Our lives revolve around our screens. As soon as we wake up, we pick up our smartphones and check our emails. Throughout the day, we work on online documents, send messages on Slack, check WhatsApp, join video conference calls and scroll through our social media feeds. Then, in the evenings, many of us find ourselves browsing apps while we eat dinner or watch TV.
With the coronavirus restrictions still in place, many people are now working from home and will be doing so for the foreseeable future. We might be avoiding commuting, but we are unintentionally spending more time at our desks — and on our laptops.
According to a recent survey of 2,000 people by LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation, working from home amid the coronavirus outbreak means the average Brit is putting in an extra 28 hours of overtime a month.
There are plenty of unfounded horror stories about the impact of too much screen use. But we do know that not taking enough breaks can lead to headaches and eye strain — and that working longer hours has been linked to stress, anxiety and burnout.
For many of us, spending more time at home on our laptops means we spend longer on social media too. And as we scroll past posts of people running marathons, eating “clean” and getting promotions, it chips away at our self-esteem.
Taking a break from your laptop or phone is never a bad thing, but it can be difficult. So what can you do to reduce your screen time when you are working at home?
Think twice before checking your phone
On average, we check our smartphones every 12 minutes. A 2018 survey by Ofcom found 40% of adults first look at their phone within five minutes of waking up, which increases to 65% of those aged under 35. Similarly, 37% of adults check their phones five minutes before they go to sleep, again rising to 60% of under-35s.
Furthermore, many of us check our phones without even thinking about it. Even if we’re watching a TV show, a film or having a conversation with a friend, we find ourselves picking up our phones and checking our emails, Instagram or WhatsApp.
The next time you reach for your smart device, think twice about why you are doing it — is there a reason you need to check your emails at 9pm? Does it matter if you have a notification on Instagram? If not, leave it.
Set limits on your screen time
If you can’t help yourself from scrolling, make use of the screen time function on your iPhone. It allows you to see where you are spending time each day and which apps you browse the most. The function also lets you set limits on your screen time, so you can set your phone to shut off Facebook access after you have reached your maximum number of minutes or hours for the day.
You could also try moving certain apps off your home screen and shifting them around every so often, so you can’t just open them by force of habit.
Take regular breaks from work
When you’re working from home, it’s tempting to put in extra hours and keep checking your emails until you go to bed. Instead, make sure you have a cut-off point and make sure you do something that signals the end of the working day. This might be a walk, a workout or another activity.
Working in an office gives you plenty of opportunities to take breaks, either to chat with colleagues, grab coffee or go for lunch. Even when working under lockdown, it’s still important to take proper breaks away from your laptop.
Turn off app notifications
We’re far more likely to pick up our phones if we spot a notification, so turning them off on certain applications may help reduce the amount of time we spend on them. During times when you want a break or you need to focus without interruptions, try the Do Not Disturb function or put your phone on airplane mode.
Don’t take your phone or laptop to bed
If you have your phone by your side all the time — even in the bedroom — you aren’t alone. In 2019, a survey of more than 1,000 people by Adobe found that 62% millennials check their emails in bed — and over half said they did so in their bathrooms too.
Getting hold of an old-school, traditional alarm clock and leaving your phone out of the bedroom at night will prevent you from checking it out-of-hours. If you can, put it in another room until the next morning.