Summary: We’re spending more time in front of screens than ever before, with negative consequences for our health and wellbeing. Here’s how to balance screen time with working from home.
The first thing you do when you wake up is look at your phone. You check emails in bed, read news in the bathroom, and scroll through Instagram in the kitchen. You only put your phone down to shower and get dressed for work (although you pause 2-3 times to take a peek just in case).
Work lives, of course, inside your laptop. You spend the bulk of your day staring at your computer screen. During breaks, you text family and friends, “like” posts on Facebook and Instagram, and sometimes post stuff yourself.
When your work day is over—and there’s no virtual event you need to attend—you watch an episode or two of your favorite TV show. And when it’s finally time to go to bed, you check your phone one last time before you fall asleep.
Sound like you? There’s no need to feel bad: research shows that we’re all spending too much time in front of screens. According to data analytics company Nielsen, a typical day in the life of a US adult involves nearly eleven hours of electronic media use.
All this screen time is taking a toll on our bodies and our minds: we’re straining our eyes, hurting our necks and backs, sleeping badly, and feeling anxious and depressed. These symptoms have become even more glaring since the global shift to remote work.
So how do we get things done online while still taking care of our mental and physical health? Here’s how to balance screen time when working from home.
Figure out where you spend time online
Ever hear the saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”? That goes for your weight, your finances, and your screen time. Measuring screen time is easy because most devices have built-in features that do the job for you—iOS has Screen Time, Samsung devices have Digital Wellbeing. Online, you’ll find software that helps you dig even deeper. RescueTime, for example, shows you what your common distractions are so you can get more done, faster.
Use software that saves you time
Automating repetitive tasks that keep you glued to your computer screen is one of the smartest ways to cut down on screen time. Zapier integrations, for example, can save you up to 10 hours per week by taking over tasks such as posting content to social media pages; creating email lists; and sending messages. OCR PDF editors like PDFpen eliminate hours of manual data entry by turning photos and scans into digital, editable text. And TextExpander helps you communicate faster with less typing.
Balance screen time with low tech
Use your electronic devices for literally everything? Try doing at least some things the old-fashioned way. Use pen and paper to doodle or make lists; call someone instead of texting them; pick something up at the store instead of ordering it online; read a print book instead of an ebook. You may find that going the low tech route has added benefits, such as making you more present or creative. “I’m a firm believer in taking the time to sort out your thoughts on notecards, an old-fashioned piece of notebook paper, or any medium that helps your mind switch gears. The kinesthetic practice of scribbling notes freehand does something different for your headspace,” says artist and writer Austin Kleon.
Remove distracting apps from your phone
Social media is addictive, so if you have social media apps on your phone, you will use them. Why not make it easier on yourself to not use them by removing them completely? You don’t need to deactivate your accounts, just temporarily uninstall them. If you prefer, you can uninstall them during the week and reinstall them over the weekend (or don’t!). The idea is to make it harder for you to default to scrolling each time you pick up your phone.
Align your screen time with your priorities
Not all screen time is bad, but given that you need to set a limit to how much time you spend on your devices, consider what’s most important to you right now. If staying in touch with your family and friends is at the top of your list, prioritize checking in with them on whatever apps you use for that. If reading more books is a priority, then make sure you don’t squander the time you would use for that scrolling aimlessly down your Instafeed.
If you’re constantly switching between tabs, taking calls, or checking notifications while working on something, you’ll be less efficient, which means you’ll spend longer than you need to in front of the computer. Try monotasking instead. Productivity experts recommend booking “deep” work sessions where you do nothing but the task you set out to complete. You can set a timer (for 52 minutes max—see “ideal work-to-break ratio”) and work on your own OR enlist the help of accountability partners via platforms such as Focusmate and Caveday.
Take a break between focus sessions
After each deep work session, take a break. Make sure to look away from screens during this time to give your eyes a rest. Breaks are also a great opportunity to move your body and counter the effects of prolonged sitting. You can also use breaks to drink water, have snacks, or do some quick tidying.
Use one screen at a time
Using multiple screens and devices makes you less productive and puts extra strain on your eyes. At work, avoid using multiple screens and devices unless it’s absolutely necessary. Outside of work, stop doing things such as watching TV while continuously checking your phone.
Set no-screen hours
Consider leaving your digital devices on during business hours only. If that’s too extreme for you, set a cut-off time beyond which you will not look at screens. Consider creating an evening self-care routine that excludes all tech one hour before bedtime.
Create device-free zones
In the spirit of practicing good sleep hygiene, consider making your bedroom device-free. If you find that that is beneficial to you, you might want to make other areas in your home device-free, or wi-fi-free, for added concentration and creativity.
Make tech less accessible
If it’s right there, you’ll pick it up, so consider making your electronic devices less accessible after work hours and/or on weekends. Place them out of your sight while making non-tech items, such as art supplies, books, puzzles, board games etc. visible and easily accessible.
Take a day off from screens
“I’ve started abstaining from Twitter and social media on Saturday and Sunday,” Austin Kleon wrote. “My weekends are now about real rest and idleness.” Take inspiration from this New York Times bestselling author and choose one day of the week in which you won’t use any electronic devices, or at the very least won’t check your inbox or social media. To make this easier, make plans ahead of time so you can make the most out of being offline.
Better balance screen time with remote work
These days, we’re not just working online—we’re socializing, learning, and exercising with the help of smartphones and computers. Getting most of our needs met through our electronic devices means we’re all spending more time than is healthy in front of screens. To avoid the physical and psychological effects of too much screen time—and build a richer life in the process—it’s essential that we actively seek alternatives and use of devices more intentionally.
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