If you work from home, you probably already know how easy it is to spend scary amounts of time in front of a screen. You simply don’t get those natural breaks that are part and parcel of working in an office – like commuting, coffee break chats, in-person meetings and lunch breaks with colleagues.
Instead, everything from collaboration to socializing happens in the virtual space – the frequency of video conferences in Covid-19 lockdown alone has absolutely skyrocketed, and we're now spending one-quarter of our day online, according to communications regulators. But too much screen time can lead to increased physical and psychological exhaustion, as well as eye strain and muscle fatigue. So how can we stay mindful when we’re working from home?
If you want to limit your screen time, you first need to know where it’s going. Being able to see where your digital time is going allows you to become more intentional about how you use your devices. App usage trackers provide an illuminating picture of where your time’s going, and which work and social apps are your biggest time drains – and once you have that information, you can start making better digital decisions. From trackers like Timely, that run in the background recording what you’re doing across all your devices, to specific apps for your phone like Moments and Screen Time, there are dozens of great app usage trackers available. Have a look at some of our favorites here.
For most of us, our work necessitates being in front of a screen for large amounts of the day – but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to make it healthier. For example, email is one task that does require looking at a screen, but with a bit of smart planning you can ensure you bookend it with activities that don’t involve a screen at all. You could schedule email communication for first thing in the morning, after you’ve had your breakfast (which hopefully wasn’t eaten in front of a screen!) After, you could do some brainstorming for a project by hand, draw up a to-do list in a notepad, or, depending on how long your emails took, decide to take a break and go for a walk. With a bit of planning there’s no need to spend hours on end in front of a screen with no break.
Stepping away from your screen regularly is important for both your mental and physical health. When you’re working from home it’s easy to find yourself working continuously for long periods of time, so be proactive and schedule ‘detox breaks’, where you move away from your screen. After a video conference, get up and invest in a quality break. Make it a rule to never, ever eat lunch at your desk – try reading a book while eating, or listening to music or a podcast. Schedule a quick walk or run for mid-morning or mid-afternoon – or whenever you feel like you need a break. Whatever you do, just comit to moving away from your screen and doing something different.
No matter how good your intentions are, it can be hard to resist the pull of a vibrating, flashing phone, or to ignore the ping of a new email. Make things easier for yourself by creating strict rules for how you use tech. Once you’ve finished work, make sure you mute your email and any work apps like Slack. If you’re watching a film or eating dinner, or simply trying to enjoy some relaxation time, switch your phone to “do not disturb” mode – and then go one better and put it in another room. Consider putting your phone on airplane mode once you’re preparing to go to bed – and then don’t turn that off until you’re ready to receive emails, calls and messages the next day. Protect your personal time, and remember you’re in control of your devices – not the other way around.
Just because we live in a digital age doesn’t mean everything we do has to be digitally focused. If you enjoy reading, a big way to reduce screen time is to stop reading on your devices – always buy “real” books, and if you like a certain magazine or newspaper, consider subscribing to it instead of reading online articles. Try exercising more, whether it’s going for a run or doing a hiit session in your living room. Buy some cookery books and spend more time experimenting in the kitchen. Even with work, you can find ways to limit use of your devices – and making notes and planning by hand is often more effective anyway. There’s still a whole world out there away from our phones and laptops.