Time Well Spent

As I shared in my last post, my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary this fall with a lovely trip to Exuma in the Bahamas. What I did not share was the eye-opening lesson I learned on this trip about my dependence on – or should I be so bold as to admit – my addiction to technology.

We had a bit of downtime on our trip as there were not a ton of things to do on the island other than hang out on the beach or a boat. Despite having ample reading material with me, what was the first thing I found myself doing when we weren’t busy? Jumping on my phone, mindlessly scrolling through the same social media and news apps over and over. Yikes. It hit me: I had forgotten how to be bored – or more precisely, how to be comfortable with being bored.

I have had concerns in the past year or so with the amount of screen time I log, whether it be on my phone, tablet or computer. I had taken a “tech health” survey back in May 2018 and was rather pleased that I scored Very Good (considering that my family had been harassing me about the time I spent on my phone). I let my guard down a bit after that, thinking I was doing better than the average person. Like many people, I have mixed feelings about technology. On the one hand, it is super convenient to have just about everything I need to run my daily life in a device that fits in my pocket. But as I have often learned the hard way, it also makes it too easy to use this technology inappropriately (phubbing, anyone?) and ineffectively (somehow wasting 15 minutes browsing through my Twitter feed when my intention was to look at the weather forecast!)

For these reasons and more, I have decided one of my personal health goals in 2020 will be to improve my digital wellness. I have been doing some research about ways to monitor and reduce screen time, as well as how to take control over my technology rather than let it control me. By now, most of you have probably heard the news that the creators of smartphone apps intentionally design them to make us addicted. Therefore, it will take intentional strategies to counteract this “programming.”

Below are some of the resources I have found quite helpful as I embark on this journey:

Determining Your Tech Health

The first step is really about establishing a baseline – figuring out how healthy or unhealthy your tech habits are, so that you can identify areas for improvement. I recommend Amy Blankson’s Tech Health survey as a starting point. She also has some cool resources on her website including free downloadable wallpapers for your phone that prompt you to think about use of your phone as you pick it up.

The other strategy is utilizing the Screen Time function on your iPhone (or iPad), which was released with the iOS 12 update. (I believe Android phones have a similar feature called Digital Wellbeing.) This function provides you with a weekly report of how much time you spent on your phone, how many times per hour you picked it up, what apps you were using, etc. It may help to just start reviewing your report week to week to get a sense of your current usage. Then you can take advantage of the options such as setting time limits on certain apps, and scheduling downtime (think of it as “nap time” for your devices). Click here to learn more about Apple Screen Time settings and here for Google’s Digital Wellbeing features. One caveat: these limits are self-policed; for example, you have the option to ignore the time limits on apps once they have been met. So, it may take some discipline and willpower to stay on track if you are tempted to bypass the soft stop.

Developing Healthy Habits

I have found two tools that I plan to utilize to develop healthier habits around my use of technology. The first is a 10-day online course called Develop Digital Health Habits by Robert Plotkin that I have accessed through my premium subscription to Insight Timer, my go-to meditation app. (Note: If you are not a premium subscriber, I believe you can purchase the individual course for about $10). I’ve already listened to the entire course and picked up a few good tips, such as turning off all but the most necessary notifications from various apps. However, I plan to listen to the course again and take notes this time, as there were numerous helpful suggestions that I would like to take advantage of that I didn’t quite grasp the first time through. The beauty of this course is that each lesson is approximately 10 minutes long, so it is not a huge time investment.

More recently, I read an article that referred to the Time Well Spent movement led by Tristan Harris, a former Google employee who expressed concern about smartphone addiction and questioned how his company and other teach giants could build systems that gave people time back. He wound up leaving Google to start a non-profit organization called the Center for Humane Technology. It’s vision: “…a world where technology supports our shared well-being, sense-making, democracy, and ability to tackle complex global challenges.”

I was very excited to find a section of their website called “Take Control” that outlines several manageable steps to help fight the addiction to our devices. My two favorites that I am going to start with:

  • Turning off all notifications except those from actual people (e.g., from text messages or other messaging apps). That little dot in the corner of apps is red for a reason – it is a trigger color that instantly draws our attention. This strategy makes perfect sense as we have been trained to think that every notification is urgent, when in reality most of them are just a waste of our time.
  • Changing the color filter to grayscale. This one blew my mind as I did not even know it was an option! Choosing grayscale helps many people check their phone less as it is not as appealing as all those shiny, happy colors. True confession – I just switched on this mode and it really makes a difference. (The cool part though is you can easily toggle it on and off so that color is available when you need it, for example, showing off pictures from your latest vacation.)

I know that this journey to digital wellness may not be an easy one – many of my habits around technology and smart devices are well engrained in my brain. However, I am up for the challenge as I know that it will lead to more intentional use of my time…which will lead to more peace of mind.