I am a rising junior and content creator for Fiveable! I aim to foster connections and make our big world feel a little smaller. My post topics range from advice columns to history articles.

The internet is an absolutely amazing place. It allows us to access, share and communicate information at a scope we’ve never seen before. That said, too much screen time can be bad for your health and especially your productivity. (Personal experience here!)

For those of you looking to reduce your daily personal screen time, here is a short, non-comprehensive guide to living a more balanced and productive life.

1) Identify your trouble areas

What are you on the most? Certain apps? Certain devices? Is there a certain time of day when you’re most on your phone? Identifying exactly what you’re concerned about is key to making change happen.

Today, there are a lot of apps that do this work for you! For example, iPhones now have a Screen Time application that will tell you how much time you’re spending on your phone and what apps you’re spending it on. There are also third-party apps such as ZenScreen, BreakFree, and Forest that help identification-and monitoring-as well.

(Pssst: Don’t worry, Android Users: You’re not left out!)

2) Evaluate why you’re on your device

Is it for school? Are you talking to friends? Examining why you use your phone will help you better understand yourself and how you can modify your behavior. It gives the logical side of your brain (We really need to start doing that reading guide!) a start to run with.

This also helps reduce the mindless scrolling that often comes when we’re bored or procrastinating.

3) Set clear goals

Once you’ve identified your trouble areas and evaluated why they exist, you can begin to make goals about your screen time. Think about why you want to reduce your screen time and make goals to match. For example, I tend to do a lot of my procrastinating on YouTube, so my goal would be to reduce the amount of YouTube I watch in favor of more productive endeavors.

4) Set clear limits

One of the only ways to reduce recreational screen time is to limit it. Try to make definite, final, this-will-not-be-changed limits on your screen time. For example, “only one hour of Youtube a day” or “no Snapchat until I’ve practiced my clarinet for the day.” The more specific the limit is (to an extent, of course), the more reasonable it seems and the easier it is to keep your self-made rule.

Once you’ve made your plan, it’s time to follow it.

5) Set a timer

One of the biggest issues with using digital devices is how time seems to fly away.

One minute you’re “just watching one Vine compilation”. The next, you’ve watched six and two hours are gone. Setting a timer-whether the one on your phone or an external one-can help bring you back to reality and make you aware of the passing of time.

6) Designate certain times and places to be “no-phone” and “yes-phone” zones

Giving yourself these zones helps prevent device use from spiraling out of control.

A commonly cited example-and one my family adheres to-is “no cell phones during meals”. Likewise, setting aside a period of time for doing tasks such as checking social media and email means that you don’t have to worry about those things for the rest of the day. It also means you’re scheduling a break for yourself and planning something to look forward to.

7) Let go of the past

Studies show that those who can forgive themselves for past “bad behavior” such as procrastination become more productive in the future. If you’re feeling ashamed over your past screen usage, do your best to forgive and let go. Something I always tell myself is, “The past is over. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. Now, don’t let your past affect the future.” It takes a huge weight off my shoulders.

Self-forgiveness is very difficult: check here and here for some great advice. (Brief swearing is in the second post.)

8) Try to do something else with your hands

Whenever the urge to use your device mindlessly strikes, try doing something else with your hands. This will give you something to do without taking you out of the real world the way phones do. Personally, I really like making bracelets out of cord that I can then fiddle with. This also helps me with keeping my hands occupied, because I like to fidget as well.

9) Use an alternative to your device if possible

With so many of our assignments online today, it seems near impossible to go “tech-free” in today’s classrooms.

Fortunately, it’s still possible to find little ways you can cut back on screen time. You could use a handheld calculator for math homework or a physical tuner instead of an app. Save device usage for when you really need it, such as for research or an online assignment. The more you use your endless-black-hole  of a device, the greater risk there is of getting distracted due to it.

10) If all else fails, make your screen time productive

Try downloading a productive app such as Duolingo or Quizlet (or Tinycards!) and using that as your time-killer. Those apps are usually easier to put away and you’ll be enriching your life, a little at a time! You can help keep yourself on these apps by using the Guided Access mode for Apple devices or Pin the Screen mode on Androids, which locks your screen on a certain app until a password unlocks it. 

Know any good tips to get off the phone? Leave a message in the comments below.


Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

How to Check Screen Time in Android Pie by Ivan Jenic on Mobile Internist

I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination by Michael J.A., Wohl, Timothy A., Pychyl, Shannon H. and Bennett

How to Forgive Yourself from Healthline

Why You Can’t Stop Procrastinating And What to Do About It (a Simple 2-Step Approach to Beat Procrastination) by Nils Salzgeber on NJlifehacks

7 Ways to Use Your Spare Smartphone Time Productively by David Nield on Gizmodo