Screen time management

10 Sep 2018

Screen time is the amount of time spent on digital devices and media for fun.

The difference between screen time, as we have defined it here, and what most people think of as screen time is that last word: fun. Most adults reading this might find it difficult to calculate how much time they use looking at screens due to their work, which can easily take up 9 hours of each day if you have an office job. However, screen time use is calculated based on the time spent on digital devices for recreational purposes (and you would really have to love your job to consider it recreational!) such as watching a movie at the cinema, playing a game on your phone on the MRT, or messaging in family group chats on WhatsApp.

You might point out that you use WhatsApp for work as well, and it can be difficult to draw the line between a short text to a colleague and a response to a friend in the same minute. However, in calculating your screen time use, it is better to be broader in scope, accounting for as much as possible. Where screen time management is concerned, it is better to be safe than sorry.

How much screen time is too much?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to screen time, as it varies from person to person. It is important to stay aware of how much time you’re spending online, and the impact this has on both your work life – making sure that your work is not suffering – and your social life – making sure that your relationships with your friends and family are not being impacted. If any of these areas are being affected, then you probably need to cut back on how much time you spend online.

What are the effects of too much screen time?

  • Headaches
  • Eye strain
  • Back or other muscle pains from staying in one position for a long time
  • Being unable to sleep restfully every night
  • Constantly talking about something from your online life, such as a game or website
  • Thinking that your online activities and friends are more important than anything else
  • Disconnecting from the ‘real world’ and losing touch with your friends and family
  • Work suffering, e.g., constantly being late to work, missing deadlines, submitting work with many errors
  • Internet/game addiction

This does not mean there are no benefits to having screen time. There are websites, games, and apps that can help players meditate, gain literary skills, test their problem-solving skills, and more. However, the key is to find a good balance between your online and offline lives and practice good self-control.

What can I do to reduce my screen time use?

  • Be aware of how much time you spend on your phone: apps like Quality Time, Moment or RescueTime can help you track your online usage – not only might the numbers shock you into cutting down your time online, but the app lets you set daily limits on yourself with notifications if you go over them
  • Use an app to help: besides Moment, there are apps like Forest, Hold, and Mute that actively encourage you to cut down on how often you use their phone by rewarding you (either with virtual or real-world rewards)
  • Lock your phone with a long password: this might seem unusual, but if your password is 15 numbers in a random combination, it will take you an extra two seconds to even turn on your phone, in which time you might change your mind about using it
  • Keep yourself busy with other activities that do not rely on digital devices, such as active sports, playing a musical instrument, or reading a book (just not on your Kindle)
  • Put it away at home: as soon as you come home, have a part of your home – like the charging dock or on a high self – where you can put your phone or tablet so as not to use it for the rest of the day
  • Have specific times of day where you, and your family members, put down your devices, such as meal time or for an hour before bed 

I work all day looking at a screen. Is there anything I can to reduce my screen time use?

Looking at a screen all day can be tiring, and it often feels like our post-work lives are also inundated with screens – watching movies at the cinema, or Netflix at home, or messaging our friends (and bosses). But even within the workplace, there are small steps you can take to try to reduce your screen time!

  • Take breaks from your screen even during work: just like we learned in primary school, try to look at some ‘green’ every half an hour or hour – your eyes will thank you for it
  • Minimise your screen time where possible: if you can, use a notebook instead of an iPad or laptop at meetings, or take a walk around the workplace during your short breaks instead of checking Facebook
  • Don’t turn to your phone over lunch: although the urge to compulsively check social media or check in with your family is strong, curb this habit and instead spend time talking to your friends or colleagues or yourself – have a walk, read a book, shop at the closest mall, you alone have options too
  • Do something else while travelling: if you take public transport to and from your workplace, try not to use your phone to occupy yourself – try a real book or Sudoku puzzle set