We get it: screens can be addicting. Some days, there’s nothing better than lounging on the couch and scrolling through your Instagram feed or Pinterest while you watch TV. You’re not thinking about work. You’re not thinking about the next PTO meeting. You’re at ease.
Wherever we go and whatever we do, screens are never that far from our fingertips. When we’re waiting in line at the pharmacy, we’re scrolling through our phones. At the dinner table, we flip on a nearby TV or set up an iPad so everyone can watch something while they eat. When we crawl into bed, the last thing we do is check social media one more time before calling it a night.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk on the potential harms of too much screen time for kids, but what about screen time for adults? When is that too much? Our brains may be fully developed, but all that time staring at our phones, tablets and TVs is having other effects on our lives.
Though screen time can be relaxing, it can also take away from the quality time that we spend with friends and family members. When you’re on your phone while talking with others, you’re not giving your full attention to the conversation, and the people you’re speaking with will notice. Your relationships with friends and family members may suffer because they don’t feel valued or important to you. When you’re always glued to your phone, your friends might decide to let your scroll and meet for lunch without you.
This can be especially problematic when you’re ignoring your partner while on your phone. Even the happiest of couples can go from communicating well to not at all when one is constantly looking at a screen. All relationships require constant work — sometimes hard, sometimes easy work — and when you stop working, your relationship can suffer.
Then there’s the time lost with your kids. It’s okay to relax and unwind with your phone for a little while, but if you’re doing nothing but scrolling on your phone, you’re going to look over one day and see your kids all grown up. As any parent will tell you, kids grow up too fast, and you’ll never get back those years teaching them to ride bikes, read a book or swim in a pool.
Not only are you missing out on quality time with your kids, but you’re also monitoring poor behavior for them. Kids take their cues from parents, and they mimic what they see. If one parent pulls out a phone during a conversation or while at the movies, suddenly that behavior becomes acceptable to your kids. You don’t want your kids to spend all their time on their phones and with their screens, so it’s up to you to model better behavior for them.
Ready to cut back on your screen time? Here are a few tips for decreasing your screen time — and increasing your time with those you love and cherish.
Think about how often you pick up your phone
Researchers have found that Apple users pick up their phones about 80 times a day on average. That’s a lot of time that people spend on their phones, even if it’s just to check the weather or an email account. Now that apps can send users notifications, it can be difficult to stop yourself from reaching for your phone when it pings.
While you can’t stop yourself from picking up your phone entirely, you can be more mindful about when you pick up your phone and for how long you keep it open.
First off, go through your apps and turn off notifications from apps that you don’t use often enough or simply don’t need notifications. Do you really need to be alerted when a retailer is having a sale? Do you need a GrubHub notification every few days? When you have fewer apps buzzing, then you’ll be less tempted to check your phone so often.
To decrease pick-up times, be more mindful of why you are picking up a screen. Is it to check the weather? Respond to an email? Set a reminder? Rather than pick up your phone one time after another in the morning as you get ready, save all of your pick ups for just one pick up. Then complete all your actions — and put your phone back down.
When you’re forward-thinking about when you’re going to pick up your phone and what you’re going to do, it’s easier to then put your phone back down and move on to something else.
Leave your phone on the desk when you go to the bathroom
We’re all guilty of it. It’s so easy to reach for your phone as you’re heading to the bathroom, but you’re probably raking up a lot of screen time while you’re in there.
You probably don’t want to go back to reading the back of shampoo bottles while you’re going, but you could still bring a book in if you feel like you’ll be there for a while. You don’t have to worry about ignoring anyone in conversation while you’re in the bathroom, but if you take your phone in, you may find yourself spending twice as long in there than you otherwise would.
Cleanse your phone of unnecessary apps
Be honest: How many of those shopping and retail apps do you really use? Why do you need four different map apps for your phone? Are you actually using all of those recipe apps? More than likely, you have more than a few unused apps on your phone, and it’s time to get rid of them. They’re taking up space in your phone, and their alerts are distracting you when you don’t need to be looking at your phone.
Think about what core functions your phone or tablet provides for you and list which apps you use the most. Rank your top five — or if you’re really dedicated to limiting your screen time, try top three — uses for your phone. These could be:
- Work functions: You check your email, edit documents or monitor files. When you open your phone, it’s usually for work-related reasons.
