• Optimistic Thom

How I Rewired My Screen Time Dependence

If you’re reading this article, I probably don’t need to tell you Netflix’s recent documentary, The Social Dilemma, is a must-watch.

The insider take on social media's upbringing is interesting enough, but I really appreciated how this documentary deep dives into the subject. It explores social media’s impact on our mental health, the spread of misinformation, and manipulation methods which keep us endlessly scrolling.

Exceptionally done, this doc only reinforced our thinking that the less screen time we get, the better. But how do we actually walk the walk instead of just talking the talk? Many people think that cutting social media cold turkey is the obvious answer, but I'm afraid I have to disagree.

For many of us, social media is a necessary tool built into our lives.

As someone fully enveloped in the creative marketing world, I look at my life and shamefully admit social media is a tool that I professionally rely upon. Quitting cold turkey would put a severe freeze on my growth to becoming a freelancer, and well, I’d probably get fired from my job to boot.

However, ruling out cold turkey doesn’t mean I can’t make healthy steps to improve my relationship with these apps.

Since recognizing this issue and pursuing this goal, I’ve lowered my screen time by almost 70% through 4 actionable tips that allowed me to rewire my relationship with social media.

Tip #1: Buy a Damn Alarm Clock One of the worst things you can do to fuel your addiction to your phone is having it be the first thing you check when you get up in the morning. By waking up with your phone in hand, you are guaranteed to start your day through one of the following ways:

  1. Anxious because of some alarming news alerts.

  2. Self-conscious because someone is posting beautiful highlights of their life, and you’re just in your same old routine.

  3. Angry because some unimportant idiot said something stupid.

  4. Stressed and unmotivated because of all the emails in your work inbox.

The only time I feel good in the morning after checking my phone is when I wake up to like four memes my partner has sent me from the night before and it’s not like they were time-sensitive, unless, of course, you’re talking to my partner, in which case they are absolutely time-sensitive. Buy an alarm clock, so you don’t pick up your phone until you’re queuing up your morning playlist and I guarantee your morning routine will improve.

Tip #2: Actually Monitor Screen Time The Mayo Clinic Health System recommends about two hours of screen time for adults, so let that be your benchmark to start.

If you find it really hard to stay accountable to this number, set app timers on your phone that will lower your usage of popular apps hoarding your time. Nowadays, most phones can monitor and put safety nets in place to control your screen time, but this service usually goes underutilized.

Don’t be the person to miss out on this insanely helpful tool. Personally, I find fifteen minutes a day for my popular apps like Reddit and Instagram is all the time I need.

Nowadays, I actually find I am under my allotted time, as timers do a wonderful job of removing you from potentially hours of endless scrolling.

Tip #3: Turn Off All Unnecessary Notifications This is by far the biggest step you can take right now to drastically lower your screen time. I know it may not seem like it. We all like to think we aren’t driven by the noises coming from our phone, so notifications shouldn’t be that impactful. But trust me when I say this is the most important tip I have to offer.

Specifically, my advice is to only keep notifications on for messaging apps that could be time-sensitive. Personally, I removed every notification on my phone except for Slack, WhatsApp, and Messenger (so don’t try to make plans with me over Instagram).

Understand and be okay with the fact that phone notifications have power over our decisions and impulses. Once you accept that fact, you’ll see it’s much healthier to remove them altogether than try and live with them.

Tip #4: Let People Know You’re Rewiring This last tip has a bit of a learning curve because, frankly, you don’t want to be seen as the person who writes an eight-page novel on how they are quitting Facebook, only to come back to Facebook the following week.

However, when trying to lower your screen time, you need to consider that you probably communicate with your loved ones a lot on those apps and that you may need to set expectations.

For example, as I mentioned, my partner and I send each other countless memes on Instagram. When I began to lower my usage to eventually setting a fifteen-minute timer, I had to give her the heads up; this is what I was doing, and a lot of the time, I wouldn’t be reachable via the app.

It may seem like a small and insignificant step, but it’s essential. Why?

Because at the end of the day, you’re not just making little steps to lower your screen time; you’re systematically changing how your life interacts with your phone.

To do that, you need to cover all of your bases, so make sure people know how to get a hold of you in time-sensitive situations.


The Social Dilemma showed us a lot of things we already know.

Social media is terrible and can have sweeping impacts on our life. But at its end, this documentary also pushed an optimistic note that with the technology we have, there is potential to do so many things with our lives.

Let’s not swear off these tools, but instead, let’s rewire, and use them with meaning.


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©2020 by Optimistic Thom