De-Cluttering Your Time: 3 Keys to Reducing Screen-Time

Last week I said I wanted to reduce the amount of time I spent on social media–essentially de-clutter my time just like I’m trying to de-clutter my space. The hope was that I could make more time for doing things I really enjoy, especially woodworking.

One idea is to quit social media cold-turkey. And there are days I’m tempted to just delete the apps from my phone. If I felt like I really couldn’t control my social media use any other way, this would be the best option. I’ve already stopped posting to Instagram, for example, mainly because I don’t find that the platform lends itself to the kinds of interactions I enjoy. It’s a platform that thrives on constant self-promotion, which I am not into. But I’m still on Facebook, not only because that’s where all the wedding/birth/death announcements are these days, but also because that’s where I interact with people who buy my spoons and pipes.

And it’s not just social media that sucks up my time. I can easily burn an hour reading articles that come across my news aggregator app. I also use my phone to check the weather, check e-mail, listen to podcasts and audio books, and even look up words in my dictionary app. I don’t necessarily want to do less of all these things, but I also don’t want my phone taking up large blocks of my attention when I could (or should) be doing other things.

Of course, if you want to spend less time on your phone, someone will quickly tell you “There’s an app for that!” Well, much as I enjoy the irony of applying a technological solution to a problem caused (or at least instigated) by the technology in the first place, I’m inclined toward lower-tech solutions.

After considering the matter over the past couple weeks and doing a few little experiments on my own behavior and thought-processes, here are three ways I’ve found to reduce the amount of time I waste on my phone:

  1. Leave it out of reach. If my phone is in my hand, in my pocket, or right next to me, it’s all too easy to pick it up in a thoughtless moment of boredom and immediately become engrossed in it. But if I have to take just one extra step (literally) to pick up my phone, it gives me time to think about why I’m actually reaching for it. So I’ve taken to leaving it on a shelf just out of normal reach. I know it’s there, and I can hear it ring if I really need it. But I’m far less likely to pick it up thoughtlessly if I have to actually get up and reach for it when I want it.
  2. Ask myself “Why?” While I’m walking over to pick up my phone, I can ask myself why I’m actually reaching for it. Am I bored or anxious and wanting distraction? Or do I actually intend to do something meaningful when I pick up my phone? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has picked up his phone with every intention of, say, making a necessary phone call, but mindlessly tapped a social media app instead–and then realized an hour later that he still hasn’t made that call. But if I keep my goal in mind, I’m less likely to get sidetracked.
  3. Keep alternatives available. One of the reasons I do reach for my phone a lot is that I’m a “compulsive reader”(in my mom’s words). I love becoming engrossed in reading material, and often when I’m scrolling Facebook I’m really just looking for something interesting to read. (I do have a lot of Facebook friends who post interesting articles, so it’s not always a fool’s errand.) So I’ve started leaving more books and even magazines around the house in strategic locations–places where I’m likely to be when I want to reach for my phone.

I’m told that one of the keys to beating a bad habit is to replace it with a good habit, so I’m focusing the most on this last one. When I want to reach for my phone, I am trying to think of not just one but three alternatives. Instead of scrolling Facebook or my news app, could I…

  • Read something on paper?
  • Find someone to interact with in person (especially one of my kids)?
  • Do a small task, like putting something away or cleaning something?

And if the answer to all of those is “no,” then maybe this really is a good time for social media.

Admittedly, reducing my social media time is proving much more difficult in practice than in theory. I still find myself scrolling on my phone and then realize, “Wait, I was going to not do this so much!” But the days I have intentionally followed through on my plan have been more enjoyable than the others, and that gives me hope.

It also gives me a bit more time for woodworking, and I’m now in the middle of a fun project that I hope to chronicle here soon. So if you’ve been wondering what happened to all the woodworking content, it should be back in the next couple weeks.

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