A simple recipe for reducing screen time

Hey all, I’m returning from my blogging hiatus to post about a topic that’s been a persistent interest of mine — spending time well. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll already have read a few of my posts on the topic, including one on the benefits of doing one thing at a time, as well as my How to Spend Your Time Well – Part 1 article.

Between COVID-19 and it’s associated issues, forest fires on the west coast, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the upcoming election, our society is probably the most isolated, anxious, and lonely it’s been in a long time. With that, comes an increased reliance on the internet (particularly social media) to help us pass the time, connect with others, and frankly speaking, distract us from what’s going on around us.

Although it’s not a panacea for all of our problems, consciously reducing my screen time has helped me develop a more spacious state of mind to better navigate the challenges of our times. Here are a few tips that I hope will help you as well. 🙂

1. Use your PC/Mac instead of your phone

*Full credit for this one goes to my friend DK, who shared this with me a few months ago.*

Taking into account a few exceptions, you can do almost everything you do on your phone faster, and more efficiently on a computer. Browsing the internet? Faster on a computer. Writing an email? Faster on a computer. Replying to Instagram DMs? Faster on a computer. Yet, we use our phones to do all of these things.

With the exception of Google maps and making phone calls, there aren’t many cases where you need to use a phone. Because there’s less friction involved in switching between apps on your phone (compared to your computer), it’s easier to get sucked down the rabbit hole of checking one app after another. In contrast, limiting access to your phone frees up a lot of time that might have otherwise been interrupted — going for walks, going to the bathroom, while you’re cooking, etc.

For this step, you’ll disable all notifications on your phone, uninstall all of your social media and communication apps, and exclusively use your computer to check anything that might be distracting.

2. Batch your social media and communication tasks

Once you start relying on your computer to handle all of your distracting apps and websites, the next step is to create fixed times to check all of them at once. Without doing this, you’re still vulnerable to constant disruptions (albeit on a PC this time, instead of your phone).

I prefer having periods where I check anything I deem to be distracting, at 12 PM. During these periods, I check all of my texts, social media messages, email and anything else I deem to be distracting. If you’re working in a job that requires constant communication, you may not be able to timebox your work communications, but you should still be able to do so for your personal communications.

3. Make it difficult to break your routine

The last step is to increase the amount of friction required to break your new setup. One tool that’s super helpful for these purposes is Freedom.to, arguably the world’s best app and website blocker. With Freedom, you can create a custom list of apps and websites you’d like to block, and then create a recurring schedule to automatically activate those blockers. Here’s what mine looks like:

My Freedom blocking setup.

Freedom can block desktop apps (for example, iMessage) in addition to websites, and sync with your mobile devices. Unfortunately, Freedom can’t block apps on iOS due to platform limitations, but this shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve already uninstalled any distracting apps. If you have any distracting apps that aren’t accessible on a computer, you may want to consider putting a Screen Time limiter on it in lieu of blocking it via Freedom.

The last two tips I’d recommend are setting your phone on grayscale by default and physically distancing yourself from your phone. Despite all of the good Freedom does, I’ve found that leaving my phone within arms-reach, or even anywhere in the same room, is a recipe for disaster. The further you can keep your phone away from you, the better.

When I shared a house with roommates, I’d put my phone in the living room where one of my roommates did all of his deep work. If I wanted to use my phone, I’d have to open the door and disturb him just a little bit, grab my phone, and then close the door again. With this setup in place, I found that I’d sometimes go days without ever picking up my phone because I didn’t want to disturb my roommate.

A few more thoughts

It’s been challenging to curb the negative effects of distracting applications while still enjoying some of the benefits. As much as I hate how distracting platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram are, I’ve also appreciated the positives they’ve brought to my life — meeting future employees for my startup, connecting with thoughtful people around the world, and of course, promoting blog posts like this! This “recipe” is my best attempt at creating a balanced approach to using these applications, without being consumed by them. If you have tips, comments, or suggestions on useful additions to this guide, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

P.S: If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend watching The Social Dilemma, a new documentary on Netflix from the co-founders of the Center for Humane Technology.