How to Manage Screen Time When Your Work Is Online

We all know too much screen time is bad for us, but what if your job requires long and intensive screen usage?

It’s difficult, because most of us are aware of the health issues of too much screen time: the impact on our mental health, our physical health and of course our vision. It disrupts our sleep, our ability to concentrate and increases our risk of chronic disease due to lack of physical movement.

Yet often our work is online, our friends are online, and increasingly our leisure time is online. Even exercise is often through an online class.

It is become harder since the pandemic, when so many of us switched to working from home. Even with breaks, it has become easy and normal to be on screens for 12 or more hours a day. Studies show that on average, use of digital devices increased by five hours a day for adults, an increase of 60-80 per cent.

So what can we do about it?

The answer is to develop healthy digital habits, says Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD and author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.

1. First, measure.

Dodgem-Magee recommends first documenting how you are spending your time. Apps are designed to be addictive, and it can be extremely difficult to pull yourself away from a device and extremely easy to scroll absent-mindedly.

Track every 15 minutes for a few days. Note down what you are doing and what device you are doing it on. It seems like a lot of work, but it will save you hours in the long run.

2. Do what you need to do and get out.

It is tempting to reward yourself for completing a task by allowing yet more screen time. Make sure the breaks you take and rewards you give yourself are off-screen.

3. Take breaks.

A five-minute break every 25 minutes is a good guide, with at least two longer breaks every day. And as above, move away from that screen to take your break. Get up and move your body, even if it is just rolling your shoulders or walking around a bit.

4. Create screen free zones.

When working from home, Dodgen-Magee recommends having zones in your homes where tech is not allowed. This could be the bedroom or the bathroom, for example, or the kitchen. You can then carry this through to after work hours, to give yourself time away from screens in the evening.