How to Limit Your Screen Time

By Holly Bieler
Updated on 20. Aug. 2020

It can be hard not to get lost in your phone under normal conditions. But during a pandemic? That hard quickly turns to nearly impossible. With so much uncertainty, so much news, and so many things changing on a daily, even hourly basis, for many it’s more difficult than ever to police yourself when it comes to daily screen time. However the science indicates it’s worth a try: recent studies have pointed to a direct correlation between hours spent on your phone and heightened feelings of anxiety, depression and low self esteem. What’s more, it takes you away from others at a time when connection is more important than ever. Below, we’ve outlined our top tips and tricks for helping reduce screen time.

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1. Take inventory.

You can’t decide on a solution until you’ve diagnosed the problem. So before you begin your screen time cleanse, take a couple days to really monitor how you spend time on your phone. If you have an iPhone, the screen time function is a great way to get a snapshot of your usage, outlining how much time daily you spend on each of your phone apps and the web. Once you have this general overview, monitor how it is your time is being spent. Which apps are you mindlessly scrolling through and which are you actually engaging with? Which apps are you spending way more time on than you thought you were? What apps  necessitate a phone, and which can be used on a computer? Also, clock your moods; do you feel better or worse after scrolling through Instagram or watching videos on TikTok?

2. Begin with modest goals.

Now that you have a blueprint for how you spend time on your phone, start looking for the most obvious places you can being restricting your usage. If you’re like most people, this won’t be hard-- no one really needs to spend an hour a day on Instagram and Facebook, let alone two hours, the national average. The secret, though, is to start small. As in crash dieting, drastic and sudden restrictions often just set you up for failure. If you’re spending four hours a day on Instagram, for instance, try setting an initial goal of three hours a day. Setting doable goals and integrating them slowly and gradually will allow you space to actually begin unlearning bad habits while solidifying the new behaviors you’re adopting. Begin with an ultimate goal in mind, whether it’s spending less than two hours phone total during the day or cutting your Twitter usage by half. Double that goal time, and work towards that step to begin, integrating new, more restrictive goals every week to two weeks.

3. Let tech help you out.

For most of us fighting the lure of the cell phone screen, old fashioned will power is just not going to cut it. The good news is, it doesn’t have to. There are a ton of virtual tools out there designed to help you in your screen time journey, and a lot of them are great. The most cut-and-dry simply have you preselect how much time you want to spend on each app per day, or on your phone in general, and cuts you off after you’ve reached your limit. Apple and a variety of other third-party companies offer free or low-cost apps that do just this. If you’re looking for something a little less cut-and-dry, check out Flora, a free app which locks you out of your phone for twenty-five minutes at the tap of a button. During those twenty-five minutes the app grows a virtual tree, which will only bloom to fruition if you keep your hands off your phone for twenty-five minutes. Touch your phone before the twenty-five minutes and the tree will die, keeping you locked out of your phone. 

4. Rearrange your home screens.

This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s surprisingly effective. Indeed look at your home screen right now, and chances are your most-used apps are on the first or second page. Now try moving them to the last page, or creating a seperate folder. Just because they’re out of sight might not mean they’re out of mind, of course. However making it so you have to search for an app removes the muscle memory of simply opening it without thinking. This might just be the slight annoyance you need to put down the phone this time. 

5. Make your screen less pretty.

This is another simple trick, but again, surprisingly effective. Try it out quickly right now: simply go to your phone’s settings and set your screen to grayscale. It’s one tiny change, yet it completely transforms your phone. Without color, looking at your screen becomes a lot less interesting, your brain deprived of a ton of visceral stimulation. While this might not be the be-all end-all trick to conquering your phone usage, try choosing a day every week to set your phone to grayscale to cut down on your weekly screen hours. You’ll probably be surprised by how effective it is.

6. Set a “screens off” time and stick with it.

Spending an hour glued to your phone is never a great idea, but it can be especially damaging at night. Staring at a screen stimulates the brain, and doing so right before bed has been shown to lead to less and worse sleep. That hour or so right before bed is also a slippery slope when it comes to screen time--unwinding with a few minutes of social media at the end of the day is an easy way to suddenly lose an hour or so before you know it. Curb this reflex by setting a definitive time every night to sign off from your phone for the day. Preferably make it about an hour before you normally go to bed, leaving some time for offline relaxation before bed. Ease the transition by choosing a few activities that can take the place of your phone time, like reading a book or taking a bath. Charging your phone away from your bed also makes this a lot easier.

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