By Leo Babauta
One of the hazards of our modern lifestyle is our tendency to become more and more addicted to staring at screens, and more and more sedentary.
We look at laptops and desktop computers, iPhones and Androids and iPads and iPods, TVs and movie screens, play video games, watch videos, surf the web, socialize online, work online. And we’re sitting the whole time.
I’m a victim of this as much as anyone else. My family and I are drifting toward this lifestyle, and while I’m no Luddite, I do believe that we should live less as victims and more consciously.
Too much screen time means less active time, less personal socializing, less focus on the present, less time for cooking healthy food, less time reading novels, painting, making music, making time for the ones you love. And too much sitting means fewer years on your life.
So what’s a better way?
Limit how much screen time you have each day. Limit your sitting to short periods with breaks in between.
I realize that many people have jobs that require them to have a minimum amount of computer time, and probably mostly sitting. So I don’t recommend a certain number, only that you figure out a limit and work with that.
What I’ve Been Doing
Though I’ve set limits for myself in the past, I’ll admit that they’ve eroded in recent months, so that my screen time has grown over time. And not just for me — for my wife and kids. So recently Eva and I set limits for ourselves, and we’ve been working with them.
We find them to be great. I find daily limits to be a better balance than going on week-long or month-long digital sabbaticals, which aren’t realistic for many people.
Here’s an example:
- We set a limit of either 4 or 5 hours of total screen time a day. (We haven’t figured out what’s best yet, still experimenting.)
- That total is broken into 30-minute chunks. So if it’s 5 hours total, that’s 10 chunks of 30 minutes.
- At the start of a 30-minute chunk, I set a computer timer and put a tally mark on a text document, so I know how many chunks I’ve used today. When the bell rings, I close my laptop.
- After the 30-minute chunk, I take a break of at least 30 minutes. I try to get up and move, stretch, play with the kids, get outside. I also often read a novel. The moving is good for my body, and helps me to think.
- If I have things I want to look up online, or write online, I’ll just make a note of it and do it when I start my next 30-minute chunk.
This isn’t the only way to do it — you’ll have to find the limit that works for you, and the chunk size that works for you. But the idea is to set limits, and to break the total up into pieces so you’ll take breaks and do other things.
Benefits of the Limits
We’ve loved it: we’re reading more books, spending more personal time with each other and the kids, getting more chores done, exercising more, playing outside more.
It also means that because we have a limit, we have to figure out the best way to use that time. We have to make choices — what’s worthy of our limited time, and what isn’t? This means more conscious use of our time.
We haven’t instituted the limits with the kids yet, though we have been talking to them about it and getting them thinking about what would work best for them. And we do tell them to take breaks from devices throughout the day, so they’ll do other things.
For the kids, this has meant they have more unstructured, imaginative play, more reading, more art and music, more activity. Kids get addicted to screens just as much as adults do, and it’s not a healthy thing for them. We’re trying to teach them ways to live a healthy lifestyle, which is a lesson with lifelong benefits.
We’ve found this lifestyle to be healthier, better for relationships, better for our peace of mind. And to me, that means it’s something worth keeping.