Three Proven Methods to Reduce Screen Time – and Sticking to It

reduce screen time

Have you considered embarking on a quest to reduce your screen time? Have you tried similar techniques before but have not been able to sustain long-lasting change? Maybe you even read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, but it was hard to take concrete actions? Below are three easy techniques (vetted by me and many others) to help you make sustainable changes to reduce your screen time

how to reduce screentime
This is a quest. Back your bags and make sure to sleep well the night before!

Below are techniques to help you make easy changes to reduce your screen time. The list is in ascending order of difficulty and requires more and more commitment as you progress.

how to reduce screentime
No need for a fancy fountain pen, but please grab a sheet of paper. Paper leads to commitment.

There’s no turning back, if you commit to reading this article, you are not allowed to read the next tip until you complete the previous task! Grab some paper (or *sigh* use your notes app) and let’s get started.

ONE. Set your screen to black and white.

Do this right now, close this article and

  • For iPhone, open up Settings app > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters. Turn Color Filters on, and select Grayscale.
how to reduce screentime
Check to verify that this picture is actually grayscale. Pro-tip, your iPhone pictures will still be saved in color when you take them, even if you only see them as grey.
  • For Android 9.0 and above, access Quick Settings by swiping down twice from notifications and press edit (bottom left) > tap and drag grayscale to the top of the screen
  • For Android below 9.0, Go to Settings > About Phone > Build Number > Tap Build Number 9 times. Then open Settings again > scroll to Developer Options and tap > Simulate Color Space > Monochromacy

Lastly, change your background image to an all black or very dark photo.

help reduce screentime
Example A

For some of these changes to your settings, it’s relatively easy to toggle back and forth, but you must resist toggling for today and continue to resist. Try to hold a “streak” with yourself of how many days you can keep the gray scale. Better yet, forget how to access these settings!

TWO. Turn off notifications.  

You have definitely heard this before. Unless you work in journalism or your output and impact of your work is related to the immediacy to which you can deliver, turn off all non-essential notifications.

  • Think about what and who you really need to communicate with on an urgency or emergency basis.
how to reduce screentime
Emergencies usually require (God forbid) ambulances, so think hard about who is on this list.
  • Write their names down and the apps that you communicate with them through
iphone and depression
Not Instagram. Do not write down instagram. No emergencies are communicated through this application
  • Your final list may be Messages, Phone, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Turn off notifications for all apps except these. For these apps, mute all conversations or group chats that will never need your immediate attention.
I feel bad when I'm using my phone. I feel bad when I'm using my iphone
Mute is a glorious button. You can also selectively mute for certain hours of the day on apps like Slack if your work is “urgent”.
  • More specifically, turn off all lock screen notifications for everything except calls and messages. People know to call when something is truly urgent, and if not communicate to the people close to you right now that this is the case.

“Hi Steph, just letting you know I’m turning off my notifications, so please call me if anything is urgent. Super excited to share my progress…”

Copy and paste this message and send it to your close friends and family.

THREE. Delete apps permanently.

Instead of downloading re-downloading which is common practice among people who want to reduce time on their phone, simply delete these apps once and for all and check them on your computer.

  • Go through your apps one at a time and ask yourself this question, can I check this on my computer?
If you can check things on your computer, check it on your computer!
  • If the answer is yes, delete the app. Twitter? Yes. Instagram? Yes. Gmail? Yes. Delete. Delete. Delete.
Gmail app = slot machine. You can easily check your email at your computer instead of feeling special that your email was “Sent from my iPhone”
  • This is a bit of a painful process, but as you delete, you are gifting yourself hours of your life back to you

But you must be asking,  won’t I just check these sites on my computer? Yes you can, but check out my article here on how to block things on your computer and set up guardrails accordingly.

Now is a good time to explain some of the rationale behind this method. We are trying to increase friction to using your phone.

Black and white makes your phone as unattractive as a newspaper to look at. Turning off notifications means there’s no rush when you receive something new.

Newspapers are pretty boring until you realize they are distraction-free!

Checking things on your computer make you feel guilty about not working when you should be. This all helps answer the question “how to reduce screen time”.

It’s a pretty good time to take a break from this article because I’m sure it has taken a lot of effort to complete these steps.

Check out Part Two after you’ve given yourself a mental break!

The Purpose of a Phone Free Future

Your journey with your technology is personal. You are the one spending your time on each of your devices. This usually makes it all the more harder to make any changes. These devices are inherently addictive by triggering activity in our reward cycles. They also bring out our deepest insecurities about ourselves and about being alone with ourselves.

Facebook is as addictive as always. Delete the Facebook app if you have not already!

But who does not know this already?  Most of us are aware of the impact phones have on our minds, bodies, and lives. The purpose of this blog is (1) to help you have control over the technology you use, where you make the active choice to pick up the tech instead of the tech driving you to pick it up. Eventually, I hope (2) to help you move towards the bare minimum of technology (like using a flip phone). 