- Shopping: When you think of something you meant to pick up, the first thing you do is reach for Amazon’s app. You make most of your purchases in apps, and you’re never far from your favorite shops.
- Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube — there’s so many and you have accounts with all of them. You like keeping up with friends and family members and seeing what they’re up to.
- TV: Now that Apple, NBC Universal and Disney are jumping in on the streaming train, Netflix won’t be the only streaming app on your phone.
- Music and podcasts: You never leave home without your entire music library, now at your fingertips. You’ve got iTunes, Pandora, Spotify and several podcast apps all downloading your favorite music onto your phone.
- News: For those news junkies, it’s hard to go a day without pulling up the Bloomberg app to check market news or NPR for the latest “This American Life.”
- Travel bug: You’ve got apps for all the major airline companies, plus Uber and Lyft and transit trackers from that one time you visited New York City and thought you’d use the subway. But you love to travel, and you’re already planning your next trip.
- Gaming: Candy Crush was just the beginning for you. Now you’re playing all sorts of different games.
There may be many more categories that you fit into, but most of your apps probably fall into these categories.
Now it’s time to go through and whittle down your apps. Pick five of the categories above that cover the majority of your apps and start deleting the ones you don’t use enough. If you have a lot of gaming apps, delete the ones you play the least. If you have several apps to keep track of appointments and complete work functions, get rid of the ones you downloaded, but rarely use.
Some apps, like streaming apps and podcast apps, take up a lot of space on your phone, which could slow it down. Choose your favorite streaming and podcast app and delete the others. You can always switch them out if you decide you’d rather have a different app.
It can be difficult to let go of social media apps, so start with the ones you don’t use as often as the others. When you stop and think about where you enjoy spending your time and where you interact with family and friends the most, you’ll find that some social media apps just aren’t that important.
Kill your darlings
Okay, so you deleted the apps you never use or don’t use very often on your phone. But why stop there? Why not get rid of your favorite social media apps altogether?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with spending time on social media. We all like to scroll through our feeds, make jokes with our friends and catch up on our news. But it’s no secret that social media apps suck up a lot of our free time — free time that we could be spending with our families.
Try deleting Facebook, Instagram or any other favorite social media apps for a day or two. Then try a week. You don’t have to go cold-turkey — you can always redownload the app without issue — but try it and see how it goes. You may delete Facebook one day then download it the next, but if you keep trying to delete it, eventually, you’ll get to the point where you don’t miss the app as much or feel the need to pull it up and scroll through.
You may not ever delete Facebook from your phone entirely — that’s okay. The goal is to get to the point where you don’t feel the constant need to check your feed.
Leave your phone behind
Imagine going for an afternoon without having your phone — having one uninterrupted afternoon where you shop for yourself, go for a run or do some yard work without looking at your phone.
You might not be able to do this for long if you have younger kids, but try going without your phone for a few hours on the weekends. Leave it purposefully on the kitchen counter and go do something just for you.
How to be more present in conversation
Even our best intentions can fall flat, but you can work to be more present when you’re having conversations with friends at lunch or your partner in bed. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Put your phone on silent and pack it away: Out of sight, out of mind as they say. When you don’t see your phone lighting up and beeping every few minutes, you’ll feel less inclined to pick it up. You’ll be able to concentrate more on the conversation at hand.
- Set a screen time cap when you go to bed: Some couples ban all phones from their beds when they turn in for the night. Some allow limited access up until a certain point. Talk with your partner and decide what might work for you.
- Focus on the conversation: It’s easy to let your mind wander when chatting with friends, but focus on being present in the moment and really listening to what’s being said.
- Practice meditation on your own: Meditation helps you slow your breathing and clear your mind. It’s a quiet time to enjoy just being you and to lower your stress level. Once you get good at meditating, you’ll find that you don’t need to decompress by looking at your phone. You’ll have the tools to quiet your mind and relax on your own. You can read up on mediation online or download an app (yes, right after you deleted the ones you don’t use) to help guide your practice.
Having trouble putting down your phone? What works best for you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!