Over the past decade the amount of time we spend on our screens has increased significantly, with the average person spending over seven hours per day looking at a screen.
Depending on your demographic, you probably spend over three hours a day (that’s over nine years of your life!) looking at your phone. It’s unsurprising that reducing screen time is right up there with eating more vegetables, drinking more water, and getting plenty of exercise. You’ve likely heard dire warnings about how sedentary activities, like time spent sitting at a desk or watching television, can cause serious health conditions.
Unfortunately, most jobs (and even hobbies) these days require a significant amount of time in front of a screen. As well, we all want to get our entertainment dose at the end of a long day. That’s why it’s important to realize that reducing screen time isn’t about compromising on the things you enjoy.
The key is to optimize the time you do spend in front of your screens
The Benefits of Less Screen Time
Reducing your screen time is a great move for a variety of reasons, all of which will benefit your productivity directly or indirectly.
Evidence suggests that blue light from screens inhibits the production of melatonin, a chemical needed to trigger sleep. Blue light may also reduce the amount of time we spend in slow-wave and REM sleep.
This lack of deep sleep impacts the brain’s ability to remove neurotoxins, which has a knock-on effect on cognitive function and memory. Contrastingly, getting proper sleep aids your memory, which helps with creativity and boosts your mood.
Other productivity benefits associated with reducing screen time include:
- Avoiding Burnout – There’s evidence that too much screen time can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. Scrolling creates a constant need to compare yourself to others on social media. There’s also the pressure of always being ‘on’ and obliged to respond to messages. Spending time away from your devices reduces stress, making it easier for you to avoid burnout.
- Positive Physical Impact – Reducing screen time helps prevent the conditions associated with prolonged sitting and helps you avoid straining your back, eyes and even your thumbs. Not only that, eating in front of a screen has been shown to lead to overeating.
- Better Efficiency and Focus – Restricting the time spent engaged with devices can increase overall efficiency and ability to control distractions. Screen time is often about instant gratification and can make focussing more of a challenge.
Anxiety is certainly detrimental to your workplace productivity, as are physical problems and the inability to focus. Reinforcing boundaries by reducing your screen time is a positive step for both your professional and private life.
Reducing Screen Time for Greater Productivity
Reducing your screen time isn’t a case of sacrificing enjoyment in your downtime for the sake of your workplace performance. To get the full benefits, it’s vital to evaluate the role screens play in every area of your life, including both work and free time.
Put the Device Down At Work
For instance, reducing your screen time at work could improve your collaborations and relationships with colleagues. Splitting our attention between a conversation and a screen means we may miss vital social cues. Paying more attention to a screen than the person talking can also alienate or distract the other person.
Not checking unnecessary devices (like your phone) in meetings will enable you to fully engage with what’s being said and with everyone’s body language. Direct attention will also make whoever is speaking feel valued. Even the simple act of taking notes on a laptop during a meeting creates a barrier to communication. A pen and paper can keep you much more engaged, allow you to think more creatively, and help you better understand what is being discussed.
Less Screen Time During Personal Time
Separating yourself from screens provides a helpful barrier between personal time and work. Spending downtime on devices makes it too easy to continue checking emails outside of work hours. It might feel like you’re being more productive, but in reality, it might be compromising your productivity, group creative workflows, physical and mental health, and (definitely) your relationships.
There’s a growing belief that this habit of working outside of on-the-clock hours, facilitated by our devices, is causing increased anxiety (which has been dubbed anticipatory stress) and a lower quality of life for both you and your loved ones.
Reinforcing boundaries by reducing your screen time is a positive step for both your professional and private life.
Techniques and Tools for Reducing Screen Time
The recommended screen time targets from health professionals, such as engaging in less than two hours of screen time outside of work, are an ideal to aim for. They may not be easy to achieve and might not work with every lifestyle.
Concentrate on reducing screen time in sustainable ways. As with health and wellness, incrementalism and goal-setting are your best friends. Use SMART goals.
The most obvious technique for reducing screen time is to find replacement activities. If you have a desirable alternative, setting aside the tablet or shutting down the computer is far easier. Try actively scheduling in time to exercise, craft, cook, or pursue a non-screen-based hobby.
Put the Phone Away
Our phones and tablets are some of the worst culprits for overactive screen time because of how easy it is to pick them up on autopilot. Try simple steps like moving your phone and tablet a little further away or not taking them along when you’ll only be out of the room briefly. Or try not having your phone in your pocket or within eyesight (which prevents the “subconscious reach”). At work, try to find tasks that you can accomplish with pen and paper or a whiteboard.
Screen Timer Apps
Apps are also an effective way to monitor usage and set limits. Apple, Android, and Microsoft devices all have built-in screen-time apps that indicate how much time is spent on the device. They also allow users to set timers and restrictions on time spent on particular apps, so that you can use favorites more mindfully.
Unfortunately, though, this can be a depressing thing to monitor – especially as it can create a negative reinforcement loop.
Third-party apps might also be the way to go. There is a huge range available, so it should be easy to find one with features that suit your needs. For instance, Freedom is good for blocking access to distracting apps, Space is based on goal setting and achievement, or StayFree focuses on adjusting to better device-usage habits.
Reducing Blue Light
If you have to use your devices at night, consider steps to reduce your blue light exposure in the hours before bed. Many devices, apps, and websites have a night mode which reduces the amount of blue light being emitted.
While the research is mixed on their effectiveness, you might want to try a pair of blue light glasses. These eyeglasses have lenses that filter out blue light from screens and the environment. They are a great choice if you have to spend time exposed to fluorescent or LED lighting, as these are both sources of blue light.
Interestingly, contrary to the notion that you should avoid screens 2-3 hours before going to sleep, a very recent (limited) study suggests it’s okay as long as it’s for less than one hour. That might be a more accessible place to start for some of us who need that Netflix time after a long day of work.
Make the Most of Your Screen Time
One of the main barriers to reducing screen time is the concern that we won’t get as much done. To mitigate that worry, it’s important to focus on efficiency and time management during the periods when using a screen is absolutely necessary.
There’s a wealth of time management tools and productivity hacks out there. These tools range from apps like Toggl, which log the time spent on tasks, to the Pomodoro method, which helps to power through a daunting to-do list. Finding the ones that work for you will make screen time goals much easier to achieve.
Arming yourself with tools that allow you to work more quickly and effectively is also a must. Whether it’s speeding up feedback and creative workflows with ReviewStudio, streamlining communication with Slack, scheduling your social media with an app like Lately, or ensuring everyone is on the same page with Coda or Airtable, there are plenty of ways to limit the time spent staring at the monitor.
Reducing Screen Time, One Step at a Time
Less screen time can be massively beneficial not just for your health but for your creative workflows and productivity too. According to numerous studies, reducing screen time has positive effects on sleep quality, cognition, and general mood.
It isn’t just about turning off the laptop a few hours before bed, leaving your phone on the other side of the room, or even fixating on those recommended screen time targets. A vital part of getting on top of screen time is improving the quality of the time you do spend in front of the screen.