When you’re writing a book on creative habits, you end up conducting lots of experiments. A few of my previous experiments include:
A few weeks ago I decided to conduct another experiment. I wanted to test the impact of reducing screen time on my attention span. The test was simple: no screens 2 hours before I went to sleep, specifically no use of my phone or laptop. I did watch a bit of TV and play some video games.
When I woke up the next morning and sat down at my desk to go through my 8-step daily routine, I noticed that was much calmer and more focused. Within 15 minutes of sitting down, I was in flow. I read about 100 pages and wrote much more than my usual 1000 words. I started to wonder how I might deliberately design my environment and my days to take advantage of this.
One of the things I do in the evening as I fall asleep is listen to hypnosis tapes to reprogram my subconscious. But I was using my phone to do this which meant a screen in my bed, which is incredibly toxic for sleep. So I went back to the stone ages, walked into an Apple store and bought an iPod shuffle. Now I could listen to the hypnosis tapes without any screen time. That was just a few days ago. When I woke up this morning, I read about 100 pages, comprehended almost all of what I was reading, and filled 6 pages in a Moleskine before turning on my computer to write this article.
Distraction is becoming an epidemic. We have digital detox camps, nootropics and pills to help us focus, and a whole host of other mental health issues that are tied to the excessive use of technology.
Excessive screen time causes our attention to shift from one external stimulus to another in very short amounts of time. So it’s not particularly surprising that reducing our screen time increases our attention span. Starting and ending our days with our faces buried in screens creates a self-imposed handicap that inhibits our ability to focus and do deep work.
Some fun and horrifying things I learned from the work of happiness researcher, Amy Blankson:
- We spend 2 hours a day, 38 days a year, locking and unlocking our phones
- The average human attention span has gone below that of a goldfish
- Checking email only 3 times a day reduces stress by 25%
Listen to the interview with Amy Blankson
We know that excessive screen time is bad for us, but that’s not exactly a selling point to make us reduce it. If it was, then we wouldn’t be so challenged by it. So what are the benefits of reducing our screen time?
As a person who has dealt with depression, I have to be incredibly mindful about sleep hygiene. Poor sleep exacerbates symptoms of depression. Numerous studies have shown that blue light from a screen is harmful to sleep. By avoiding screens an hour before bed, your brain starts to relax. Put your phone somewhere that you can’t see it, even it’s only a few feet away from your bed on a windowsill. This way even if you do use it as an alarm, you’ll have to actually get up to turn it off as opposed to using the snooze button or checking Facebook at 6am.
2. Reduced Anxiety and Stress
In Amy Blankson’s new book The Future of Happiness, she said the following about multiple email checks a day and excessive social media use:
If we fill all our downtime with digital distractions (surfing Facebook, posting on instagram, playing games on our phones or even reading e-books), the brin has no time left with which to process the world, chunk information and form long term memories.”
When you have a shut down ritual and you avoid screens a few hours before bed, you’ll start to experience a significant decrease in an anxiety and you’ll likely be much happier.
3. Presence and Charisma
A few weeks ago, I went on a date with a girl I met on Bumble. When she showed up at the place we were meeting, I turned my phone off. The result was that we were both much more present and it simply reinforced what Olivia Fox Cabane said about charisma:
Being charismatic does not depend on how much time you have, but how fully present you are in each interaction.
Turning off your phone when you’re with people you really want to connect wth will drastically alter your interaction with them.
4.Wake up More Focused
The greatest benefit of avoiding screens an hour before bed is that you wake up more focused. If you’ve avoided screens before bed, you’ll be less compelled to turn on your devices first thing in the morning. Given that time is the most valuable asset at your disposal, you want to use it wisely. When you wake up clear and focused, it becomes much easier to spend the first hour of your day on activities that add meaning to your life.
While the impact won’t be profound on day one, just consider what kind of impact this could have on your life over the course of a year. Little things done repeatedly lead to big changes in our lives. Reducing your screen time is a little thing that leads to a big change over a long enough timeline.
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