Laptops, cellphones, television, video games, movies, iPads, and tablets. Nowadays there is no end to the amount of visual distractions we face on a daily basis.
While all of these technologies can greatly augment our lives, there is still a principle of moderation that we should consider at all times.
This is why I find it important to actively seek out ways to increase your “off screen” time. This is especially relevant if your job includes a lot of screen time, or you tend to spend the majority of your free time looking at devices in one form or another.
If this applies to you, then it may be a good idea to search for new opportunities to get away from those pixelated screens every now and then.
While all of the activities mentioned in this article are healthy and productive in their own ways, for the purposes of this article I see them as valuable reasons to just get away from screens, even if it’s just a short break.
Very few people seem to enjoy cleaning and I’m no different in this regard (especially as a guy). However, one thing I’m beginning to enjoy about cleaning is that it’s a good way to step away from screens.
Just a simple 10-15 minute break gives me an opportunity to stand up, move around a little bit, adjust my eyes, and accomplish a small goal, even if it’s just folding my laundry or putting away the dishes.
Earlier this year I published an article about my tidying marathon, and while I haven’t done another one since then, it did help me appreciate the physical and mental benefits of living in a cleaner environment.
Another thing is that cleaning can also be an interesting opportunity to exercise mindfulness. Unlike a lot of screen time, cleaning can often bring us more “into the moment,” especially when we do it without visual (or audio) distractions. I’ve touched on this in the past in my article 3 everyday tasks to apply mindfulness to.
Another common habit that I’ve been notoriously bad at in the past, but at least it provides me with an opportunity to step away from screens, is exercise.
If I find myself getting too distracted or frustrated with something on my computer, I’ll just step away for a moment and do some physical movement: do some push ups or pull ups, go for a walk, or ride my bike somewhere.
It’s usually not a full workout, but it’s something – and that’s better than nothing.
When I started to adopt an “everything counts” mindset to exercise, it gave me permission to do little things and not always feel like I have to go “all out” in order for something to make a difference. And it has.
Now that I see the value in small amounts of exercise, its given me another good opportunity to step away from screens throughout my day.
Unlike cleaning and exercise, reading is one healthy and productive “off screen” habit that has always come naturally to me.
Back in my high school days, I’d read the paper every morning (even if it was mostly the sports section). And ever since I started college, I would go to the library on a weekly basis to search for new books to check out (mostly non fiction, science and philosophy stuff).
A lot of people seem to stop most of their reading after they finish school (whether it’s fiction or non fiction), and I believe this is to their own detriment.
Fortunately for me, I’ve always enjoyed staying updated on various things in the world and learning new things, so it was very easy for me to keep my reading habit going once I graduated and stopped taking formal classes.
This year especially there has been a large uptick in my reading. You’ve probably noticed the many psychology and self improvement books I’ve reviewed this year. If you’re looking for new reading material, check out my recommended psychology books here.
One key difference between screen time and “off screen” time is how we interact with other people.
We can often get small doses of social interaction on Facebook, Twitter, text messages, or email, but it’s not the same as real world face time with other people.
One recent study shows how sixth graders who spent 5 days without smartphones, televisions, or other digital screens performed better at reading human emotions than those who didn’t. It’s reasonable to suspect that too much screen time can make us socially handicapped in a variety of ways.
When I’m out at a bar, or restaurant, or party, I always try to make it a point to not look at my cellphone too much. I do plenty of that throughout the day, so this is an opportunity to get away from it for a little while.
For starters, looking at your phone during social interactions is extremely rude. It makes the other person feel like you’re not fully paying attention to them or that you don’t find them interesting. And for the most part, it inhibits you from making the most of your conversations.
When you’re talking with others, you should see it as an opportunity to keep the digital screens in your pocket and focus more on what’s happening right in front of you.
So if you’re at work and you need to take a short 5-10 minute break from your computer, getting up and searching for a little small talk can sometimes be a really smart way to refresh your brain.
Are we scared of reflection? Some people wonder if all of this technology and screen time is just an elaborate way to avoid having to be with our own thoughts and emotions.
If I’m sitting and waiting somewhere or I’m just bored, there’s always a strong temptation to look at my phone, check my Facebook, or read my emails. But why can’t I just be more comfortable not needing to feed myself constant stimuli all of the time?
When I get the chance, sometimes I prefer to just sit in my backyard and think about stuff. It doesn’t have to be thinking about anything in particular – my own personal problems, philosophical questions, or recent events – it’s just the opportunity to “sit and think” that I find enjoyable and healthy.
In many ways, we’ve lost the art of reflection due to all of these distractions. Young people grow up these days and they don’t see the point in just sitting and “doing nothing.” They are addicted to stimuli – and without this stimulation they quickly grow bored and restless.
But it’s important to become comfortable with reflection and meditation every now and then. This is your own mind, after all, and you shouldn’t be afraid of spending time with it.
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