How to keep your gadget use under control with Screen Time in iOS 12

By Alan Stonebridge

Are you really aware of how much time you spend picking up your iPhone to check on things throughout each day? A few minutes here and there soon adds up, and because you may be disinclined to log your iPhone and iPad use manually, Screen Time can do it for you.

This new feature enables those same devices to play a part in keeping gadget guilt in check. You can use it to: gain insights about your behaviour; impose a soft limit that nudges you in the right direction when a daily quota runs out; and set a hardcore lockout that stops activity till a passcode is entered. Got a real gadget addiction? Get a friend to look after the code and act as your conscience.

This feature can also be applied to other members of your Family Sharing group to help your kids develop healthier habits.

Monitor your stats

You needn’t remember to visit Screen Time’s settings to check on usage. You’ll get a periodic notification to check your weekly report, and if you want to keep an eye on things more casually while getting used to the feature, swipe left on the Lock screen or the first Home screen to reach the Today view, scroll to its bottom, tap Edit and then add the Screen Time widget.

What about the Mac?

Screen Time isn’t available on the Mac, even in macOS Mojave. You’ll need willpower to avoid skimming unlogged minutes. If you can’t wait to see whether Apple adds it in future, try the Productivity edition of Timing (£39, timingapp.com).

How to get started with Screen Time

1 Turn it on

Go to Settings > Screen Time (second group down) and turn on the feature. You’ll be asked whether the device you’re setting up is yours or your child’s. We’ve written this advice as if setting up your own device, but you can apply the same methods, with different settings, to each family member by tapping their names beneath the Family heading on this page.

2 A simple overview

The top box shows how much of today you’ve spent using all your iOS 12 devices, and breaks this down into major categories and how long you’ve spent on each. You may not care if it’s productivity apps that you spend significant time using, but have a different view if you discover you’re spending a lot of time on social networking or games.

3 Collate your data

To get the big picture of usage across all iPhones and iPads that are signed in to your iCloud account, turn on Share Across Devices, lower down. The page then summarises data from all your enrolled iOS devices. You’re still able to take a look at your use of individual devices, though: start by tapping All Devices in the top group.

4 Finer details

Initially the next page shows data from all devices on which you’ve turned on Screen Time, but only today’s. Use the tabs at the top to see average daily usage and a total for the last week — the latter may encourage you to limit your activity. Rest a finger on a bar in the chart for info on that time period. Tap Devices to pick a single device whose data you want to see.

How to put Screen Time’s data to use

1 What you use most

The Most Used group lists apps and websites. Tap one for more info. You’ll see an hourly or daily breakdown, based on your choice on the previous page. Hold a finger on a bar and slide over the chart for insight into each time period.

2 Limit by app

Think you’re using an app or site too much? Tap Add Limit and then dial in the allowance you want on most days. If you want more or less time on certain days — on a weekend, say — tap Customise Days, a day, and then dial in another amount.

3 Limit by category

Return to the top level of Screen Time’s settings, tap App Limits and then Add Limit. The difference here is that the limit affects all apps of the categories you choose. Week-long and per-day overrides can be applied here as well.

4 Impose downtime

Downtime is a period of the day in which you can discourage device use altogether. Family time in evenings, say. This option is at the top level of Screen Time’s settings. If a passcode is set, you can block the device during this time.

5 Make exceptions

You may want to allow certain apps during downtime. On iPhone, the Phone app is always allowed; add other call and messaging apps, say, to stay reachable. At the top of Screen Time’s settings, tap Always Allowed and make your choices.

6 Set a passcode

Without a Screen Time passcode (set on its first settings page), it’s trivial to override a limit. With one set, you can turn on Block At End Of Limit, which stops the limit being bypassed without the code. Only numeric codes can be set.

7 When you reach a limit

As you approach a limit, you’ll get a notification. When you hit it, the app or website is covered up with a warning. Tap Ignore Limit (or Ask For More Time if blocked). You can then override for a short duration or till the end of the day.

8 How often you pick up

The Pickups metric gives insight into your distractedness. It’s left to you to work out how this info relates to essential activity, reading notifications and boredom, and to work out patterns and how to break your bad habits.

9 Noise from notifications

Notification sounds and banners waking the screen are a big source of distraction. Bottommost in your stats is a summary of those received. Use it to help decide what to turn off. Tap an app here to alter its notifications right away.

This content originally appeared in iOS 12 Superguide (MacFormat #331, Autumn 2019), available in print here and as an in-app purchase in MacFormat’s iPhone and iPad app. Or, subscribe to MacFormat here.