How to Reduce Screen Time to Reach a Minimalist One
When was the last time you enjoyed a sunset without reaching for your phone to capture it or savored a meal without scrolling through an endless feed of images or taking a picture yourself?
Can’t remember? It may be time we set sail for calmer, less pixelated waters.
In today’s article, we embark on a journey towards a minimalist screen time lifestyle, a promised land of clear focus, enhanced productivity, and a little bit of good old-fashioned boredom.
I will discuss…
- Nine consequences of too much screen time according to science
- What is digital minimalism or minimalist screen time
- What is a healthy screen time per day?
- 21 Tips to reduce your screen time to reach a minimalist one
- 10 screen time control apps
Ready to dive in? Read on…
9 Consequences of Too Much Screen Time According To Science
Before exploring how you can reduce screen time to reach a minimalist one, let’s first see what too much screen time can do to you based on scientific studies.
And this topic has indeed been the subject of a significant amount of research.
Scientists have found numerous potential consequences for physical health, mental well-being, and overall lifestyle.
Now, let’s break it down:
Physical Health Consequences
Sleep Disruptions: Excessive screen time, especially before bed, can interfere with your sleep.
The blue light emitted by screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock to a later schedule (source).
Eye Strain: This is often due to the blue light from screens, which can cause digital eye strain or “computer vision syndrome.” Symptoms include dryness, irritation, fatigue, and blurred vision (source).
Physical Health: Sedentary behavior associated with excessive screen time can contribute to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems. Prolonged sitting and inactivity can lead to poor physical health and fitness (source).
Mental Health Consequences
Increased Anxiety and Depression: Some research suggests that excessive screen time, mainly social media use, can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
However, there is contradicting data because this study mentions that social media usage can be associated with decreased levels of depression.
Impaired Social Skills: For children and adolescents, excessive screen time can hinder the development of social skills and lead to social isolation.
I couldn’t find a reliable study to back this up.
However, it’s the Child Mind Institute’s hypothesis.
They say learning to communicate via screens may reduce teenagers’ confidence in navigating face-to-face conversations, relationships, and challenges.
And when they use social media more than interact in person, they may have issues identifying critical social cues (e.g., body language, facial expression, vocal tone, boundaries, personal space, etc.).
Although not backed by any study I know of, I bet a potential impairment of social skills is likely also the case for adults…Well, at least existing skills probably get rusty.
Problematic Internet Usage: Some call it screen addiction. But strictly speaking, it’s somewhat problematic internet usage. No matter what you call it, it’s a growing concern.
It’s when people develop an unhealthy dependency on digital devices, leading to withdrawal symptoms, loss of interest in other activities, and negative impacts on work, school, or relationships.
This study confirms this with a study done on children and adolescents. A confirmatory factor analysis identified three independent factors: neglect, obsession, and control disorder.
Reduced Productivity: While technology can boost productivity, excessive and unregulated screen time can have the opposite effect, leading to procrastination and poor time management.
A study from the American Psychological Association confirms this when studying multitasking, which happens when you spend a lot of screen time across various devices.
They found out that multitasking takes more time and involves more errors.
In addition, shifting between tasks may cost you up to 40 percent of your productive time.
In other words, you may think you have worked a 10-hour day when in reality, you had just a 6-hour day.
Impaired Academic Performance: In children and adolescents, too much screen time can lead to lower academic performance, possibly due to reduced sleep, less time for homework, and decreased attention span. However, it doesn’t seem to be all types of screen media.
A paper published by JAMA Pediatrics in 2019 states that TV viewing and video gaming (but not overall screen media) negatively affect the academic performance of children and adolescents. And this effect seems to be great for adolescents than for children.
Limited Time for Other Activities: Excessive screen time can crowd out time for physical activities, face-to-face social interaction, hobbies, and other vital aspects of life.
This results from reduced productivity and many other consequences of the extended screen time I mentioned earlier. So it’s a consequence of a consequence, and according to an article from the University of Hospitals, this would be the moment you could start worrying.
What Is Digital Minimalism or Minimalist Screen Time?
Digital Minimalism Screen Time is a philosophy and approach to managing and minimizing the time spent on digital devices like smartphones, computers, tablets, and televisions.
