I Decreased My Screen Time by 64%—Here's What I Did IRL Instead
I'll openly admit that upon receiving my very first, very scary report, I was immediately tempted to turn off Screen Time—a still new(ish) feature of Apple's iOS12—forever. Even knowing the feature was designed with the best intentions—like increased productivity and digital awareness—the über-detailed report felt like a personal attack on my character—and my dependency on Google Maps. In fact, while madly flicking through the number of times I picked up my phone (yes, it tracks this too) and how many hours I cumulatively spent stalking people on Instagram and curating '90s hip-hop playlists on Spotify, I felt rather defensive. It was as if all of a sudden my beloved, trusted phone with whom (yes, a subjective pronoun feels pretty applicable here) I place all my trust, favorite gifs, and deep dark secrets to had turned against me. And then it hit me—that was entirely the problem.
Instead of laughing face to face with my friends, perusing my favorite stores in L.A., making a homecooked recipe, putting an old-school record on, etc., I was pouring (or should I say tapping) all my energy and interest into a device the size of my hand—with pretty much zilch IRL benefits. Was I actually cooking the yummy meals I double-tapped or feeling any type of reward from back-and-forth texting banter with friends? Uh, not really. Immediately, I started making excuses. It's fine! You're a beauty editor! It's your job to constantly scroll through social media, respond to emails, and make it rain for Uber and Lyft. Except, um, it isn't. Or, at least not to the extent of roughly four to five hours per day. (Which, ahem, seamlessly aligns with the average time most people spend staring at their phone.)
According to Screen Time, I spend the majority of my digital day on Instagram, with an hour and a half daily average, and a nine and a half weekly average. Next comes messaging, with a daily average of 36 minutes, then Safari, then Maps, then Gmail, then calculator(?!), and then Spotify. Of course, I love diving into an Instagram hole just as much as the next person, but why was I scrolling while working out, watching Netflix, talking to friends, or instead of reading a book before bed? No, but seriously—why though? Perhaps even more disturbing were the texting habits I began to notice, e.g., sending novel-length texts to my family when I could simply call, or messaging my friend-roommate-co-worker Amanda Montell, when she's sitting on the other side of the wall from me in her bedroom. Odd? I think yes.
After a spell of feeling supremely burnt out, exhausted, and overstimulated by work, life, and my apparent digital device abuse, I decided it was time for a screen detox, which niftily coincided with this month's Digital Wellness theme. It also handily coincided with a five-day trip to Arizona in which I'd be officially OOO (not simply working remotely) and spending time relaxing with my family. So before heading out of LAX and turning my phone to airplane mode, I promised myself that from thereon, I'd decrease my screentime in every way possible until my return to L.A. Turns out, I was a helluva lot more productive in my five days off the grid than I was in L.A. feeling stressed and strapped to my phone—not surprising when I checked my phone and saw that I had slashed my accrued screen time by about 64%.
Obviously, I learned a lot from my experiment and plan on continuing to keep up the comparatively screen-less momentum as much as possible now that I'm back in L.A.—especially since realizing most of my time on my phone wasn't actually related in any way to my job duties. Ahead, five spirit-lifting, stress-busting things I filled my time with, in lieu of saving, liking, sending, posting, scrolling, and all other phone-related habits likely to give me carpal tunnel by age 45. Keep scrolling!
I Actually Slept
I've had on-and-off issues with insomnia for years, but the problem had reached an almost intolerable peak over the past few months leading up to my digital detox. Despite abiding by all other aspects of good sleep hygiene, (e.g., wearing blue light glasses, taking melatonin, dimming my lights, sipping tea, etc.), no matter how exhausted I felt mentally and physically, I just could not fall asleep at night. And because, you know, sleep is a biological need, and I couldn't just not sleep, I became reliant on taking sleeping pills a few times a week in an effort to just get some kind of shut-eye. That said, it wasn't a practice I felt good about, and in no way did I want to become dependent on something like a pill to help me fall asleep.
