I'm sure it comes as no surprise that most people have a pretty strong screen-time habit. Between phones, computers, tablets, and tvs, it would not be surprising to hear that someone spends more time looking into a glowing screen than they do looking at a fellow human on a daily basis. These technologies provide the freedom to work remotely, to connect with people around the world, increase productivity and efficiency, and have a world of knowledge at our fingertips. If you feel that you have a good handle on your technology usage, then this post isn't geared towards you. If you have a sneaking suspicion that maybe you are spending more time with screens than the real world though, hang with me, dear friend.
I have found myself mindlessly scrolling through social media more times that I can possibly count. What do you mean it's time to pick the little one up from the nanny? I've barely made a dent in my to-do list! Shoot! I burnt my toast not paying attention to the oven. That precious 30-minute window after the child goes to sleep and I go to sleep is lost, yet again, to nothing more than scrolling. Perhaps you've been there too.
I just finished listening to a book called How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. In it she discusses the ways that many apps and programs are literally built to be addictive. They are purposefully created to keep you coming back for more. Not only that but a 2016 report came out that found a strong correlation between self-reported social media use and depression. Does social media increase depression? Do depressed people reach out to social media more often? It is simply a correlation between the two, but something that should be acknowledged. I personally believe that in this day and age, we use social media and screen time as a coping mechanism to not face our emotions. We can be numb as our thumb swipes to the next filtered image. Every possible moment of boredom or quiet is filled with our brightly colored screens. Next time you're waiting in line at the grocery store, take a look around at how many people are hunched forward to fill that down time. In addition to the potential mental health effects of screen time, I worry about how all the blue light is messing with our natural circadian rhythm. I'm not going to dive on the deep end with this one, but suffice it to say that there is a link between using screens later in the day and sleep quality which in turn may affect our mood, appetite, and hormones.
**Note: this is not a judgement of people on screens. Live and let live. These are simply resources that I've found helpful in my own experience trying to replace a habit that didn't bring me joy or fulfillment.
I have played around with several different apps, programs, and extensions over the years and these are a few of my favorite ways to address different aspects of my overuse of screens.
Forest- This app is from Android and Apple phones as well as a Chrome extension for the computer. You chose to start a session and how long you want to stay off your device. You plant a cute little virtual tree, but if you use your phone before the session is over, your tree will wither and die. And no one wants to be a virtual plant killer! The more sessions you complete, the bigger your forest grows and the more coins you earn. What I really love is that you can use those coins to "unlock" different kinds of trees, OR donate them to a real-life non-profit called Trees For The Future.
Moment- This $3.99 app for your phone simply, thoroughly, and insightfully tracks your usage. Once a week you take a screen shot of your battery usage and it tallies how much time you spend on your phone, which apps you use and how frequently, how many times a day you pick up your phone, and you can even set limits that will kick you off your phone and time limit reminders throughout the day. I was shocked the first week that I used the Moment app at not only how much time I was spending, but how many times a day I pick up my phone. As with all our habits, awareness is the gigantic first leap to making better choices. I've been using the app for almost a year now and love looking at my usage trends over time.
Newsfeed Eradicator- This is perhaps my favorite tool out of the bunch. This free Chrome extension gets rid of your Facebook newsfeed. You can still access Facebook which is unfortunately important to do when you run your own business, but it completely eliminates the mindless scrolling. If only I could get this on my phone!
Freedom- Admittedly, this is my least used program and also the most expensive program that I use at $29/year (although there are usually pretty good coupons out there so hold out for one of those), but it still serves a purpose in my overall plan, so I just renewed for another year. Freedom completely blocks any websites of your choosing on a reoccurring weekly schedule. You create your own limits, but once a session has started, there is no way around the blocked sites. This is why I simultaneously love and dislike this program. I'm basically a 33 year old teenage and get a thrill from doing what I'm not supposed to do. Freedom is supposed to be used on your phone as well, but I found it way too easy to get around the block. On my computer however, once a session starts, that's it. Great for my teenager-self, not great for my content management side job. There have been times that I needed to get onto Facebook and was unable to get my work done. Admittedly these planning errors are entirely my own issue, and overall, it is great to have my social media sites blocked completely on the weekends. I highly recommend if you need some hard and fast limits. As well as there are some pretty great perks including a discount on my favorite focus tool, Brain.fm.
Space- I'm not fully endorsing this one yet because I just downloaded it last week, but it seems promising. This simple app creates a 12 second delay before opening up programs of your choosing. The thought is that adding some "space" between the impulse and the reaction will allow you to break the habit more easily. I love that the app prompts you to take some deep breaths while you are waiting because we could all use more focus on our breath, right? It seems simple enough, but my only reservation is that the original app icons have to remain on your phone so teenager Whitney probably will just skip around the Space links to Instagram and Facebook. It is certainly worth taking a look for yourself though as most people I know don't rebel against constraints as maniacally as I do.
There you have it! A combination of these programs keeps my screen time to a reasonable level, keeps me more present in my life, allows me to keep up with our social media world without drowning in it.
What about you? How do you feel about your relationship with your screens? Does it feel healthy? How would you like to spend your time if it was freed up from mindless scrolling? And what has worked for you if you also needed to break the habit?