Well-Being//

12 Small Ways to Take Breaks From Our Screens

Our screen time is higher than ever, and it’s time to start setting boundaries to protect our well-being.

Blackzheep/ Shutterstock
Blackzheep/ Shutterstock

With all of the time we spend working on our computers, Zooming into meetings, and scrolling through our feeds to stay updated, it’s no surprise that many of us have experienced increased screen time during the pandemic. While we’re grateful we have technology to help us stay connected and productive, spending too much time on our screens can affect our sleep and our focus, strain our eyes, and even prevent us from being present with our loved ones. 

We asked our Thrive community to share how they prioritize taking breaks from their devices to reduce screen time. Which of these tips will you try?

Institute a “no-laptop Saturday”

“My wife and I have decided together to have a ‘no-laptop Saturday’ every week, so we keep each other accountable. When we go out, we do take our phones in case of emergencies. However, it means that we can leave our electronic gadgets behind and go on long walks in the nearby countryside while enjoying each other’s company. It’s been a really good way to recharge our batteries in preparation for a week that will fill up with innumerable tasks that take hours on the computer. This ritual gives us time for each other and allows us to prioritize what matters.”

—Andrew Drury, funeral celebrant and writer, Surrey, UK

Keep our devices out of your bedroom

“I’ve found that one simple way to reduce screen time is to resist the temptation to take any devices to bed with you. My bedroom is a laptop-free zone, and my phone charges overnight across the room on my dressing table. It’s not always easy, but it makes a big difference.”

—Laura Aiken, resilience consultant, Bristol, UK

Take a tech-free walk

“My best method for taking a screen break is to go for a walk. It can be hard to tear myself away, especially if I’m in the midst of a busy work day, but I know that once I’m outside I’ll appreciate the mini digital detox. Even if it’s only for ten minutes, the combination of stepping away from the screens and inhaling some fresh air makes it a win in multiple ways.”

—Elizabeth Knell, conscious change coach, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Try the 20-20-20 strategy

“A year ago, I never prioritized taking breaks, and I spent an average of ten hours staring at different screens each day. Everything changed when I went for a medical eye exam and the doctor advised on the lifestyle changes I needed to make. Though it hasn’t been the easiest thing to do, I now follow the 20-20-20 rule, where I look away from the screen every 20 minutes and look at something around 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.”

—Chiebuka Nwosu, content writer and strategist, Lagos, Nigeria

Create “buffer space” at the end of the day

“I find it especially important during this WFH lifestyle to separate the day of computer time to relaxation time. I try to create a buffer space of about an hour or two for a dedicated to a workout in order to set a hard stop to my workday and differentiate the time and space. It helps to do an activity that is solely dedicated time for yourself. I am able to disconnect from the day more easily when I have this buffer time, and it helps me stay off my screens.”

—Alexis Coulter, MBA, marketing executive and newsletter founder

Take handwritten notes

“I’ve been so accustomed to taking notes on my computer, but neuroscience shows there are both brain health and developmental benefits to handwriting rather than typing. While we may think typing notes is more efficient, it is only more efficient if the goal is to have typed notes, rather than process thoughts and information. I’ve started to carve out time each week to sit quietly with pencil and paper. It’s helped me take breaks from my screens and process my thoughts and ideas.”

—Donna Peters, executive coach, retired consulting partner, Atlanta, GA

Chunk your Zoom calls together

“All of our company meetings take place virtually over Zoom. In the beginning, it was novel and fun to be in multiple video conferences, but video meetings are very tiring and can feel draining after a while. In order to give myself the breaks I need from my computer, I’ve started to group my meetings together into one half of the day — for example, reserving Tuesday mornings for meetings, or Wednesday afternoons. This gives me the time to dedicate to uninterrupted work. I also try to have at least one day per week that is completely meeting-free.”

—Fiona Livingston, associate director marketing and communications, London, UK

Keep designated work apps and personal apps

“I try my best to draw a line between the communication tools for work and my personal life. I like to keep all of my work conversations on email and Zoom, and keep my personal life communication on WhatsApp and Skype. I also establish set working hours for myself and tell my colleagues when I’m available. It’s not always easy or perfect, but the idea is to avoid making yourself available 24/7.”

—Xiaoyu C., business coach and consultant, Berlin, Germany 

Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning

“I used to start my day by checking my phone, but I’ve realized that I feel so much less overwhelmed when I can hold off on screen time until later in the morning. Now, I wake up and carry my phone to my office desk to charge so I’m not carrying it around to my breakfast table or my bathroom. It allows me the morning quiet time for centering my focus, carving out time for a workout, and even doing some deep breathing before starting my work.”

—Vidya Mahabaleswar, senior product manager, San Francisco,  CA

Set downtime hours

“I set downtime hours on my iPhone to limit my screen time, which stops notifications in the evening and the morning. I love this feature because I can allow certain apps to be used, like my meditation and breathing apps to start and end the day, while limiting my time spent on other apps. Making this change to my phone has dramatically decreased my phone use throughout the day.”

—Jessie Patterson, founder of NourishX, New York, NY

Designate certain “no-screen” nights

“A few months into the pandemic, my husband and I noticed that we were spending every evening watching a screen for entertainment. We felt disconnected and a deep sense of boredom, despite the fantastic plots that were unfolding before us. We decided to establish some boundaries around screen time and only watching television on the weekends. During the week, we read, play chess, do yoga and pilates, talk, and prioritize time together. We feel a much greater sense of harmony and are even noticing that our new sense of well-being has translated into our parenting.”

—Lauren Killam, space law communicator, Berkeley, CA

Schedule time away from your phone

“My work requires me to use a lot of technology from my coaching calls, emails, and sharing content on LinkedIn. One ritual that I have been following for a while is having scheduled time on my calendar to go out for a walk without my phone. On days when it’s freezing outside, I use that same time slotted in my calendar to jump on the trampoline with my 5-year-old. This time is permanently blocked, and I schedule all my meetings around this window. It’s a non-negotiable!”

—Preeti Khorana, resume writer and career coach, Toronto, Canada

What’s your go-to tip for reducing your screen time? Share it with us in the comments!

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