap Turn On Screen Time > Continue.
  3. If you’re setting up Screen Time for yourself, tap This is My iPhone. If you’re setting it up for your kids, tap This is My Child’s iPhone.
  4. Follow the instructions.

For Android

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap Digital Wellbeing & parental controls.
  3. If you’re tracking your own screen time, tap Digital Wellbeing. If you’re tracking your kid’s screen time, tap Parental Controls.

If you’re using Windows or Linux, there are several apps you can use such as ActivityWatch, which is an open-source alternative to other time-tracking apps.

Once you’re monitoring how much screen time you’re clocking, especially if it’s comparing your screen time every week, you might be surprised to see just how much time you spend on your devices.

2. Set a screen limit or a timer

If you’re seeing on your time-measuring apps that you’re clocking over ten hours a day on your personal devices, it might be time to consider putting a limit on how much time you spend on your apps.

Apple’s Screen Time gives you the option to limit time on your biggest time sinks, which may most likely be social media apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. On both Mac and iOS devices, a screen will show up after you exceed your time limit to say you’ve used up your screen time but will allow you to extend your time by 15 minutes or ignore it altogether.

Google’s Digital Wellbeing app on Android is less lenient, locking your app as soon as you pass the limit, which you can only unlock if you disable the timer entirely. Linux users can try using elementaryOS, which includes a feature to limit time spent on particular apps, and Microsoft Windows has introduced Parental Controls, which you can set screen limits to.

3. Turn off notifications

It can be hard to focus when your phone is constantly buzzing with notifications from messaging apps and social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Aside from turning on Do Not Disturb or Focus Assist to mute notifications in general, you can change your settings to select which apps you want to get notifications from, as well as how long they stay on the screen.

4. Go grayscale

Both iOS and Android allow you to turn your phone’s display to grayscale, which is said to help you make your device less attractive to look at, thereby helping you stay off it.

To do this on iOS and Apple devices, go to Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters. Here you can toggle the switch to enable the Grayscale option.

Android users can also turn on grayscale by going into the Digital Wellbeing app and enabling Wind Down. There you can turn Grayscale on immediately or schedule it for later. On Windows you can simply switch the grayscale by hitting CTRL + Windows Key + C, and on Linux you  can try installing Desaturate All to achieve a duller interface.

5. Delete (or hide) time-sinking apps on your phone

Do you spend most of your screen time doing online shopping or mindlessly scrolling on social media apps? A good way to curb your screen time is to remove apps you’re addicted to from your phone. Even if you delete the apps, you can always access their website versions when you need to

Not only does deleting your apps free up your time, but it can also declutter your device. What’s more, removing certain apps can significantly improve your privacy. You don’t need to wait until the new year to give your phone a clean slate.

Don’t want to go so far to delete your apps? At the very least, you should hide the apps you don’t want to keep using so they are not easily visible on your home screen. Out of sight, and out of mind!

There are numerous ways to hide an app. An easy way is to move it away from the home screen and into a separate folder. On some Samsung devices, you can move the apps you don’t want to see to a built-in Secure folder.

6. Pursue offline activities

We know it’s hard to take a break from our screens, but cutting out time to do something offline can give your eyes some much-needed rest.

On weekdays, you can do daily activities like shopping in a supermarket and working out in the gym. On weekends, you can do something fun such as shopping in malls, going on hikes, or getting a massage. The important thing is to find something to do that is more attractive than swiping on the phone.

Read more: What to do when our devices get a little too distracting

7. Create phone- and device-free spaces

Creating phone-free or device-free spaces could help wean you off your screens. Putting your phone on silent and then tossing it to the other side of the room (or another room entirely) can help you focus on your work without notifications or other mobile distractions.

Winding down for sleep? Kick your phone out of the bedroom. This reduces the amount of blue light you’re seeing at night and gives you a better night’s shut eye. When your alarm goes off in the morning, you will also be less likely to hit the snooze button as you are already out of your bedroom turning off the alarm.

Also, stop taking your phone to the bathroom. Heading out for a jog or a walk around the block? Leave your phone behind—and focus on getting your blood pumping.

8. Avoid video fatigue

As remote work is becoming a new normal, many meetings take place in the virtual world when people are all over the world. Video calls require excessive staring at the screen causing video fatigue. To avoid video fatigue, try to limit to around three video calls a day, with each no longer than an hour.

9. Pick up a new hobby

Start a new hobby that you’ve always wanted to try. A project like a lego set or a nice long novel can keep you entertained for hours. Playing music is also a good way to relax and pass time. Ideally, the hobby you choose isn’t held in the format of online classes as it will defeat the purpose! It’s also best that the hobby doesn’t require a computer or a screen. (Photoshop courses are no go.)