The goal is to optimize the use of these devices to create a more balanced, fulfilling, and less distracted life.
The concept is based on minimalist principles, emphasizing simplicity, clarity, and a focus on essentials.
It advocates for intentional and purposeful use of technology rather than mindless or excessive consumption when applied to screen time.
So it is actually a category of digital minimalism I discussed in several articles such as “The Definitive Digital Minimalism Guide,” “From Digital Clutter to 17 Benefits of Digital Minimalism,” and “Minimalist Tech Setup: Can It Increase Your Productivity?“.
In practice, minimalist screen time might involve tactics such as:
Digital Decluttering: This means removing unnecessary apps, disabling distracting notifications, and keeping your digital spaces clean and organized.
Mindful Usage: Using this tactic, you want to know why and how you use your devices. This means using them for specific, purposeful activities rather than mindless browsing.
Time Boundaries: You set strict limits on when and how long you use your devices. This could mean no screens after a particular hour or setting aside screen-free times.
Quality over Quantity: This tactic involves prioritizing activities that bring you the most value.
It might mean spending less time on social media and more time on educational content or creative pursuits.
Digital Detox: For a digital detox, you use regularly scheduled breaks from technology to help you reset your relationship with your devices.
What Is a Healthy Screen Time per Day?
Let’s say you’re at a buffet restaurant.
The food is abundant, varied, and yours for the taking. Now, how much should you eat? One plate? Two? Maybe three? What would be healthy?
The answer isn’t as straightforward as “only two plates.”
It’s about choosing the right types of food, eating mindfully, and listening to your body.
If you are a “fitness nerd” like me, you may know exactly how much you should eat to avoid surpassing your daily caloric intake.
Screen time is similar. There’s no magical number that applies to everyone.
One person’s “healthy” amount of screen time might differ from another’s, depending on their life, work, hobbies, and personal well-being.
That said, like a buffet, too much can lead to a digital “food coma,” leaving you bloated with information and starved for real-life experiences.
And for the “too much” screen time exists scientific studies. So we can draw a somewhat hard line in the sand.
According to this paper, children between two and 17 should not use the screen for more than 1 hour daily.
More hours were associated with… “lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks.”
The same study also analyzed 14 to 17-year-olds 7+ hours vs. 1 hour per day users.
The result was that the ones that used the screen 7+ hours…” were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression, ever diagnosed with anxiety, treated by a mental health professional, or have taken medication for a psychological or behavioral issue in the last 12 months.”
Unfortunately, the situation isn’t as straightforward regarding adults as discussed in this article from the Time Magazin.
The article’s gist is that adults shouldn’t care too much about screen time but instead about the content.
“Watching a documentary on your phone, for instance, doesn’t have the same impact as mindlessly scrolling Instagram.”
So, how can you determine a “healthy adult screen time”?
Instead of focusing on a specific number of hours, let’s consider the ‘how,’ ‘why,’ and ‘when’ of your screen use.
- The ‘how’: Are you actively engaged, learning something new, or mindlessly scrolling social media looking at shredded millionaire Chihuahua dogs in rented Instagram selfy hotspots in Bali?
- The ‘why’: Is it for work, education, just killing time, or other compulsory habits?
- The ‘when’: Are screens encroaching on your sleep, meal times, or quality time with loved ones?
I’m not saying you should chuck your devices into the abyss (even though it can be tempting sometimes).
But as a rough guide, some experts suggest a limit of two hours of recreational screen time per day for adults but remember the context matters (source).
Screen time for work or educational purposes is typically considered separately.
However, you may want to forget the clock for a moment. Instead, tune into your body and mind.
Are you feeling tired, stressed, or disconnected after using your device? If yes, then that might be your sign to step back and reevaluate your digital habits.
Here you can read more about whether you are ripe for minimalist technology use.
I am coming full circle back to the buffet from earlier.
Regarding adults’ screen time scrolling endlessly on social media corresponds with only eating fatty donuts and muffins from the menu.
So it comes back to a healthy and balanced diet.
21 Tips to Reduce Your Screen Time to Reach a Minimalist One
1) Digital Declutter
Digital decluttering minimizes digital distractions by deleting unnecessary apps, files, and emails and consciously selecting which tools you reintroduce to your life.
