7 ways to reduce or limit your screen time

We have been looking at our screens a lot over the past year, for reasons we don’t need to get into here.

If you want to rein in the hours you spend looking at screens, whether on your phone, desktop, or gaming device, here are seven things you can do to start limiting your screen time.

  1. Track and measure your screen time
  2. Set a screen limit or use a timer
  3. Turn off notifications
  4. Go grayscale
  5. Delete (or hide) time-sinking apps on your phone
  6. Pursue offline activities
  7. Create phone- and device-free spaces

A good starting point is seeing how much time you actually spend staring at screens, both during and after work, as most people tend to underestimate how much time they spend looking at their screens.

iOS, Mac, and Android have built-in screen-time functions—namely Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing—that allow you to see how much time you spend on which type of apps you spend most of your time on.

If you’re using Windows or Linux, there are several apps you can use such as ActivityWatch, which is an open-source alternative to other time-tracking apps.

Once you’re monitoring how much screen time you’re clocking, especially if it’s comparing your screen time every week, you might be surprised to see just how much time you spend on your devices.

If you’re seeing on your time-measuring apps that you’re clocking over ten hours a day on your personal devices, it might be time to consider putting a limit on how much time you spend on your apps.

Apple’s Screen Time gives you the option to limit time on your biggest time sinks, which may most likely be social media apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. On both Mac and iOS devices, a screen will show up after you exceed your time limit to say you’ve used up your screen time but will allow you to extend your time by 15 minutes or ignore it altogether.

Google’s Digital Wellbeing app on Android is less lenient, locking your app as soon as you pass the limit, which you can only unlock if you disable the timer entirely. Linux users can try using elementaryOS, which includes a feature to limit time spent on particular apps, and Microsoft Windows has introduced Parental Controls, which you can set screen limits to.

It can be hard to focus when your phone is constantly buzzing with notifications from messaging apps and social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Aside from turning on Do Not Disturb or Focus Assist to mute notifications in general, you can change your settings to select which apps you want to get notifications from, as well as how long they stay on the screen.

Both iOS and Android allow you to turn your phone’s display to grayscale, which is said to help you make your device less attractive to look at, thereby helping you stay off it.

To do this on iOS and Apple devices, go to Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters. Here you can toggle the switch to enable the Grayscale option.

Android users can also turn on grayscale by going into the Digital Wellbeing app and enabling Wind Down. There you can turn Grayscale on immediately or schedule it for later. On Windows you can simply switch the grayscale by hitting CTRL + Windows Key + C, and on Linux you  can try installing Desaturate All to achieve a duller interface.

If limiting the time on your apps isn’t working for you, consider hiding your most addictive apps on another screen or in a folder, or deleting the apps altogether. Deleting social media apps on your phone while keeping access to them on your computer could be a good compromise. Hiding your apps so they’re not easily visible on your home screen could also keep the app out of sight and out of mind—although deleting Facebook also has its benefits.

We know it’s hard to take a break from our screens, but cutting out time to do something offline can give your eyes some much-needed rest. Stepping outside for a quick walk or working on a new hobby can be just as entertaining as Fortnite on your phone, or at least an alternative to scrolling through infinite streams of photos and posts.

Read more: What to do when our devices get a little too distracting

In combination with spending more time offline, creating phone-free or device-free spaces could help wean you off your screens. Putting your phone on silent and then tossing it to the other side of the room (or another room entirely) can help you focus on your work without notifications or other mobile distractions.

This works well when you’re winding down for sleep, too—keeping devices out of the bedroom can reduce the amount of blue light you’re seeing at night and get you a better night’s shut-eye.

Every step counts

It’s hard to go completely cold turkey from the start, so don’t worry about starting small. You  could start by deleting a couple social apps for a week or simply taking a closer look at how much time you spend on each of your apps. Experiment with the different tips above and see what works best for you.

Read more: How to declutter the apps on your phone

Have you tried controlling your screen time? Let us know in the comments!

Jamie writes about current issues concerning digital privacy and security and is known to interview leading figures in tech. He also keeps an eye on changes in government censorship and surveillance.