Locked down with nowhere to go, working from home, isolated from friends and family, it’s not surprising our collective dedication to personal digital devices soared into a whole other stratosphere in 2020….
They kept us working, they kept us entertained, they kept us in touch with friends and family. Attached to our trusty phones, iPads and laptops 24/7, they became portals connecting us to the whole world. When putting out the rubbish bins becomes an affair worth donning your diamonds for, the word homebound doesn’t do the situation justice. Grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, fitness sessions, Zoom “wine with friends”; we went from heading out to hear our favourite music live, to hearing it live on Facebook. From exactly the same living room where we dialled into work, ate our lunch, did our cardio workout, schooled the kids and sorted our laundry. There was only so much Marie Kondo inspired decluttering to distract ourselves with. It was technology that kept us sane.
Being glued to the screen is nothing new. COVID simply turned things up a notch, or ten.
The safety net provided by technology is a double-edged sword. We’re living in a stressful time. While the internet can provide a safe distraction from the outside world, it also serves as a source of bleak news, constantly pinging with the newest case numbers and lockdown updates. Every piece of news seems to be COVID-related, interspersed with some other political catastrophe. If you like doom-scrolling, 2020 was the year for you.
Screen time isn’t in itself a bad thing. Today’s technology has exponentially assisted in navigating the COVID-normal world and will continue to do so. Video conferencing and social media have allowed us to stay working, stay studying, and stay in touch. But, like anything, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. How much is too much? Where is the line?
If you are working from home, you are likely on your computer or tablet for a large portion of your day. It’s fairly unavoidable. And let’s face it, when you’re not on your computer, you’re probably on your phone.
Tasks can take hours longer than they would normally, given how easily it is to get distracted by the internet. It’s easy to quickly flick tabs over to your preferred news outlet (not Facebook), or to check the footy scores mid-task. It’s just as easy, in fact, to pick up your phone and check your notifications. When you do this, your focus is completely pulled from what you’re doing, and it can take a good chunk of time and brain power to get back in the right mindset to continue working.
It’s easier to just stay scrolling, right?
This is only in addition to the millions upon millions of articles advising the negative health benefits of excessive screen time more generally. The internet is (ironically) full of bad news about how technology is straining our eyes, impeding our sleep patterns, causing headaches and impeding our overall mental wellbeing. The inundation of reliance on technology over the past year has exemplified this, and maybe it’s time to start thinking about a digital detox.
You’ve seen the phrase thrown around. A “digital detox” refers to a period of ‘cleansing’ from your digital device. Easier said than done, especially in a word where offices are closed, social meetings are limited, news is ever relevant, and your favourite way to decompress is the latest Netflix true crime documentary. It’s impossible to quit cold turkey. What we’re talking about is taking a step back: a reduction of screen time, easing up on the constant refreshing of your news feed, and balancing the necessary screen time with the not-so-necessary.
Here are a few ways you can balance your screen time:
The easiest way to relieve your phone addiction? Remove the temptation!
Keep your phone away from you when you are working. You won’t be tempted to pick it up and quickly check the news headlines, and you won’t be distracted by any incoming emails, phone calls, or other little dings that will pull your focus.
It’s also a good idea to limit the amount of time you spend on your phone before bed. Blue light will keep your brain active and prevent you from getting a quality sleep. If you’re a charge-beside-the-bed person, try charging it somewhere else and see if your sleep improves!
We get it. Checking Facebook is important. But is spending hours scrolling endlessly really adding to your life? Do you have to watch the video that’s going to automatically play in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… seconds?
There are a myriad of (free!) apps and browser add-ons that restrict the amount of time you spend on certain websites.
On your phone, using apps like Offtime or Flipd, you can assign certain amounts of time to each app. Once you have exceeded this time, the apps will freeze you out of reopening those apps and checking your personal Linkedin feed again for the tenth time today.
On your computer, StayFocusd and Limit are web browser add ons that allow you to idly browse websites to a maximum limit that you set. If you only want to spend 30 minutes a day on Facebook, you can do so in short 5 minute bursts until your maximum is reached.
Most modern smartphones have inbuilt ‘Screen Time’ apps that monitor your phone usage. Mine shows me how many times I’ve picked up my phone today, as well as how many hours I’ve spent on certain apps. It’s a bit scary, but definitely worth having a look at to see where you can cut down your app usage.
Try to find natural breaks in your day to take your eyes off the screen. Instead of typing everything, write your thoughts and brainstorms down in a notebook. If a meeting can be conducted over the phone in a quick conversation, don’t hold a Zoom meeting. Small strategies like this will keep you from spending your entire day staring at a screen
Also, don’t eat your lunch while you’re at the computer! It might feel like you’re being efficient, but taking a step back from the screen will help you come back to work refreshed, and give you some perspective from your work. Try taking a 20 minute break from your screen and reading a chapter of a book to give your eyes a break.
The purpose of a digital detox is not to completely cut out technology from your life. (Good luck with that if you wanna try it!)
Instead, look for strategies where you can decrease the amount of time you spend staring at a screen. Pick up a new book, try a crossword. Disconnect from the constant stream of distracting news, and take a step back. Use your spare time for hobbies that don’t involve a screen. Your sleep schedule and work/life balance will thank you.