High friction to accessing social media with a flip phone.

Some of us spend more time with our phones than our significant others, family members, or friends on any given day. Screen time hours rack up between 4 and 8 hours, often more time than allocated for the workday.  For many people, this time is spent listening to music, communicating with friends, but frequently ends up evolving into endless scrolling through email or social media. 

Phones galore and no smiles in sight.

I remember the mush I felt in my brain after being on Facebook or Instagram for an hour and then how hard it was to set it down. Even when I mustered the energy to set it down, I would often quickly pick my phone back up and get back into it. After three or four times of this, I would finally be able to set it down or turn off my phone. I thought the mush was just from social media, but for me, it was the whole device.

 When you actively reduce the amount of time that you are on your phone, you have to confront your own deepest fears and feelings. You are forced to be alone and twiddle your thumbs. And you must keep your head high but your eyes wandering in every awkward cafe or airport line. 

Awkward line conversations need not be awkward. They help you prepare for far more consequential uncomfortable conversations.

This is not an easy process. Frankly, there are very few people excited to experience these feelings. This is an enormously difficult process, but after embarking on this journey, you will reap a lifetime of rewards. 

Sometimes you’ll confront incredible feelings of loneliness, like you’re the only one in this vast universe. But good thing you’re not!

You will be able to stop and think about why you are reaching towards your device. You will have set up alternative things to grab that will give you a similar sense of reward, albeit more longitudinal rewards. 

Slowly, you will be able to gain the confidence you had as a child to start a conversation with a random stranger. You will know to look for strangers who also are not on their devices to strike up a conversation with. 

You will feel more comfortable in this world of vulnerability. I am certainly not comfortable in this world of vulnerability, and I’m not talking to strangers left and right, but with these goals in mind I can push myself further. 

 For me, the most important thing about embarking on this journey is how much my anxiety has reduced. I used to feel a lot of anxiety when people would not text me back, when wondering many people would check my social media posts, when hoping for emails back from my boss, and when looking at other people’s glamorous and “successful” lives on social media.  

Most importantly, my social life did not fall apart when I switched to using a flip phone. I continued to be in touch with family and friends, and often spent more time calling than before because it was difficult to text. Your social life will not fall apart either. 

I hope you will join me on this journey. Welcome aboard. 

Welcome aboard!

Why I Don’t Have WiFi at Home

When I moved into my new apartment, I called the Internet Service Provider to set up WiFi. I got to an automated mailbox saying that their offices were only open Monday to Friday. And it was Saturday. I resolved to give them a ring Monday first thing. 

But that night, as I was thinking about existing without the internet, I realized I had landed upon an accidental opportunity. What if I never got WiFi? Could I live at home without the internet?

As I approach most things in life, I experimented. I thought I would try it for the weekend and at worst just call my CoxWiFi on Monday. It was luxurious. 

Sunday morning, I woke up and packed up my bag in search for internet. 

That was the first of many days where I would be forced to leave my house as soon as I woke up to sit near restaurants, coffee shops, or buildings with WiFi (if I didn’t want to be bored to tears). I got out of my house relatively quickly. There was no laying around in bed with a cellphone or sitting with my laptop before starting my day. This also meant I had to go outside during the day every single day. I got plenty of sun, and of course lathered myself in sunscreen every 2-3 hours. 

I also had to stay outside of my house for most of the day because I needed wifi for most of my daily work and activities. I had to be social and deliberate about my leisure hours as well since I couldn’t just lounge around at home with my laptop. It’s a little awkward to watch Netflix in a coffee shop. 

I made many new friends that first week. One of my biggest life fears is that I will not be able to make friends at later points in my life, but I prove myself wrong each time. The first day, as I was working I struck up a conversation with someone nearby. The next day, I already noticed I was less afraid to begin conversations with people at the gym. On the third day, as I was sitting outside smooching off someone else’s WiFi at 7AM, someone on their morning walk stopped and we ended up talking about his hobbies, and I thought about my dreams for the first time in many months. Why you are awake at the wee hours of the morning is a great conversation starter. 

On the fourth day, I set a goal of making a new friend every day. Just kidding. 

I also had almost had nothing to do when I got home. The most I could do was read, journal a bit, call a friend, and text a few people to schedule calls or meetings. I usually ended up in bed within 30 minutes of getting home instead of sitting on my computer wasting the last hour of my day. 

Since I was not doing anything past 10 or 11 PM, I would just sleep and finally achieve that elusive goal of waking up before 6AM and clenching that extra early morning productivity and clear-headedness. 

The biggest challenge is when I wanted to watch internet-based TV at home with friends. I usually set up a hotspot and an HDMI cable. But honestly, it was a great excuse to not watch much TV anymore. 

“So you want to sit on the couch and just talk?” is usually the reaction, but yes, I do.