As described in “Stop Staring at the Screens” by digital detox expert Tanya Goodin, studies have shown that just having a mobile phone in the room when you are trying to focus, can affect concentration even if you do not look at it.
At some point, we tend to prioritize our screens even during a family meal or when talking to someone. We need to put them back in their place and take control of them rather than allowing them to control us during our leisure time.
This is not easy as smartphones, tablets, games consoles and the software that runs on them are all designed to be hard to ignore and addictive. While scrolling or surfing we are waiting for tiny dopamine hits to the brain. Dopamine is a “feel good” chemical in our brains. As dopamine levels rise, our brains respond by wanting more. As we learn to multi-task, create speedy solutions and provide instantaneous responses, we are splitting our focus across several different things and limiting our effectiveness at any of them.
There are various ways in which we can reduce our screen time and prevent these negative effects. The best way to do this is to make a few small changes at first and build up to more ambitious ones.
Beeps, dings and pop-ups constantly interrupt our train of thought and conversations. Explore how to disable some or all of the notifications or turn off sounds and vibrations and put your phone face down so that you cannot see or hear when a new notification pops up.
Keep your screens outside the bedroom. Sleep deprivation can be caused by the blue light that shines from screen-based devices. This light is designed to mimic daylight and make us pay attention to our screens. It interferes with the “sleep hormone” melatonin and can leave us feeling wide awake and alert.
Limit the total number of hours you spend on screens each day. One study showed that teenagers who spend under four hours a day on screens, sleep better than those who spend longer on them.
Plan some completely screen-free home time. Start with a few hours and build up to longer periods. Try to arrange to do something practical during screen-free time e.g. decluttering or going for a walk or a cycle ride. Tell others about your screen-free time in order to gain their support and reduce anxiety about being uncontactable.
Download more time for yourself in your screen-free hours. We are easily distracted by suggestions for more content to watch and by videos which start to play automatically after the ones we have just watched. This persuasive technology distracts us and entices us into spending more time online without any real purpose, so practise limiting screen time. Set a mental time limit for how long a task should take and try not to go over it. This becomes easier with practice.