There’s been so much written in the past year about how much time we are spending online. There’s also been a ton written about how unhealthy it is and how important it is for us to cut back on our screen time.
But, for all the evidence and discussion, many people still aren’t making any changes. For those who want to do something about their screen time but don’t know where to start, I have some thoughts to share based on my own journey.
There are three essential things I think are required if you seriously want to reduce your time online.
1. Identify Your ‘Why’
In order to change behavior, it’s key to have a motivating reason. For me, it was because of books.
I’ve been an avid reader my whole life. I love getting lost in stories and, although it’s not always easy to find the time, there’s nothing I love more than spending an hour or more with a book.
A few Christmases ago, I sat down to start a new book from one of my favourite authors and was stunned to find myself struggling to read. I just couldn’t seem to focus. It was as if my brain couldn’t settle on more than a paragraph at a time — it was a horrible feeling.
So I began researching the effects of technology on our brain and realized how much the digital distractions in my life were hurting my ability to focus. That was when I decided to change how I interact with my digital devices.
You need to have a compelling reason to make a change. Change is not easy and ‘because I should’ or ‘because it’s the right thing to do’ are not strong enough reasons to succeed.
It needs to be about something that really matters to you, something you care about that is being negatively impacted by your online time.
Your reason could be how your screen time is affecting you physically or emotionally, maybe your sleep is suffering or you’re feeling isolated and alone. Or your reason could be about someone else and your relationship with them, such as your children or your partner. Your reason could even be performance related, if the time you spend online is impacting your career or a hobby that you love.
It doesn’t matter what the reason is — what does matter is that you identify something you really care about that will benefit if you change your digital habits.
2. Track Your Journey
As Maya Angelou said, “you can’t really know where you are going until you know where you’ve been.” Most people don’t actually know how much time they spend online. Research has shown that we tend to underestimate the time we spend on devices by half.
This is because we frequently go online to do something that only takes a few seconds or minutes, which is difficult to add up over the course of a day. It’s also due to how often we go online for to do 'just one quick thing' and then are drawn into other online activities that take much longer than we intended.
So much of our online use has become habitual and automatic that we’re unaware of just how much it adds up.
If you want to change this subconscious behavior and successfully cut back your screen time, you need to measure where you’re starting from and then measure the progress you make.
Some of these apps also offer other features that can help you cut back your screen time. But, most importantly, they can give you a clear picture of what your typical daily screen time is before you begin.
From there, you can decide how much you want to cut back and by when. Continuing to track your online time is also key so you can see the progress you are (hopefully) making.
3. Cut the BS
I heard a great quote the other day, “you can’t be committed to your bullsh*t and to your growth - it’s one or the other.”
It made me think about conversations I’ve had with others about changing habits. I find that people often talk about what they would like to do differently and then start listing all the reasons they can’t.
But typically the reasons are not really reasons — they are excuses. It all comes down to priorities.
If you truly want to make a change, then do it. There are many places to seek help and lots of ways to make it happen. But it all starts with you and an honest effort to make a change. It won’t be easy but, as the saying goes, nothing worthwhile ever is.
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