What can I do to better manage my screen time?
Smartphones are great, they have revolutionised the way we live, work, and socialise. During the Coronavirus pandemic smartphones became a lifeline for many people, but sometimes it can feel like the not-so-good things are beginning to outweigh benefits. Maybe you feel like you can’t stop checking your phone or that if you don’t have your phone with you all the time you might miss out on something (Fear of Missing Out is a real thing!)
If you feel like you need to make some changes in the way you manage your screen time, here are a few hints and tips that can help you to start feeling like you are in control of your smartphone use.
Switch off your non-essential notifications
This one is an easy win but does require you to be realistic about what is 'essential'. Alerts from your health app reminding you to get up and move around are good, but do you need to know every time you receive a Tweet or a like on Facebook? Instead of being interrupted and distracted throughout the day by non-essential notifications, switch them off and set aside 20 or 30 minutes each day to catch up on all your social media happenings. You'll be amazed at how much your focus and concentration improves without all those interruptions!
Change your screen to greyscale
One of the problems with smartphones is they have apps that are designed to be as engaging as possible. The longer you stay in an app, the more advertising revenue that app makes, so they are designed to encourage you to open the app and stay in there for as long as possible. We all like color and movement, so visual engagement is a really easy way that app developers can get your attention. Turn your screen to greyscale and see if the interface is anywhere near as enticing as it was in color!
Get analogue (or even more digital)
any people use their smartphones as an alarm clock, which usually means it's sitting on the bedside table within arms reach. Having the phone beside your bed is a sure-fire way to be tempted to pick it up for a last minute scroll before you go to sleep, or check in with your phone the next morning before you check in with real people. Aside from keeping you awake later than you intended, the light from your phone screen actively delays sleep onset, so you may find it takes you longer to fall asleep if the last thing you do is use your phone. The very best thing you can do is charge your phone in another room so you aren't tempted to reach for it, and set an alarm that doesn't tempt you to pick it up. If you have a smart speaker in your room (e.g. Google Home or Alexa) these make great alarm clocks, or you could just go old school and set an analogue clock. If you need help to improve your sleep, here is a resource that can get you started - Tips for better sleep
Designate some phone-free time
If you are someone who feels anxious at the thought of not having your phone on you at all times, you are not alone! In a 2018 study, 1 in 3 people reported that they felt anxious if they hadn't checked their messages for a while or if their phone was switched off. Feeling anxious or worried if you can't access your smartphone can be a sign that your phone is controlling you instead of the other way around! To start to reduce your emotional dependency on your phone, you can start small by leaving your phone in another room for half an hour or instituting phone-free meal times at home. Then, as the anxiety about missing out on something starts to get less, you can work up to a phone-free walk or catch up with friends. When your phone is not there to distract you anymore, you’ll be able to devote all of your attention to the people you are with, or yourself and your environment. It’s very liberating!
One day, I’ll learn to….
Once you start to implement strategies to reduce your smartphone use, you'll find you have some more time on your hands (well, hopefully!). That means you will need to find something to fill the void left by your previous smartphone use. In any kind of behaviour change, if you take something away you need to put something else (preferably something healthy) in it's place, otherwise the temptation to slip back into old habits can become irresistible. Maybe there is a book you have been meaning to read, friends you have always said you will catch up with soon, or a project that you want to finish. Do that thing you always said you’d do one day….
If you have ever tried to lose weight, eat better food, stop smoking, or reduce your alcohol intake you'll know that health behaviour change is really hard and sometimes it takes a few goes to get there. As with any sort of behaviour change, having a friend or family member support you through the tricky times can make all the difference. Having to account for your smartphone use to someone else can also help limit the times you might be tempted to slip back into old habits. You can also use technology to help you be accountable to yourself. Most newer smartphones have built-in screen time apps that give you a daily or weekly report so that you can stay aware of how much you are using your phone. There are also lots of apps that you can install to help you stay aware of you use, and some can even close off your access to certain apps once you pass a pre-set usage threshold that you have set for yourself. Some popular screen time apps include Moment (iOS only), Space, Flora, and Flipd.