How Much Screen Time is Too Much? (Part 3)

Amanda Luzzader

Ways to reduce and moderate the time you spend online

What application, platform, or game keeps you staring at your phone or monitor when you should be sleeping, working, or walking your dog? Is it Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok? Or maybe it’s Candy Crush and Pokemon Go?

In the second part of this three-part article, I presented some ways to determine if you’re spending too much time liking, following, and sharing. In this final part, we’ll conclude our discussion by discussing ways to reduce and moderate the time you spend online.

Track your time and set objectivesAs you probably already know, changing the amount of time you devote to your favorite electronic distraction will be no easy feat. You’ve probably developed your screen time habits slowly, one hour and one app at a time. And remember, screen time in moderation can provide some benefits. So, before you try something drastic like quitting “cold turkey,” first determine how much time you are spending online and set your objective for changing.

Some smartphones and computer operating systems have built-in tracking apps, but there is also a myriad of third-party screen-time apps for all smartphones and operating systems. These apps can provide an overall measurement of screen time, or they can break down each type of activity. For gaming consoles, your smartphone can be your stopwatch.

In order to reveal your usage patterns through weekdays and weekends, at work and at home, track your time for at least one full week. Create a spreadsheet or jot down your times in a notebook. Once you’ve got a clear picture of how much time you’re spending, you can set goals to reclaim it. Are you seeking to merely moderate your screen time? Cut it in half? Or are there apps or activities that you’d like to cut out altogether?

Take your time backNow that you’ve got some goals, it’s probably not enough to simply self-manage your objectives. You’ll need to change your habits and surroundings, and you might need some help from the apps and electronic devices themselves. The above-mentioned tracking apps often come with blocking features, which can lock you out of certain apps after a prescribed time limit. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media mobile apps are even equipped with time-limit management features, as do the newer versions of the iPhone operating system.

Unfortunately, resorting to your smartphone or other electronic devices to lock you out of your addiction may not be completely reliable–nearly all lock-out apps and features can be overridden, even though it’s slightly time-consuming. It might be more effective to make changes to your home, office, and physical patterns.

A recent article that appeared on BuzzFeed provides additional tips on how to put some space between you and your electronics. Here are some of the better (if painful) of them:

  1. Disable notifications.Getting updates about incoming messages and online activity can be useful, but notifications also keep you on a short tether to your apps and games. Disabling them and keeping them disabled is a first step.
  2. Don’t use electronics in bed.Use your bed for resting and sleeping only. If this habit is just too difficult to break just by trying, some of the additional tips below can help.
  3. Remove chargers from your bedside.Charge your devices somewhere other than by your bed, so that you’re not tempted to use them during bedtime and first thing in the morning.
  4. Use an ordinary alarm clock.Smartphones are great for setting alarms, timers, and reminders, but using your smartphone as an alarm clock places the device in your hands first thing in the morning, setting a precedent for the rest of the day. Investing in a simple alarm clock will help make space between you and your addiction.
  5. Avoid mixing screen time and other activities.Don’t use your electronics while eating, going to the bathroom, taking walks, or getting into bed. This may mean designating screen-free rooms and areas such as the bathroom, bedroom, office, and dining room. Enlist friends and family members to enforce these new regulations.
  6. Delete apps.This one might be the most painful of all, but it may be necessary–deleting your most-addictive apps, games, or activities may be the only way to stop using them.

Do something productive and rewarding with the time you reclaimOne way to reduce online time or screen time is to deliberately do something else with the time you’re reclaiming. This will work best if the activity is at least as rewarding as screen time. It might consist of a short-term project, such as reorganizing a closet, reading a book, or weeding a flower bed. Or it could be a new and enjoyable pursuit, such as a new exercise regime. Scheduling time with family or friends will also work, and these loved-ones are unlikely to complain about seeing more of you. Set the amount of time you devote to this replacement activity at the level of time you’d like to reclaim from social media and electronics, such as an hour per day or several hours per week.

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