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How much time each day do you spend staring at a screen?
In an era of total connection, living life in front of screens has become the norm. At work, we sit in front of a PC, our time punctuated by receiving messages on our smartphones or tablets. In our daily lives we speak to friends through social media, and the bulk of our news and entertainment comes from the Internet.
While these screens are meant to benefit our lives, the reality is that they are beginning to dominate us. While constantly being available through technology makes us feel more efficient, the reality is that so many distractions are detrimental to our performance. And although we’re perpetually in contact with our social sphere, the technologies we use have seriously diluted the quality of our relationships. Even in our own homes, with our friends and family around us, screens have led to our social isolation. Our dependency on screens and technology is changing the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we behave. It’s damaging our health and our relationships to the extent that many are now re-evaluating how technology fits into their lives.
The impact of screens on our health
The facts and figures behind our relationship with screens are really quite worrying: An astonishing 61% of Americans believe they are addicted to the internet and the devices they use to access the internet. Many ‘addicts’ demonstrate recognizable mental and physical withdrawal symptoms when away from mobile phones, etc. for just a single day. While it’s recognized that heavy internet usage makes someone 150% more likely to suffer depression, the average American spends 30% of his or her leisure time online.
Our physical health is also in peril. The artificial light screens emit suppresses melatonin (a hormone that readies us for sleep) by upwards of 22%. Yet in the hour before going to bed, 95% of people use a device like a PC or smartphone. This adversely impacts the quality of their sleep, how they feel, and their overall performance. With our performance impaired, our jobs are also in peril. The average American worker checks up to 40 websites per day and changes work tasks roughly every two minutes. As a result of this constant change in focus, recovering from distractions means workers lose up to 2 hours of the average workday, severely impacting their productivity.
So if we need to disconnect, how do we do it?
Given the hold technologies like smartphones and computers have on people, it can be a struggle to address our dependence on the screens around us. Here are ten tips that might help you in this struggle.
To wean yourself off technology you need a genuine insight into the extent of your dependence on it. The start of this process is to recognize the problem and get a clear sense of how you are using technology. Initially you could use an app such as QualityTime or RescueTime to get a feel for how much you are using your mobile phone or computer, but you need to get the same feel for all the screen-based technology in your life, so plan an extensive audit. Carry a notebook and a pencil for an entire week – don’t use an app. Make a note of every time you use something with a screen. At the end of each day go through the list and tick those uses that were essential, and cross those that were frivolous. You need to be pretty precise with your listing – for example, you might be working and suddenly you head off to Facebook to see what’s happening. You need to make a note of that. The results will quickly help you get a feel for the extent to which your life is performed on-screen.
Do an additional audit of things that you’re interested in and how these activities might fill the gaps using less technology will leave. They might include getting started on a new online course, going for a walk, or going out with your spouse. Whatever it is, plan it well in advance. Write it down – the what, where and when.
Based on your audit, find the problem areas and address them. If you’re spending too much time using Facebook on your mobile device, get rid of the Facebook app. If you use Facebook for work and can’t get rid of it, kill any notifications that might disturb you. If you find you’re wasting time on your PC visiting useless sites, find one of the solutions available that will enable you to control which websites you visit and when – StayFocusd for the Chrome browser, example. Unsubscribe from anything (newsletters, etc.) that might cause distraction. If it’s Netflix, your account has a button that allows you to terminate your account. Use it. If you waste time on calls, get two phones – one for work and one for your social life. Whatever your situation, think carefully about how you can deal with each issue.
Where will you be in 5 years – watching YouTube on your mobile? Do you want comfort or growth? What can you achieve in the time that rationalizing your use of screen-based technology saves you? Do you want to get a promotion at work, or start your own sideline company, or even date more. Whatever it is, establish what, for you, would represent growth if you achieve it. With a sense of purpose in your life wasted time will be time stopping you from reaching your goal.
If you’re going to avoid wasting time with screen-based technology and fill your time with constructive things to do, you need support. If your son is playing Grand Theft Auto on the Xbox, your daughter is watching MTV, and your wife is on her phone checking her email, what’s the point? You have to get support from the people around you. Tell your family and friends your plans and warn them of any differences that might occur in your behavior. Ideally, get some buy in from those closest to you – a family effort will have lasting benefits for everyone involved.
Be strict and create a daily ‘to do’ list that has real tasks that support your overall goals. Don’t fill your day with distractions to overcome. Make your planning so finite that you recognize that even something very small keeps you heading in the right direction.
Challenge yourself and others to make the change. For instance, in a restaurant, as you sit down get everyone to stack their smartphones in the middle of the table. The first person to use a phone during the meal pays for the meal. Think of other ways to make achieving your goals fun.
Exercise always sounds daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Take on an exercise regime that makes you feel better and gives you immediate benefits. It could be something simple like a walk in the nearest park every morning rather than a jog. So long as it makes you feel good and sets you up for the day, then it will help keep you on task. The long-term benefits of your exercise will definitely come, but focus on what exercise can do for you today.
This is not as off the wall as it might sound. Although the proven benefits of meditation are numerous, let’s just consider why we engage screens so readily. One of the reasons is because we have been distracted from work or what we are doing. Once distracted we dive into our smartphones and computers until we muster enough concentration to continue what we were doing. With meditation we can enhance our focus and be distracted less easily.
Ironically, an app can help with this. Headspace offers genuine meditation programs that you follow on a daily basis for between 10 and 30 days. It’s less than $15 a month for a range of practical meditation programs that teach you the skills you need to make real change. The “Focus” program takes as little as ten minutes a day and teaches you how be focused by being ‘not distracted’ rather than trying to increase your concentration. If you are not keen on spending any money at all, there are great YouTube videos and websites that will help you get started with meditation.
You’ve packed your “To Do” list with real things and accomplished them one by one. Great. There’s nothing else to achieve for the day, so surely it’s OK to play with your smartphone or visit some social sites for a while, right? Wrong. One quick way to get back into old patterns is to get overtired, and taking your phone to bed with you is a quick way to unravel all the good work you have done.
A general rule of thumb – no screens after 10:00PM. Simple as that. Reach for that book instead.