I Spent an Hour a Day Screen-Free, and It Made Me More Mindful of How I Use My Devices
I recently noticed that I had started carrying my phone around my apartment with me like a newborn baby. Even if I was just getting up to make breakfast — a task that would occupy my hands the entire time — my phone came with. This realization, combined with rising screen-time alerts, inspired me to try spending one hour a day screen-free.
Originally, I thought I'd just go without my phone, but I decided to expand the challenge to all technology. I hoped that it would give me a healthier relationship with my screens, and less dependence on them. I also hoped that the hour of separation would help me realize that nothing bad would happen if my phone wasn't glued to my hip. (I work in social media, so keeping it near me during the workday is non-negotiable.) Heck, maybe I'd even discover some new hobbies along the way, or at the very least, get through the stack of magazines on my desk.
Overall, I wanted a greater awareness of how much I was using my phone, and just how attached to it I actually was. And that's exactly what I got. Here's what happened over the course of this little experiment.
I couldn't even properly start this challenge without my phone. After putting it down and switching on airplane mode, I grabbed a notebook so I could keep track of my observations, but without my phone, I didn't even know what date to put at the top of the page.
The magazine I read over dinner was full of references my fingers were itching to google, and when my boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go grocery shopping the next day, I couldn't check my schedule. I resisted the urge to reach for my phone, but I'll admit that I opened my laptop to check my calendar instead. That was when I decided that all screens had to be off limits. Of course, when dinner was done, I treated myself to a cupcake that was way too adorable not to post on Instagram. Thankfully, it looked so delicious that it was pretty easy to dig in without first sharing it with my followers.
After dinner, I continued my reading and desire to look things up. I'll admit that I was definitely counting down the minutes until my hour was over. I missed having an internet's worth of answers at my disposal. My first day definitely made me realize just how much I use my phone, and what I use it for — even something as supposedly screen-free as reading.
The easiest screen-free day was a Friday, because I was eager to shut my laptop and start the weekend. I spent nearly two hours without my phone and, while I was proud and trying to maximize that time, I caved to the feeling that I was missing out on something. Of course, very few notifications had been missed, and none were urgent, which was a helpful reality check for my neuroses. Another day, I was texting like mad to help a friend in a group chat, and once that issue was resolved, it was actually nice to put my phone away for a bit.
On the weekend, I decided to spend my screen-free hour on a walk. I did bring my phone with for safety, but I resolved to keep it in my pocket and leave the headphones at home. I was definitely more observant, and the most interesting challenge happened when I stopped for a coffee. Waiting in the lobby without my phone made me feel totally alien, and I had no idea what to look at without making the baristas feel like I was staring them down. I fought the impulse to grab it and start scrolling, even though the total wait was probably under three minutes. I was the only person waiting who wasn't on their phone.
All this felt worth it on Sunday, when I received what felt like a congratulatory notification: my screen time had gone down 27 percent. Not bad for a challenge that had started on a Wednesday.
Throughout the week, I kept trying to find the best time of day to put my phone away for an hour. You'd think it would be bedtime, but I quickly realized that my bedtime routine involved checking my email, calendar, the next day's weather, and practicing Duolingo. While some of those habits were constructive, my screen-free hour helped me realize that checking my email before bed did the opposite of calm my nerves. So, I typically scheduled this phone-free hour sometime between signing off work and going to bed.
I have to admit that by the last few days of this challenge, I was ready for it to be over. I was definitely reading more, but that was about it. Furthermore, I was reading nonfiction at the time, which could be frustrating when I didn't have the internet at my disposal to look things up. And any memories that were triggered, whether they were items on a to-do list or birthday wishes that still needed sending, had to be written down in wait for the hour to be over.
I think of myself as someone with a relatively healthy relationship with technology, but I'd never been confronted with how many things I use my phone for. It's my wallet, my calendar, my weatherman, my workout buddy, and more. I'm glad I did this experiment, because it showed me how connected I am to my phone, but it was certainly challenging. It definitely helped me confront my habits around technology, and I've noticed that I'm much more comfortable leaving my phone in the other room, or forgetting about it for a few hours. This challenge also helped me with that "missing out" feeling — those notifications will be there when you pick it back up, and they're rarely urgent, anyways.
Full transparency: I don't think I'll continue the habit of spending a concentrated hour without my phone. This challenge was definitely insightful into how much I use it, but it was also insightful into just how useful it is. If anything, I realized how integrated my phone is to my daily life, and I struggled to give that usefulness and ease up. While it was undoubtedly healthy for me to have some time away, and I'll try to find those periods moving forward, I'll focus more on being mindful of how often I use it, and what I use it for.