Habit Series: The Scroll & Screen Time Minutes

September 2, 2020

I have been averaging ~160 minutes/day of screen time. I use Apple’s Screen Time feature, and then manually subtract minutes spent on apps like Haiku (for seeing patients), Doximity (for seeing patients), Webex (work meetings), and TigerText (work texting platform).

Still though – over 2 hours most days of . . . what? Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. I’m not sure all of it is active screen time, actually, because the apps listed below don’t always add up to the total. For example, yesterday’s non-work activity included:

30 min on Messages (though I did not spent lots of time texting so . . I think it was more that this window was open). Last week’s daily average: 21 min

24 min on Instagram (real). Last week’s daily average: 41 min

23 min on Safari (real). Last week’s daily average: 34 min

12 min on Reddit (I was reading the Hobonichi Reddit, obviously!)

9 min on PodCruncher (my podcast app of choice)

8 min on Mail. Last week’s daily average: 10 min

6 min on theshubox.com probably reading your lovely comments

3 min on Feedly. Last week’s daily average: 5 min

2 min on YNAB

I mean . . . that’s not so terrible, is it? (My opinion: No.)

Honestly, when I really think about it . . . it’s definitely Instagram that is the worst offender. It’s the one app that kind of sucks me in kind of a mindless trancelike way. I don’t look at celebrity accounts or a lot of politicized content (I basically only listen to news for 10 minutes in the morning with the Up First podcast on NPR).

I don’t really want to quit entirely though, because I get a lot of ideas for both podcasts there, and it’s a place to connect with listeners/readers. I follow a lot of planner accounts and a handful of IRL friends. I also follow a lot of Black women including several antiracism accounts (The Conscious Kid, Rachel Cargle, etc). I think it’s important to keep those issues top of mind so I like seeing them regularly in my feed.

I don’t find Instagram stressful, per se. Looking at planners / hand lettering / bullet journal art is usually calming and fun, though it does make me want to buy things!

ANYWAY. I’m not sure where I’m even going with this post. I guess I’d just like to continue to remain very conscious and aware of the minutes I choose to spend on the phone. I would like to NOT use the phone when I’m actively parenting, too — I have gotten better about that, and it’s the reason I don’t post a lot of Instagram story-type content (though it’s tempting sometimes!).

I think I get enough done. I DO find that the most screen time I use, the fewer steps I take/fewer pages I read. I try to remember those tradeoffs (and the fact that there are SO MANY BOOKS AND SO LITTLE TIME!) when I find myself reaching for the phone instead of a book.

I’m actually really happy that Apple tracks these metrics!

Would be interested in hearing others’ strategies on this issue (or . . . lack of issue!).


  • Reply Lisa S. September 2, 2020 at 7:07 am

    I always appreciate your honest and balanced view on the i-phone (not all good, not all bad) because it is something I think about a lot as well. One strategy that has been working for me is to set the “downtime” mode for weekdays to auto lock most phone functions between when I’m done with work and my daughter’s bedtime. It is surprising how motivating it is to see the apps closed when I turn to pick up my phone habitually during those hours.

  • Reply gwinne September 2, 2020 at 7:40 am

    I’m on a screen for most of the day for work (writing, online teaching, processing work-related email). I could be better about tracking my non-work screen time (blog reading, occasional twitter, regular streaming of shows) but I don’t feel like I’m “misusing” a lot of my time. It might be an interesting experiment to see what I did if I had “extra” time but I suspect it would be more work. LOL.

  • Reply Grateful Kae September 2, 2020 at 8:00 am

    I definitely feel like I would like to decrease my screen time. Actually, it’s not even the “screen time use” numbers exactly that bother me, per se, it’s more the instinctive grabbing of my phone in free moments and “making the rounds” checking on my email, FB or IG. Why? Why do I do this?? It’s so annoying! I am not exactly sure what great, exciting thing I think I’m going to find. It’s just a bad habit. I have done things in the past where I schedule specific times in my day to check in on social media/ email and it definitely helps. Think I’m going to go back to doing that. I’m like you- I don’t want to give those platforms up completely. I do enjoy them, I like connecting with people and getting new ideas and stuff too. But the constant-ness of it needs to stop for me. I only spend a couple minutes each time, but it adds up and is unnecessary to do whenever I have random moments of free time or downtime.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger September 2, 2020 at 10:55 am

      Totally get that!!

      • Reply CNM September 2, 2020 at 11:51 am

        I relate to “making the rounds.” This is one goal of mine for September- stop the scroll!

    • Reply Megan September 3, 2020 at 12:23 am

      I’m also working on that habit. I think to myself “unbreak your brain” as a trigger to try and stop the habitual phone grabbing when there’s some pause in something I’m doing

    • Reply Megan Stepaniak September 3, 2020 at 5:07 pm

      YES! I have less issue with the time spent but more annoyed at myself at the frequency. I have also realized with WFH I am constantly looking at my phone while in work mtgs (sometimes even 1:1’s where I should be focused) so I really need to get this under control bc it is this bad habit and only makes my attention span worse.

  • Reply omdg September 2, 2020 at 8:55 am

    I have been seeing my non-productive screen time creep up, and I would definitely like to decrease my time spent using social media. However it’s really hard to separate that from 1) my workout program (40 min per day), 2) DuoLingo (5-20 min per day), 3) work related email (a lot since I don’t have to log in to my computer with dual authentication to access it), 4) child related email. Is it really a waste of my time to look at houses on Trulia? I don’t think so, since we are trying to sell our house in Philadelphia, and may consider buying one here at some point.

