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4 ways to improve your life and productivity by reducing the screen time

With work, play, pleasure, and convenience all linked to our devices, its perils loom large. Qiraat Attar shares 4 tips to help detach from screen addiction

Having worked from home for over two years, your workstation has become your duty and your refuge. Boundaries are nearly non-existent – Your eyes are glued to the screen as you take calls from the kitchen, record notes in the shower, furiously read emails and respond to them at the dinner table. You think you’re doing great – can’t go wrong with hyper-presence and peak productivity, right? Wrong.

An Indian study revealed that for adults, screen time has increased to more than 60–80% from before the pandemic. Another study by UC San Francisco researchers found that 12- to 13-year-old US children doubled their non-school-related screen time to 7.7 hours a day in May 2020. These statistics are testament that we have become overly dependent on our devices, heralding insidious but devastating consequences.

How much time do you spend online? Take a guess and note it down.

Now, how much of this time is spent voluntarily? With the routine of a formal workplace snatched away, our tasks and our leisures have blended together. Instead of genuine relaxation, leisure has taken on the form of binge-watching TV shows, YouTube, and idle surfing. Additionally, social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, and even LinkedIn are proven time-killers. 

The Tipping Point

Spending long hours staring at a screen takes a toll on your eyes. It can cause ‘computer vision syndrome’, which causes retina damage and blurred vision. The blue-light-emanating- screens suppress the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, causing fitful sleep.

Thanks to our devices, all the sitting we do exacerbates the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. One study found that spending more than four hours a day sitting in front of a screen more than doubles your likelihood of dying or being hospitalized for heart disease — a risk that cannot be canceled out by exercise. 

Excess screen time skews your perspective, dismantling the creator in you to forge you into a relentless, unthinking consumer. An interesting documentary, Screenagers, by physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston revealed that the apps which have you glued to your screen can produce a drug-like effect. When parents abruptly take away the device from their child, meltdowns are common for teenagers. That’s because of intense addiction to dopamine, the ‘feel-good hormone’, part of the brain’s pleasure and reward circuits.

Overindulgence in your devices for both work or pleasure impacts you negatively in the long run. While working non-stop may cause burnout, a compulsion to binge without thought essentially leaves you as a bystander, forever watching the moving images of somebody else’s life rather than crafting your own.

Self-help gurus advise a ‘dopamine detox’ or ‘digital detox’, where they suggest to stop seeking to end boredom when it happens; instead, lean into it and let your creativity find a way out of it

Ditching The Screen

Our digital devices are deeply entrenched in our lives. To kick this compulsion, a few behavioral changes are necessary.

Boss knows best: Create an alter ego – your own ‘stern, no-nonsense boss’ avatar that wants to see you grow to your full potential. This boss decides a stipulated time for tasks and ensures you complete them within the duration. Line up a commitment to ensure you adhere to deadlines – if you are working on a task in the morning, set up a brunch date with a friend a couple of hours later instead of allowing the said task to spill over the entire day.

Return to joy: Once you notice your screen time reducing, fill the negative space by returning to your hobbies or picking up new ones. Choose hobbies that you can get involved in immersively – such as painting, learning a new sport, crafts, writing, or even something quirky like visiting new cafes in the town you’ve lived in forever. 

No FOMO: We live in a media-addled society. Every new piece of content or entertainment is touted as ‘pathbreaking’, ‘must-watch’, or ‘Oscar-worthy’. Well, it’s not. Learn to ignore the FOMO, which insists you have to be up-to-date with all the latest shows and movies or scroll social media relentlessly to stay with viral trends and hacks. These portals are vying for your precious time, so get picky about where you put it.

Get moving: Excessive screen time brings with it complimentary issues of poor posture, sedentary lifestyle, and near-constant lethargy. This leads to stiff joints and swift aging.

Forego excessive screen staring for simple and effective physical exercises – taking a walk, a short swim, or practicing yoga or meditation. If being without your phone or laptop is vastly unappealing to you, opt to watch energetic or upbeat music videos and dance to them or listen to a stimulating podcast when walking or running.

Screenagers, documentary by Delaney Ruston

Set Your Sights On A Better You

You will notice a marked improvement in your life as your dependence on your devices decreases. The lowered exposure to blue light will improve your eyesight and correct your sleep patterns.

Substituting this habit with healthier patterns of movement and activity can help you ditch the chronic lethargy, lose weight, have youthful skin and sharp posture. On a deeper level, not losing precious hours to binge-watching or mindless social media surfing opens up hours of your day to inculcate better habits or devote time for the things you always felt you had no time for.

Real-Life Beckons

The truth is – real life is pretty mundane. It becomes exciting when you make it so. That is why humans are wired to respond to dopamine – you seek absolute pleasure, happiness, and achievement, for which your neurobiology rewards you with dopamine, indicating to your innate biology that it is fun to try new things.

With artificially-induced dopamine constantly flooding your system owing to screen addiction, no achievement will feel rewarding enough, no new experience fulfilling enough. Essentially, all the daily habits and excursions designed to make the human experience a crazy joyride seem ‘meh’. This is why productivity and self-help gurus advise a ‘dopamine detox’ or ‘digital detox’, where they suggest to stop seeking to end boredom when it happens; instead, lean into it and let your creativity find a way out of it.

We have a limited 24 hours a day, and those are to be divided between the things that are essential and the things that give us true joy. Turn off your phone or system and step into the real world; for real joy isn’t meant to be two-dimensional.

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