It’s transitioning from digital chaos (clutter) to digital tranquility, with technology serving you rather than overwhelming you.
2) The Single-Tasking Challenge
The Single-Tasking Challenge is a powerful exercise in mindfulness and productivity where you commit to performing one task at a time instead of succumbing to the chaos of multitasking.
It’s about fully immersing yourself in one activity, enabling a deeper focus, better performance, and a more satisfying experience.
It’s like swapping out your juggling balls for a laser pointer.
3) The No-Phone Mealtime
The No-Phone Mealtime is a pledge to disconnect from digital distractions and reconnect with the real world during meals.
It’s about appreciating your food, cherishing conversations with loved ones, or simply enjoying a moment of solitude.
So it’s an invitation to savor life one bite at a time, unmediated by the glow of a screen.
4) Tech-Free Bedroom
Think of a tech-free bedroom as your sanctuary, where the buzzes and pings of the digital world have no dominion.
It’s about making your sleeping space a haven for rest, not email checking and midnight scrolling.
5) The Dusk-to-Dawn Rule
Have you ever watched a beautiful sunset or the break of dawn without any digital interruption?
The dusk-to-dawn rule is a commitment to switch off your devices from sunset to sunrise.
This allows you to reclaim those quiet evenings and early morning hours, giving you the space for tranquility, creativity, and a true digital detox.
6) Set Timers
Do you remember the thrill of a hide-and-seek game, racing against the clock?
That’s the spirit behind “Set Timers,” a way to bring a bit of playful urgency to your digital habits.
It’s about setting defined limits on your tech use, so you can enjoy a captivating video or dive into an online conversation.
And when the timer dings, it’s your cue to step back and reconnect with the physical world.
7) Designated Screen-Free Days
Imagine a day with no screen glow, no email alerts, and no scrolling.
Designated screen-free days are like mini-vacations from the digital world.
On these days, you give yourself the freedom to explore life offline.
It’s a day for picnics in the park, long hikes, fascinating books, or hearty laughter over a board game with friends.
8) The Nature Break
The nature break is your golden ticket to swapping the artificial light of screens for the natural beauty of the great outdoors.
It’s a purposeful pause in your day to step outside, enjoy the fresh air, listen to the birds, feel the sunshine on your skin, or simply observe the world around you.
It’s as if you hit a reset button, allowing you to come back refreshed and rejuvenated – ready to tackle whatever’s next, whether a digital task or another rewarding off-screen activity.
9) Switch to Print
“Switch to Print” is a gentle nudge to revisit the pleasure of the crisp sound of turning pages of a book or magazine.
It’s about tactilely engaging with words and images, creating a slower, more deliberate, and perhaps more appreciative reading experience.
However, this tactic is less viable for digital nomads not necessarily well known for having a steady home base.
10) Exercise over Entertainment
This tactic is about swapping passive screen time for active movement.
Instead of binge-watching your favorite show, it’s about hitting the pavement, breaking a sweat, stretching, and moving – turning from spectator to participant in your life.
In passing, you will reap all exercise’s physical and mental benefits.
11) The Waiting Game
I bet you have found yourself once or twice instinctively reaching for your phone while waiting in line or for an appointment… And “The Waiting Game” is about resisting that trigger and using those moments of pause to be in the moment.
It’s a chance to practice mindfulness, observe your surroundings, or indulge in daydreaming.
It can turn ‘wasted’ time into an unexpected gift of tranquility in your busy day.
12) Boredom Embrace
Do you remember when you let your mind wander when you’d daydream or allow yourself to be bored?
This is what “Boredom Embrace” allows you again. It is a return to that space where creativity, introspection, and new ideas are often born.
It’s also about resisting the urge to fill every idle moment with screen time.
13) Socialize Offline
What if something crazy happened, and real laughter would replace LOLs, text tones, and conversations without autocorrect?
This is what “Socialize Offline” is about. It’s trading digital interaction for real-world connection.
It’s a reminder that while social media can keep us updated, face-to-face interactions truly nourish our social needs.
It’s about the beauty of a shared meal, a walk in the park, a game or dance night, or simply a heart-to-heart talk over coffee.
