5 Ways to Avoid Mindless Screen Time

Maybe you can relate: It’s late at night, but instead of going to sleep, I’m on my phone, scrolling, scrolling, endlessly scrolling. Blog post after blog post streams by as personal narratives, opinion pieces, and book reviews all blur together.

Blogs might not be your weakness – maybe it’s Instagram or a particular video game – but I bet you’ve had that experience of looking up from your device only to realize hours have passed, you can’t quite remember what you’ve been looking at, and you have a sneaking suspicion it wasn’t worth all that time.

I’m not bashing technology, per se. It’s a great blessing in a lot of ways, especially for keeping in touch with people while social distancing. What I’m concerned about is spending time on my phone aimlessly, without a good reason for it.

RELATED: Why Boredom Is Exactly What You Need

There’s no shortage of articles about reducing your time on the internet, but they don’t usually address the root causes behind why people waste time this way. Because of that, their advice can be too general to help. So here’s a list of some reasons why I personally fall prey to mindless screen time, and how I’m trying to work through bad habits.

I’m too wound up.

Sometimes, my mind just gets too full of thoughts/plans/to-do lists, and I need something I don’t have to think about. Social media offers a tempting combination of new material to distract my brain, but nothing that’s too thought-intensive. Sometimes this kind of distraction can help me settle down, but I’d rather find other solutions to the “too many thoughts” problem.

If the situation allows, lying down can help, whether I just rest for a little bit or go for a full-on nap. I’ve also found that digging out an old, familiar book can help. It’s got that same combination of giving me something to focus on without requiring any heavy-duty thinking. Plus, nostalgic memories of reading the book as a kid are soothing in themselves.

I’m bored.

Sometimes, I’ve got the opposite problem. I can’t think of anything to do, and the internet is full of undiscovered things. It’s just not true, though, that there’s really nothing for me to do offline.  Thinking through what I really, truly enjoy doing helps me with this one. Do I really like spending hours online? No, not really. What do I really like? Reading, for starters – and oh look, there’s that book I started a week ago. I could do that instead. You get the picture.

And if you really can’t think of something? Well, we all have those projects that we say we’ll get to “someday.” Maybe it’s a knitting pattern, or organizing your closet. See if you can take the first step on any of those “someday” projects.

I’m distracting myself from stressful thoughts.

Please tell me someone else can relate here? This is the one that’s been most applicable lately, with all the COVID-19-related uncertainty. The best response I’ve found has been just facing the tension directly: Acknowledging I’m stressed and don’t have an immediate answer. Praying and reading Scripture, especially passages that focus on not worrying, can be helpful. And if I’m going to combat stress with technology, I’d much rather use my phone to call somebody. Simply hearing a loved one’s voice and getting some human interaction goes a long way towards making stressful situations feel more manageable.  

I’m procrastinating on something.

In college, this usually meant homework; nowadays, it can be housecleaning, cooking myself a meal instead of ordering out, balancing the checkbook, or any number of other chores. Like with stressful thoughts, the best antidote I’ve found is just facing the problem. This often means taking the first step toward what I’m avoiding.

For example, I don’t always feel like doing dishes after dinner, but if I make myself get up and just move my empty plate to the sink, suddenly rinsing it off and getting it in the dishwasher doesn’t seem like that much more work. And then there’s always bribery. I find chocolate a highly effective motivator, but you know what works for you. Try promising yourself an extra amount once you finish your task.

I feel overwhelmed by work and I just want some free time.

If you need a break, online activities are especially appealing because they seem like they won’t take long. “I’ll just check Instagram real quick,” you say…and then you realize that you’ve spent half an hour scrolling down your favorite coffee shop’s profile. It’s better to decide upfront that you’re going to take a proper break. Allow yourself a decent chunk of time off, between 20 to 40 minutes if you can, then commit to two things in your mind. 1: You don’t have to be productive in any way, shape, or form during that time. 2: When it’s over, you’ll start back to work promptly (this keeps your break from turning into procrastination).

For me, mindless screen time is most tempting when I want a break but don’t want to admit I’m taking one. Recognizing why I reach for my phone helped me figure out a way to manage my time, and ultimately giving myself permission to have free time means I actually feel freer to do something off-screen.

Originally published on January 12, 2021.

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