Interestingly, however, I had zero problems falling asleep when I arrived in Arizona. When I'm in L.A., I spend up to 10 to 12 hours per day in front of my computer writing, researching, and answering emails, and then the time spent on top of that obsessively looking at my phone only exacerbates matters. Of course, being on vacation and not in front of my computer certainly played a role in my improved sleep, but I also made sure to keep my phone in a different room at almost all times in an effort to avoid looking at it out of knee-jerk boredom. I'm the worst at staring at my phone before bed (a known sleep disruptor), so I paid special heed not to bring it into my bedroom before hitting the sheets. I naturally wake up at the crack of dawn on the dot every single morning—a blessing and a curse—so my old excuse of needing my phone alarm bedside was utter bologna.
I Read. A Lot.
Reading has and always will be one of my favorite pastimes. That said, unless I'm on vacation, I rarely do it anymore. Sure, I keep a healthy reading list that could keep me occupied for the rest of my life, but instead, I find myself reaching for my laptop or phone in the spare minutes of my day, instead of picking up a patiently waiting paperback. I often blame the fact that I read and write all day for work, so the last thing I want to do at night is read more, but again, that's honestly utter bologna. Falling into a storyline that's unrelated to my life in any way and bound to a physical book—and not a screen—is entirely different.
While on my five-day vacation, I not only read two full books, I drove myself to the bookstore, meandered for a good couple hours (another one my all-time favorite pastimes I've almost completely abandoned thanks to the convenience of Amazon), and physically selected said two books with the goal of reading both before I boarded my plane back to L.A. I succeeded (easily, I might add) and didn't have any of the mental exhaustion, brain fog, or anxiety I'm used to experiencing after reading my screens, scrolling, or bingeing Netflix. Note to self: Read more books.
I Cooked Some Meals
I love to cook and used to all the time in high school and college. When I have the time and energy, nothing is more calming or fun to me than choosing a recipe, shopping for ingredients, preparing it, and then enjoying it with friends or families. However, in the past few years, I've spent a heck of a lot more time pinning, saving, and taking screenshots of recipes and prepared meals than I have actually making them. Instead, using life's hecticness as my forever excuse, I've become reliant on food-delivering apps, pre-made meals at the grocery store, or other food delivery services. Oh, and all the office snacks.
Since I didn't have anything better to do while at home in Arizona, and since my parents keep a well-stocked kitchen, I got creative. Keeping my phone in my room and using my very own cooking skills (because yes, I do have them!) and using some saved meal ideas as reference, I home-cooked almost all my meals—for myself and my parents both. Not only was the process entirely soul-soothing, but I also just felt healthier eating something I had thrown together entirely by scratch. Plus, having leftovers is never a bad thing.
I Became Less Directionally Challenged
I've gotten into a really bad habit of becoming overly depended on Google Maps to the point of just automatically turning it on and stamping in my destination when it's entirely unnecessary. You know, in the off chance I'll end up in the middle of the desert en route to Starbucks. (Okay, so this is actually a feasible outcome in the barren abyss of Tucson, but you get my point.)
Even though I'm less familiar with my parent's hood in Arizona (I grew up in Minnesota, and they only retired to the Tucson area a few years ago), I've most definitely visited enough times to know my way around. And, yes, to safely get myself to and from Starbucks in one highly caffeinated piece. Since, to a certain degree, I know my way around L.A. better, or at least my typical haunts, I'm going to try to keep the pattern up and become more aware of how, exactly, I'm getting to where I need to go and less aware of what playlist I'm listening to or what I need to do once I land at work.
I Upped My Self-Care
Even though I write about painting nails, working out, and applying hair and face masks for a living, I'm not always the best about practicing what I preach in the realm of beautifying self-care or actually executing what I like and save on Instagram in the form of pretty DIY manicures, products to try (and later write about), etc. So, in an effort to step-up my self-care and rely less on Instagram stalking (and eventually auto-booking) blowouts and manicures, I did them myself. I love beauty—a very good thing considering my vocation, but sometimes I let my full-time gig get in the way of actually making the most out of the products, treatments, and inspirational screenshots I have stockpiled. (Yes, believe it or not, you can OD on beauty as an editor.) Post-vacation, I arrived back to L.A. with freshly painted tips, hydrated strands (which is saying something considering I came back from the desert), and a freshly applied self-tan.
Sure, these things take time and I've previously used the excuse that they take time I don't have. That said, if I have (apparently) an extra hour and a half per day for Instagram (and that's not even including my other app usage), I most certainly have time to do my own nails, prepare face masks, and everything else I love as a beauty editor.
Next up, social media is my job, here are five ways I practice digital wellness.
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.
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