Step away from the screen

I have a friend who routinely gives up social media for her Lenten sacrifice. While I would find it a bit extreme to give up all social media (either temporarily or permanently), I do find myself admiring her ability to switch it all off a little wistfully. Some days it feels like I spend the whole time simply switching from one screen (laptop) to another (phone) to another (TV) before sleep, only to start again with another screen first thing the next morning. And when there’s so much distressing news coming through all online channels, we can all be prone to a bit of doomscrolling, even though we know it’s not helping (us or anyone else).

Photo by Pixabay on

So maybe this is a good time to think about changing our habits to get away from the glare of the screen and/or the distractions which come with being always connected. No doubt both our eyes and wellbeing will thank us! Here are some actions I have found particularly useful for this.

Get an alarm clock

When you use your phone as your alarm clock, the temptation to pick it up and immediately start scrolling through social media or news is huge. Remove the temptation by getting a dedicated alarm clock. I’ve got a radio alarm, set to a music channel with news headlines on the half-hour, so I’m not completely out of the loop. If I have to wake up (I am not a morning person), this is the way I prefer to do it.

The added benefit of this is that my phone doesn’t even need to be in the same room as me overnight. It means I can additionally remove the temptation to use my phone last thing. If I’m not going straight to sleep, I have a good old-fashioned book by the bed which I can pick up to read for a bit.

Make your breaks screen-free

One of the best things about being back in the office is, for me, the opportunity to eat lunch with others. I have a horrible tendency when I’m eating alone to scroll through my phone. Now that there are people about, I’m taking the opportunity to chat over my sandwiches. Connecting with friends and screen-free time: win-win.

It’s important to take regular breaks during work time. Regular breaks help productivity (see the Pomodoro Technique or Shut up and work) but what we do with our breaks matters, too. Think about ways you can incorporate more screen-free breaks into your existing practice. At the very least, the NHS recommends we look up every 20 minutes to focus on something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds (20-20-20 rule). Can you switch some of your research activities to analogue? Some editing and proof-reading tasks, for example, are easier in hard copy anyway.

Manage your distractions

One of the disadvantages of being constantly connected is the notifications which fight for our attention.

  • Turn off your e-mail when you’re working on something else. Set an out of office message if you want a day or two to dedicate to a specific project.
  • Check your notification settings for your apps so you’re only getting the ones you really want/need. While you’re at it, consider whether you are getting genuine value from all your apps (especially social media!), and delete those which don’t benefit you.
  • Look into productivity apps, such as Forest, which reward you for not using your phone.
  • Put your phone on silent, or leave it in another room. If you need to be able to receive urgent calls, set different ring tones for those people. Does your phone have a Do Not Disturb mode?

Although I hate the phrase, there’s lots of extra tips online (!) if you search for “digital detox”. What tips do you have for reducing the impact of screens and/or social media on your life?

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Helen Kara

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