10. Avoid eating in front of a screen

Turning to your phone for entertainment while eating can be very satisfying. It also triggers a sense of productivity as you’re doing two things at once. But you’ll likely spend more time on your screen if you want to finish the show you started at the start of the meal. Also, when you eat in front of a screen, you’ll pay less attention to the food you’re eating, which leads to overeating. To reduce your screen time, learn to put your device away and practice mindful eating.

11. Read a book instead of reading on your phone

This one seems to go without saying. Reading on your phone can strain your eyes. It won’t help especially if your job requires you to stare at a computer all day. When using screens, people tend to blink less, and view the screen at poor angles. Screens also emit blue light, which can strain your eyes and affect sleep. Give your eyes a break. Choose printed books as they do not cause computer vision syndrome (eye problems caused by computer use).

12. Take fewer photos

Many of us like to document the journey of our lives by posting photos on social media. While many people just want to share their precious moments, some turn it into a quest for the perfect shot. . That can involve taking hundreds of photos just to get ten good ones. And if you have the habit of editing your photos before posting them, it’s a lot of screen time you spend on your phone.

The next time you see something worthy of a snapshot? Just take a few good ones, then put down your phone to soak in the rest of the experience.

13. Change your auto-lock settings

Auto-lock settings let you choose when your phone will lock its screen automatically if you forget to manually lock it. There can be instances where auto-lock settings can make your screen time data inaccurate. For example, if you set your auto-lock to ten minutes, your screen time still counts as such even if you only use your phone for a minute but forget to manually lock it after. Set your auto-lock to 30 seconds to keep your screen time data report accurate.

14. Talk to your friends and family

Messaging apps help us stay more connected with friends and family than ever. Social media updates give us quick glimpses of how friends and family are doing in life. However, over-reliance on these tools adds to more screen time. To give your eyes a rest, get off your phone and get together with your friends or family in a real-life environment.

15. Take your work email off of your phone

Having your work email on your phone means you don’t miss an important message from your boss even when you are in transit. But this also means you’ll be spending more screen time after working the whole day at the office. Also, studies have shown checking work emails outside work hours results in more stress and anxiety. For better well-being, take your work email off of your phone, and leave tomorrow’s work for tomorrow.

16. Disable the “Raise to wake” feature

The “Raise to wake” feature on an iPhone lights up the Lock screen as soon as you pick it up, showing unread messages and notifications to you. While it might enable fast access to info, it also tempts you with more screen time. It can be a good idea to disable the feature. Go to Settings > Display & Brightness. Switch Raise to Wake off.

Benefits of reducing your screen time

Better physical and mental health

Prolonged screen time can cause numerous health issues. It leads to poor sleep; the blue light exposure from our screens confuses our body’s internal clock, making it hard for us to fall asleep. It can also cause headaches, eye strain, a foggy brain, weight gain, and depression. In other words, reducing your screen time gives you a healthier body and mind.

Increased productivity

When you reduce your screen time, this means you look at your phone less for notifications, text messages, or calendar reminders. You are more focused on completing the task at hand and get more things done.

Greater bonds with friends and family

When you shift from online to real-life conversations with friends and family for reduced screen time, it’s also much easier to find common ground, pick up non-verbal cues, and build empathy. This helps form a stronger bond in your relationship with friends and family.

Reducing screen time for kids

In today’s screen-filled world, kids are spending more screen time for entertainment as well as online school. As kids are still developing, too much screen time can cause damage to their ability to focus, lend attention, and communicate with others. Too much screen time can also affect your kid’s overall physical and mental health as well.

For toddlers

Kids between one to three years old should spend no more than one hour a day on their screen. Here are some tips to reduce your little one’s screen time:

  • Be the example: Children copy the behavior of others around them. Be a good role model for your kids. Use your devices less, and your kids are likely to follow.
  • Bring them to playgroup: For toddlers, there aren’t a whole lot of options for hobbies to pick up, and playgroup is one that sticks out. It’s a great way for your kid to have fun and learn offline!
  • Use parental controls: Most devices offer parental controls which you let limit your kid’s screen time. Find out how to set it up on your devices.

For students

For those in school, it’s tough to cut screen time when classes are held online. We’ve put some tips together for you to work it out:

  • Get your eyes off the screen during breaks.
  • Take notes with a pen and paper instead of using note-taking apps.
  • Form a study group with your classmates. Share physical notes with one another.
  • Commit to only studying without a screen two to three hours a day. For example, study the notes you’ve written.

Every step counts

It’s hard to go completely cold turkey from the start, so don’t worry about starting small. You  could start by deleting a couple social apps for a week or simply taking a closer look at how much time you spend on each of your apps. Experiment with the different tips above and see what works best for you.

Read more: How to declutter the apps on your phone

Have you tried controlling your screen time? Let us know in the comments!

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Jamie writes about current issues concerning digital privacy and security and is known to interview leading figures in tech. He also keeps an eye on changes in government censorship and surveillance.