Lockdown has thrown us all onto our screens to an extent we could never have predicted before the pandemic. And we’ve all been very grateful to have our digital devices to keep us connected and informed. But there’s no doubt that many of us are now beginning to suffer from digital burnout, especially from all those video calls. It’s time to break up with technology. So how can we use tech in a way that makes us healthier and happier, instead of in that compulsive scrolling and frantic app-checking way that just leaves us feeling frazzled, anxious, and sleep deprived?

Tanya Goodin, founder of digital wellbeing movement Time To Log Off and host of the ‘It’s Complicated’ podcast offers her top tips for dealing with excess screen time and how to break up with technology:

1. Understand How Persuasive Tech Works

Getting a good understanding of how most of the tech we’re using is deliberately designed to hook us, is one of the first steps in beginning to get it under control. Persuasive Tech was designed in a lab in Stanford University in the US in the 1990s. Behavioural scientists and attention engineers studied what tricks and tools could be developed on screens to keep us clicking, tapping and scrolling on our computers for longer. These techniques have been honed and developed further for smartphones by the billion-dollar software industry in Silicon Valley. Push notifications, auto-play next, the ‘like’ button – these were all designed to give us little bursts of dopamine (the feel-good brain chemical) and keep us on our screens for longer. So, don’t waste any time beating yourself up when you find it hard to put your phone down. It’s designed to be addictive.

2. Set Boundaries

The problem with the digital world and tech is not that we’re using it. It’s that we’re using if for too long. In many cases we’re neglecting important aspects of our lives that we could be putting our time and attention into. Even in lockdown, partners have complained that their other halves have spent too much time on their phones in front of them. And now we’re meeting up more with friends and family those bad habits are creeping back in.

So, setting clear boundaries around your screen use is incredibly powerful. Simply having a vague intention to not spend too much time on your phone won’t cut it. You need hard and fast rules that are easy to implement to keep that compulsive phone-checking in check.

There are two types of boundaries that I find work really well for most people:

Boundaries around time: set specific times of the day or week where you won’t be on your phone. They could be something like ‘I never check my phone until I’ve eaten breakfast’ ‘Sundays are screen-free’ or ‘after 8pm I log-off work email’.

Boundaries around places: agreeing physical places where your phone absolutely doesn’t belong are a deceptively simple way of cutting back on idle screen scrolling. Meal tables and in the bedroom overnight are favourite locations to ban phones from. Loos and bathrooms are particularly effective too. Be creative!

3. Deal With Distractions

Because of those sophisticated persuasive tech techniques, our smartphones have the power to distract us even when they’re just in the same room as us. They can even reduce our IQ as our dopamine-hooked brain struggles to ignore them. One study at Chicago University found that, even if our smartphone is face down and switched off on our desk, its presence reduces our IQ by about 10 points. A disaster if you’re trying to produce a piece of work or concentrate on something important.

You can switch off notifications, you can turn the screen to greyscale you can even do something complicated with your app organisation, but really the single most effective thing is to put your phone in another room from you. And don’t think hiding it in your bag or drawer is just as good. Those researchers at Chicago found that even if you can’t see it, if you know it’s in the same room as you, its presence still reduces your IQ.

4. Use Tech Mindfully and Meaningfully

Keeping an eye on mindless screen use is one aspect of living healthily with tech. Making every moment that you spend on a screen count is equally powerful. One study found that those who actively engaged on social media, through commenting and liking, were happier than those who just passively scrolled through feeds without joining in. There’s no doubt that too much time on screens can leave us feeling unhappy so making sure your use is mindful is your best tool for maximising the benefits of the digital world. Set a clear intention for how your time on screens will benefit your relationships, your work, or the things that are important to you. Instead of being a human lab rat in the great Silicon Valley experiment, you’ll be making tech work for you.

Thank you to Tanya Goodin.

Tanya Goodin is the founder of digital wellbeing movement Time To Log Off and host of the ‘It’s Complicated’ podcast.

For more ways to restore balance and for inspiration to help you on the road to feeling your best, take a look at our wellbeing archives.