    The only thing that really helps me reduce mindless scrolling is physically putting my phone out of reach, which is what I’ve been doing the past few days.

    I still don’t really understand Twitter, and that’s probably a good thing!

  • Reply KGC September 2, 2020 at 9:21 am

    My husband got me an Apple Watch for my birthday in June and one of the main reasons I have come to love it so much is that I can keep my phone physically far away from me in the house but still get notifications. This means that I’m not afraid of missing calls/texts/whatever BUT it takes away the ability to mindlessly scroll afterwards. It’s easy to answer a text on the phone and then (without thinking, scarily) just hop over to instagram to check in and then BOOM 20 minutes are gone. But when the phone is physically not there, I find that I can either respond to a text or notification via voice OR triage for later (which I’m doing more and more and I think is a good thing…most texts/notifications that feel urgent just…aren’t). There is no mindless scrolling or browsing on the watch. And now that I’m getting used to the phone not being in the same room with me, I’m able to keep it away more when the kids (ages 4 and 1) are awake/home, too, which is something I have actively tried to work on. Plus, I like that it tracks heart rate and minutes of standing and minutes of exercise and all that =)

    Just something to think about! This was a very unexpected side effect – I didn’t actually think I wanted (and certainly did not need) an Apple Watch but I keep telling my husband that it is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Don’t get me wrong, I do still scroll instagram and whatnot, but I find that it’s getting to be more intentional/deliberate than it used to be when it was more just boredom/procrastination/habit.

    • Reply Kersti September 2, 2020 at 2:55 pm

      Totally agree! You would think the Apple Watch would make your tech more intrusive…but it really helps me to stop from checking my phone a million times a day. I know I’ll see the important stuff.

  • Reply Jen September 2, 2020 at 9:41 am

    I also love scrolling Instagram. I have spent some time adding and deleting my ‘follows’ so it’s things i want to see and make me feel good. I actively take out things i find stressful, etc. But i also have used the ‘Well-being’ app on my Andriod phone and put a timer on it. I can extend the time and sometimes i change the amount of time but it shuts down for the day after 45 minutes at the moment. It really forces me to be less mindless when i pick up my phone. But I also acknowledge that ‘zoning out’ and having some mindless time is okay – I definitely need down time when my mind is always going. It’s just making sure that i am not beating myself up about it.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns September 2, 2020 at 10:22 am

    I think your screen time usage is actually pretty low! I don’t look at screen time very often but I do limit myself to 1.5 hours of social media each day, which includes messages and whatsapp – I don’t think of those as social media, though. That’s how I keep in touch with a lot of my friends since many friends live far away. But once I hit that 90 minutes, I get locked out of IG and FB and I try not to override that lock out. I also lock myself out of IG and FB from 4:30-6:30 each day as that’s when I should be focusing on spending time with our son. I can get bored and start to scroll things when he’s playing but I really don’t want to be doing that, so locking myself out is the best way to handle that.

    I don’t even pay attention to time on Safari/Google or other things because if I am using them, it’s for a reason (looking something up, buying something, etc).

  • Reply Jess September 2, 2020 at 11:35 am

    My phone (Google Pixel) allows me to set a time limit on how long I use an app each day, which is really useful for the mindless scrolling type apps that I still want to use some (insta for you, linkedin in my case). I would recommend looking into that! You can always change it whenever you want, but it turns off my access to the app unless I change the setting, which I don’t tend to bother doing cause it takes me out of my trance.

  • Reply Jessica September 2, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    My screen time is FAR from under control, but one helpful habit I’ve actually successfully implemented is to delete the Instagram app from my phone every day. I have yet to find the magic interval/time of day for allowing myself Instagram access, but the habit of deleting the app cuts down on my mindless scrolling (and bad feelings about said scrolling) significantly!

  • Reply Coco September 2, 2020 at 4:56 pm

    I just did a recap of my august mindfulness practice recap in which I aimed to not do social media during the day and only at night after girls go to sleep. My screen time dramatically declined and what was more interesting is that I didn’t even find FB and instagram fun anymore so at the end of the month, i just deleted them from my phone. if i want to check, i can use laptop.

    I still use my phone for essentials (to-do, safari for quick search, podcast, text), but even for email checking, i aim not to do so in my phone when Im at home.

    it sounds hard, but it’s really not. 🙂

    feel free to see my recap and my reflection of 21 days of bullet journal, 100% inspired by you!!!


    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger September 2, 2020 at 8:20 pm

      I am TOTALLY impressed with the changes you saw! Maybe I will try something more stringent like you did in Sept. WOW to the no email on weekends and essentially no social media!

  • Reply Rebecca September 3, 2020 at 12:09 am

    Wait, so that total includes laptop time as well as phone? I’m impressed! I’m trying to bring my phone time down but I haven’t been tracking time spent on my computer.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger September 3, 2020 at 5:37 am

      oh NO WAY does it include laptop. BUT, I don’t really feel I waste time on my laptop. I’m either writing, doing work, etc.

  • Reply Sarah K September 3, 2020 at 4:40 am

    My screen time is TERRIBLE- so I think yours is not bad at all. I am totally addicted to Twitter and Facebook. It is a bad circle because the more you engage/post, the more likes/comments/retweets you get. I miss my brain before social media.

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