5 Ways I am Reducing Screen Time

Do More with Less

I have had a lot of time to think lately. A lot. And this is all coming from my desire to be less digitally connected and more people connected. It's just another step in my minimization and decluttering of my life.

I took some time to think about some areas where screen time in general takes away from actual face time and how I can begin to take control of these problem areas. Though most of this pertains to my personal life, much of it is now happily flowing into my professional life as well.

One of the issues I find with these digital thieves listed below, is, once I let them find me, I have one hell of a time stepping away from them. 

 Digital Detox - Screen Time

1. Email

This one is both personal and professional - and I've touched on it before but will do a deeper dive here. It's actually a #1 rabbit hole for me as it (used to be) attached to me 24x7. This was my email routine in the past:

  • Wake up at 5:00 am and grab cell phone - fire up gmail. First check work email to see if anything ultra important came in overnight. Then switch over to personal account to see if there was anything of interest there. Maybe follow a couple links, read some jokes, reply to a few friends. Then, begin my morning routine of getting ready for work.
  • Arrive at the office at 6:00 am and fire up work email on the laptop. Respond to anything I skipped at 5:00am. Leave mail open until end of day in its own tab (I don't use dedicated apps for email, just web).
  • When email notifications pop up from work, jump on them and either reply right away, or re-mark as unread to address later. When there are links to other information, I'd usually follow right out (white papers, articles, etc) in a new tab.
  • After work and until bedtime, monitor both email accounts on cell phone / iPad / and or laptop, depending where I was.
  • Never miss a beat.

I am sure this sounds familiar to many - especially those whose work really revolves around email notifications. What I realized though, as slow as it took me, is none of this really needs my immediate attention. If the someone higher up on the food chain needs to reach me (wife / superintendent) they have my phone number or come bang on my door. The majority of the emails were either fluff or things that could be responded to at a later time.

So, I have changed up my routine to take control of my constant need of checking emails. Part discipline, part hardware.

  • Wake up at 5:00 am. Enjoy a cup of coffee.
  • Arrive at work at 6:00am and fire up gmail on my laptop. Respond / delete the night's worth of emails with Boomerang. Some things can be sent at a later time, so I take advantage of that - but I end up with a zero inbox and then shut down email.
  • 11:00 am - repeat above, then shut down email.
  • 2:00 pm - repeat above, then shut down email.

Notice, no longer checking from cell, and only running email during business hours at 3 intervals. Sometimes I am on there for 2 minutes for that interval - sometimes for an hour, depending on what's coming in. I've gone from being constantly attached to email 17 hours a day down to about 45 minutes total (on average screen time) on any given day. Haven't missed an important email yet - and everyone has received a timely response.

I do warn you, if you are used to being reached 24x7 via email, there's a bit of anxiety looking at your screen and not having an active email client; wondering if you're missing anything. This goes as well for the next items I will discuss.

2. Social Media

In the past, this has been a big one as well, but one I am really taking care of. I haven't removed it completely, but that's the direction I am headed. At one point I had it all. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, 500px, Google+ and on and on. My connected devices were always ablaze with notifications and alerts begging for my attention. But now, all social media apps are deleted (and my phone can't even run apps), and the ones I do hit are only from my laptop - at most once a day.

For personal social media, I am down to just Instagram. Though its days are numbered. 

I also have a handful of social media accounts for my online "ezines" to drive traffic. I have both Instagram and Twitter for Physical Grain and SALT. Physical Grain is now accessed once a week or so, sometimes more. SALT is accessed about once a month. What's really interesting about these is I thought I was driving traffic to their respective sites - but that isn't the case.  Well, OK, some traffic. But 90% of the traffic on both sites is from effective SEO via Google searches as well as people subscribed to the pages. Very little actually arrived from social media links - so you never know, those days of use may be numbered as well. 


3. News (TV/Web)

OK, I am a news whore. I love breaking news. But it's all bad. Well, a lot of it. It's the way these agencies get your face in front of the screen (TV, laptop, iPad, smartphone) and craving more. It's mostly sensationalized and rarely is something reported that directly affects my life. This was another part of my daily routine that's drastically changed for the better. First, the old method:

  • 5:00 am - along with checking emails, I fired up CNN and BBC News on my phone to see what exciting things happened on our planet. CNN only talks about Trump's narcissism and paranoid rants of the day and BBC about more global affairs. But still, I had the fear of missing some impending doom in the news.
  • 6:00 am - fire up Headline News on the TV and let it run in the background until about 10:00 am. Just in case.
  • 5:00 - 7:00 pm news hours.
  • 10:00 pm - one more check, just in case.
  • All this was intertwined with my phone apps popping up "breaking news" stories.

Not one story has affected how I live my life. So, the new way I get news:

  • Sometime in the morning, fire up NPR.org and scan the headlines for about 10 minutes. No more news for the day.

This was a tough cycle to break for me - the desire for 24 hour news reports. But so happy to report that life just seems better / happier scanning NPR's headlines just once a day. No more beating the dead horse of terrible, awful, shitty news. But I don't want to hide under a rock as I feel being informed about the world is socially important. I just don't need to be beat over the head with it any more. So just a morning taste from NPR does me well.

4. Apps (Phone / iPad)

My post yesterday pretty much summed up why I no longer have a smartphone (and therefore, apps) to worry about. My iPad is a work device, so I do have a handful on there dedicated to my job - and mainly just during meetings. Things like Google Chrome, Google Drive, Gmail (reference #1 for how rarely that's really used), Slack for team discussions and a podcast app for background noise. I fire up the iPad maybe 3x a week for meetings with vendors and staff. And that's about the sum total of all apps in my life now; but when I lived on my smartphone, my life was run by apps - all the livelong day.

The little dumbphone I use now has no apps, no data, no internet. 

5. General Screen Time

So, finally on to general screen time. This is anything with a screen: phone, TV, laptop, desktop, mobile device, etc. I am still semi-glued to my screen at work from roughly 6:00 am till about 3:00 pm. But just my laptop screen. I do get out whenever I can to meetings that can tear me away from the glowing screen. But the TV in the office no longer comes on for the morning news.  The cellphone is no longer checked and double-checked for notifications. My mind is firmly set on my job until the day is done - distraction free.

Outside of work, I no longer have computer / mobile device screen time aside from the quick check of emails in the morning before work. When I am out hiking or traveling, it's now without any kind of screen. For car GPS, I do currently have my old smartphone set up to grab Google Maps offline and pre-route the adventure - but I am thinking of going as far as folding paper maps. GASP!

The "screen time" from my dumbphone is texting with family or the rare phone call. You can only stare at a screen like that for a few seconds without either replying, or putting it back into your pocket.

As for the big TV screen, we no longer have cable, but we do have Netflix, Hulu and Amazon video for entertainment. That usually comes on sometime after dinner for a bit. But when it isn't on - I am enjoying time with family: hiking, talking and reading (yes, the Kindle is a screen - but I am giving it a pass for its intelligent use) - free from all screens.