How to keep tabs on your screen time at work 

Have you ever experienced that buzzing sensation, convinced it was your phone vibrating? Only to realise that it wasn’t.

It’s what’s known as phantom vibration syndrome, and it’s one of the first warning signs in your personal or professional lives that you may be suffering from Screen Burn. Screen  Burn is the detrimental effect we feel from being stuck to our glowing squares for long periods of time. Be it eye damage, cognitive fatigue, or even a knock on effect on our social lives.

Screen burn is a consequence of digitisation, the everlasting need for us (especially as creatives) to be in front of our screens and producing work. Some of the most qualified people in the world self confess they “reply to emails” for a living. So with wellness and productivity the buzzwords of 2019, it's probably high time to consider how much time you spend in front of your screen, and how to get the most out of it.

We came across a study done by Scott Wallsten (from the Tech Policy Institute) investigating how screen time affects human behaviour. The results are documented here: 

27% is an alarming percent of lost time while your working, and the data shows just how screens are present in almost every aspect of modern life. Now we aren’t here to babble on about how screens are toxic, as we realise they are the way most of us get work done these days, and there are countless studies into to benefits of interactive digital learning, and apps that improve our lives daily. Hell, we love screens and all the awesome things you can produce with and for them. We are however going to share some of our top tips for managing your screen time, both to get the most out of it, and to control how much screens burn effects our lives.

Step 1 - Understand your current screen habits

To start off, we needed to understand how much time we were spending on screens, in work and out. Luckily, most devices have apps that act as a tracking system, allowing you to view how much time you're interacting with said device.

  • New IOS devices have a built-in feature (go to settings > Battery > Usage section) which shows time spent on each app on your phone.

  • For phones that do not have this feature, there are popular apps on the Market such as Moment and Qualitytime

  • HabitLab helps you understand how much time you are spending on your laptop on various websites.

Additionally, most social media apps and sites have built-in time tracking which is often useful. Instagram for example, shows the time spent each day on the app. Getting this time tracking data allows you to understand not only how much time you're sending on screens in a day, but also how that screen time is being used.

Step 2 - Make the data actionable

Let's say that your average screen time per day sits at about 9 hours. The next step is to start analysing Quality vs Quantity.

Quantity is simple, this is a simple round-up of how much time is spent on each site or app respectively. Quality, however, requires a bit more introspection. It’s important to analyse which sites and apps you're interacting with the most. After that, we investigated what value they were adding to our workflow, and overall, to our lives.

We found that the apps and sites that we dropped into in our downtime often ended up distracting us from being productive, getting creative, and the interacting with the people around us. We called these “resting apps” and whilst we certainly haven’t deleted them from our phones, we looked at how we could prevent ourselves from falling on to these resting apps as a default.

  • Investing in an alarm clock. We found all of us start our mornings by immediately checking our phones. By buying an arm clock and taking the need to interact with our phone out of our morning routine, we were able to give ourselves an extra 15 minutes device free to meditate, set goals for the day and kick start our productivity.

  • Reconfigure devices. We moved all our social Media apps into one place in our phones. We also found the use of a blocker app really useful for keeping us on the straight and true. These apps allow you access sites at certain points of the day, or for limited periods of time only. We also found reducing the amount of social media notifications we received removed distractions from our workflow.

  • Taking breaks. We’ve worked our way up to this, but we try and take at least one day a week to go screen free. It took a while to work up to this, so we recommend starting with trying to make lunch hours “screen-free” and working up from there.

Step 3 - Optimising the simple things

We’ve covered the number of times you're interacting with a screen, now let's focus on quality. It’s surprisingly common for people to check several applications to receive the same message. This unnecessarily complicated thing, which we found left lots of room to optimise our time spent on devices.

  • Single App Use - Whether it Whatsapp, Slack or even Skype, try to narrow it down to one app for instant messaging to avoid switching between five or six apps and getting distracted.

  • Cloud Use - Make use of an integrated Cloud-Based solution to work from. This ensures you can have access to your documents any time and anywhere. It’s like organising your life along the same framework as the Internet of Things.

  • Prioritise Emails - No point trying to reply to every single email you receive as you receive it. Research suggests dealing with emails for 20 minutes in the morning, and the 20 minutes mid-afternoon is the most effective way to deal with you E-communications. If anything super important, you will probably receive a phone call anyway.

  • Mono Task - Don't spread yourself too thin. Focus on the task and the screen at hand, and once complete, move on. Apps like HabitLab have special tools that allow you to see how long you stayed focused on one task at a time before trying to multi-task.

Step 4 - Get stuck into some physical creativity

Irrespective of the type of work you do, not all of it is to be done on a screen. Purposefully book one hour per day to do work away from your screen. You’ll see that your creativity will suddenly take a major boost. Start getting physical — use flip chart paper and whiteboard markers to do brainstorming sessions. Get a blank canvas and paint and draft ideas for a business proposal. Grab a coffee with a colleague for an hour to discuss the next project.

Taking time away from the screen is proven to boost mental agility and innovative thinking. Small breaks and little analog tasks not only reduce the need for digital downtime but aid in the fighting of distraction between tasks. Plus, you'll be one step closer to winning the battle against tired and achey eyes!