Our ApproachAbout UsBlog

Time on your devices: How much is too much? The digital balancing act.

Technology isn’t good or bad by nature. It’s just a tool, however powerful. And like all tools, it can hurt or help. How we choose to use it is what makes the difference.

And first, we interrupt this blog post for a brief disclaimer: We know, we know. An app giving tips on how to not use your device? The irony isn’t lost on us. But when it comes to your mental wellbeing, we care. And an important piece of that puzzle in today’s digital-first lifestyle is putting reasonable limits on our screen time.

81% of Americans and 85% of UK residents own or have access to a smartphone. Worldwide, people spend over 2 hours daily using the internet on their phones.

So it’s pretty safe to say these devices play a huge role in most of our lives. We carry them with us wherever we go. They keep us up to date on developments in the world and help us to stay connected with colleagues, friends and family.

We pick them up whenever they ping at us and interact with them for all sorts of activities, from building virtual cartoon farms to learning science-based techniques to work on our mental wellbeing.

Our phones are such a big part of our daily life that many of us feel lost (and let’s face it, a little bit panicked) when they’re out of reach for any amount of time.

So are smartphones good or bad for us?

Our smartphones can be a source of support, helping us deal with our day-to-day, but they can also distract and distress us.

According to data collected in Deloitte’s 2019 Consumer Survey, about ⅓ of phone users check their phones in the middle of the night, and just over ½ of them look at their phones within 15 minutes of waking. A whopping 79% pick up their phones to swipe and scroll within an hour of going to sleep.

But is this really a problem?

It depends. 38% of the users of all ages surveyed by Deloitte felt they used their phones too much. And studies show that having your smartphone within reach, even when it’s off, slightly lessens your cognitive capacities.

But our devices can also help us manage our personal and professional calendars more efficiently, build and maintain healthy routines more easily, and keep us abreast of world events.

And due to current events, our phones have become a key element of staying in touch with friends and family far and wide, even during so-called "social-distancing" (which might more accurately be referred to as "physical distancing"). Studies also show that time spent socializing online can reduce loneliness and increase wellbeing.

Partially blurred out people sit in a line consulting their phones.

@robin_rednine via Unsplash

So what can we do to make sure our phones play a positive role in our daily lives?

Because smartphones are on us all the time notifying us of text messages, current events, emails and other alerts, it’s easy to form unhealthy attachments. We lean on them in times of stress—looking for distractions or a mental escape from normal life—as well as during celebratory moments in our lives where we want to share our excitement with the world.

Understanding the why behind our attachment to our phones helps us to be more mindful of how and why we interact with them and allows us to make more deliberate decisions towards balancing our usage.

While it may not always feel like it, you’re in control. When it comes to how, when and how much you use technology, you decide. Below we’ve included some practical steps you can take to curb your smartphone usage.

1. Have phone-free zones.

If you’re working or living with others, agree on no-phone spaces, and put your phones away together in solidarity when you’re sharing those areas.

2. Treat yourself.

When you refrain from using your phone for a preset amount of time reward yourself (with something other than phone time).

3. Accept substitutes.

Switch out that time on your phone for time spent doing something you love (reading, playing an instrument, painting...etc).

4. Schedule your use.

Limit non-essential phone use to specific times of the day—i.e. At lunchtime or during your morning break—and consider limiting yourself to opening certain apps, too.

5. Put your own tasks first.

Answer messages or emails later in the day so that you can focus on more important responsibilities first thing.

6. Spread the word.

Tell everyone that you’re limiting your screen time (share when you’re available to answer messages and emails if you’d like) so they won’t expect you to reply around the clock.

7. Turn off notifications.

Not all alerts are useful. Think twice about which apps you let interrupt your life.

8. Switch to silent mode.

If there are people or organizations you want to be able to get through no matter the hour, list them as approved numbers to ring through.

9. Unfollow, unsubscribe and mute.

Don’t waste your time and limited attention on newsfeeds, newsletters, emails, channels, connections or group messages that don’t add significant value to your day-to-day.

10. Get mindful.

Journal about why you might be checking your phone more often than you would like or do a daily meditation or deep breathing exercise to bring your focus back to the present moment.

So where does this leave us?

With all that’s going on in the world right now, keep in mind that being kind to yourself and refraining from judgment is crucially important to your mental wellbeing.

While our phones can contribute to negative thoughts and feelings and lower our productivity, they’re also a great resource for accessing information, managing time and tasks and connecting with others.

In the end, the key isn’t refraining from technology altogether, it’s finding a healthy balance for you and your lifestyle.

Do you feel like you’re on your devices too much? What are you doing to balance your use? Let us know at foundations@koahealth.com.