14) Handwritten Letters
This tactic is a push toward reviving lost art. It’s replacing quick texts and email exchanges with the slow, thoughtful process of writing by hand.
It’s about expressing feelings and thoughts in a tangible way that can be held, savored, and treasured – a small but powerful gesture that says, “You’re worth my time.”
15) The Hobby Hour
“The Hobby Hour” is about dedicating a daily time block to nurture your interests outside the digital world.
It’s about enriching your life with new skills, experiences, and perhaps a sense of achievement, all while taking a break from screens.
16) Scheduled Checking
This tactic can help you regain control over your time and attention by setting specific times during the day for checking emails, messages, or social media updates.
It means transitioning from a reactive to a proactive approach to digital communication.
One benefit is that it helps you focus on tasks without interruption and gives you back the reins of your day.
17) Tech-Free Commute
A “Tech-Free Communite” lets you unplug during your journeys, turning a typically screen-filled period into a pocket of peace and reflection.
Instead of scrolling aimlessly, you could revel in the sights and sounds of the world passing by, read a physical book, or simply let your thoughts wander.
Well, and of course, you wouldn’t have screen time while you are the driver anyways…
18) The Conversation Starter
This is an active move from digital distractions to engaging, real-life communication.
The idea is to initiate or participate in meaningful conversations with people around you instead of resorting to screen time.
Doing so reduces your dependence on devices and fosters stronger connections with others, promoting a sense of community and belonging that no technology can replicate.
19) Unplugged Morning Routine
The “Unplugged Morning Routine” is a commitment to start the day without the influence of digital devices.
It’s all about using the early hours for self-reflection, exercise, reading, or any other meaningful activity that doesn’t involve screens.
By cultivating an unplugged morning, you’re setting a calm, focused tone for the rest of the day.
It can teach your mind to value intentional, conscious moments over digital distractions.
20) Distract, Don’t Distress
“Distract Don’t Distress” is about using technology mindfully, choosing entertainment that uplifts rather than triggers anxiety or stress.
Think laughter, fascination, and inspiration, rather than doom-scrolling through the latest world calamities or engaging in toxic online debates.
By choosing cheerful, constructive content, you’re creating a more positive relationship with technology, using it as a tool for happiness and relaxation rather than a source of unnecessary tension about stuff you can’t change (thank you, Stoicism).
21) Use Technology (I know, ironic)
Once you have liberated yourself from screen time, you can use technology to boost productivity, streamline tasks, and stay connected while ensuring you’re in the driver’s seat and not at the mercy of endless notifications and distractions.
Think smart thermostats, fitness trackers, or a well-organized digital calendar…
This leads me to the final section, where I will provide X screen time control apps you may want to consider.
10 Screen Time Control Apps
There are quite a few apps out there that can help you control and manage your screen time. In the below table, you find ten that might be just what you need to help you reduce screen time.
|Screen Time Control App||Core Features||Price|
|freedom||Custom and preset blocklists, schedule regular device-free periods, locked mode, multi-device usage, background noise, session history, website exceptions, browser extension, progress tracking||from $3.50 monthly|
|RescueTime||Multi-platform compatibility, personalized focus work goals, end-of-day summaries, focus sessions, distraction identification, automatic time tracking, time management insights,||from $6.50 monthly|
|StayFocusd||Website restriction, internet blocking, customizable working days, individual time settings||free|
|Forest||A fun app that encourages you not to use your phone||free|
|Offtime||Helps you unplug by blocking distracting apps and calls while allowing selected "whitelist" contacts to reach you.||from $3 monthly|
|Flipd||Task time tracking, break tracking, progress visualization,||from $5.99 monthly|
|Space||Helps you understand your phone usage patterns and aids in setting goals to reduce screen time.||free|
|Screen Time||A feature built into iOS devices. It provides you with weekly reports on your usage and allows you to set limits for specific apps.||-|
|AntiSocial||Phone unlock tracking, time tracking of social media usage, see most time consuming apps, charts, app blockage||from $3.50 monthly|
|FocusMe||Block, limit, or ration use of time-sucking websites & apps, force mode,||$7.95 monthly|
If you want to dig deeper into the world of digital minimalism tools and apps, head over to my article about the topic in which I cover many more.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication per our editorial policy.