Not a day goes by that I don’t hear or read about someone asking for advice on how to better regulate their screen time, kick the social media addiction, etc. And I have aaallll of the empathy for these pleas because I am in the same boat.
I am technically a Millennial, having been born in the mid-80s; however, I definitely identify better with that “just before” generation that has been coined “xennials.” This group, to quote a meme I saw recently, possesses “GenX cynicism with Millennial optimism and drive.” This is exactly how I feel on a daily basis. Growing up, my family didn’t get a desktop computer until I was 12, I didn’t get a cell phone until I was 17, and that was only a basic plan (that I helped pay for, with my allowance) so that I could call my parents while I was out, etc. I did not even grow up watching that much TV. We didn’t have cable, so TV was mostly the occasional movie or show on PBS when someone was sick or it was rainy or we were having a special family night. My primary source of entertainment was imagination and outside. You get the idea.
So, as I progressed through college and into “real” adulthood, acclimating to the increasing presence of screens in my life was both exciting and daunting. It was a bit of a learning curve, but not as big of one as prior generations have had. In part it felt natural, and in part I quickly realized how much time that Facebook was about to suck from my life as soon as I signed up (back when it was just for college kids). I’ve always believed improvements in technology to be both a blessing and a curse… like it always has been, I suppose. Tools that have propensity for addiction should always be used with caution: from alcohol to iPhones. It all stimulates the same sensors in the brain.
Where do I go from here? Having recently settled in a place I really didn’t like – admitting that I am all too consumed by this little rectangular device I constantly walk around with in my hand or my pocket – I realized I needed to make some changes. I started doing three very simple, but very crucial things:
Making Conscious Choices
This sounds simple, but it definitely took some serious brainstorming and complete honesty with myself to sort through every single app on my phone and decide what to keep and what to delete. The apps that I kept were then consciously arranged into categories and placed on the second and third screens of my phone. Yes, you read that correctly: when I first unlock my phone, the screen is blank… except for three little apps at the bottom.
After organizing my apps and deleting unnecessary ones, I chose the 3 apps that I wanted to use more consciously, that truly had the utmost importance in my screen time life. These aren’t necessarily the ones that I spend the most time on, and this is a crucial point that I will explain momentarily; however, these are the 3 apps that I have deemed most necessary for success in my life. I call them my “body, mind, and soul” apps:
Body: “My Fitness Pal”
A final conscious choice item worth noting is my phone background. I periodically (once every week or two) change this to a quote or scripture verse that encourages mindfulness. In the end, this is my goal in all things, and being constantly reminded of it is something I desperately need.
The “Moment” App
The next step I took toward conscious screen use was to download an app called “Moment” (I have since realized that there’s a similar app for Android users called “Quality Time,” FYI). This was actually more difficult than simply rearranging my screen. With this app, I actually had to be completely honest with myself about how I was using my time on my phone. It was like someone was following me around and saying “Hey, guess what? You’ve been sitting there on Facebook for an hour now… seriously? This is how you want to spend your days?” It gets real, y’all, not gonna lie.
Despite the gut-wrenching process of being called out on your shortcomings, this app was definitely worth adding to my repertoire. In the same way that periodically time tracking my day has helped me manage all of my time in a more responsible way, Moment helps me manage my screen time more responsibly. After bringing awareness to my habits, it encourages structure and healthy boundaries by setting (adjustable) limits and giving reminders to keep me accountable.
My favorite feature of this app is the option to exclude certain apps that you don’t want to count against your screen time. Now, this is another opportunity to be brutally honest with yourself: if you’re trying not to waste time on social media, you shouldn’t mark those apps as excluded because, then, what is really the point of using Moment? But excluding my productive, not-time-sucking, apps does give me a better idea of which ones actually are draining the life from my day.
Which apps do I exclude? Anything that I’m using for a specific purpose and time period that isn’t mindless. Anything that I know for a fact will not be a temptation for me to get washed away by the tide of addiction. And anything that my kids use, because that counts against their screen time, not mine. 😉 It is important to note that my choices in this arena are going to be different from yours, I guarantee it. Do what you need to do in order to improve your habits. No comparison, no judgement.
Put It Down
The last and probably best thing that I have done to curb my screen usage is to just put the phone out of sight. When I don’t need my phone for anything during a given time period, I have a dock for it on the side of my fridge. It sits there until I need it again. Our kitchen (like many people’s, probably) is pretty central to the part of the house I spend most of my time in, so I’m never far from it. Though we move regularly, our homes are never all that big – we like to live simply. But if it’s not the kitchen, find another central location in your house to dock your phone. Chances are, you don’t need it for most chores, or even for work, as often as you think you do. And you definitely don’t need it while you’re driving! Utilize Apple’s “do not disturb” function, or the Android equivalent, while you’re in the car. Please. For your sake and for the sake of everyone else around you.
If you do need your phone frequently for work, set timers for yourself and take regular screen-free breaks. Even if it’s just as simple as walking to the window or stepping outside and taking a few deep breaths. Take a bathroom or water fountain break. Say hello to a coworker without a screen fighting for your attention. All of those little moments of screen-free time add up just as quickly as the little moments of screen-full time, but they are significantly more important for your health and well-being!
I hope these tips have been a help and encouragement to you! Do you do different things to help curb your screen time? I’d love to know what works for you, or what doesn’t! Be safe and be well today, friends! ❤