January 13, 2020
Set new intentions for how you'll use your favorite technology.
Technology and the internet are a more integral part of our lives than ever. We stream our favorite shows and music, connect with friends through social media and instant messenger, and shop, work and study online. Yet as we move into a new decade with superfast internet set to embed technology even more firmly in everyday life, it's becoming increasingly important to set clear intentions on how we use – and manage – our gadgets.
1. Do a digital benchmark
In 2019, US adults will have spent more time on their smartphones and tablets than they did watching TV – but what exactly are you doing on yours? Understanding how and when you use your device – and whether those occasions are crucial or simply a way to pass the time – is key if you want to cut down on your screen time.
Your smartphone is likely to have an app in Settings that shows you how much screen time you're clocking every day. Or, RescueTime is an app for computers and mobile devices that automatically tracks which sites and programs you use, helping to identify what you spend the most time on. Apps like Moment track how you use your smartphone, with tips on how to cut back, and a family-focused option to track your kids' smartphone usage too.
2. Designate device-free time
The mere presence of a smartphone has been shown to reduce focus – and the effect is greater when the phone is visible. If you don't need your phone while working, keeping it out of sight can improve concentration, while setting device-free time can help create space for quality family time. And for those interested in a digital detox – a few days away from any devices has been shown to boost engagement with one's surroundings. You can also set parental controls on your internet and cable to limit your kids' TV and internet use — say, for after homework time.
3. Turn off smartphone notifications
We pick up our phones an average of 52 times a day – and each time we interrupt a task to turn to our phones, it can take 25 minutes to regain our place. Minimize these distractions to improve productivity – and even mental wellbeing – by reducing the number of apps that are allowed to compete for your attention. You can head into Settings on your Android or iPhone to turn off notifications for apps one by one.
Alternately, you might consider enabling Do Not Disturb mode or Airplane Mode for certain times – during the workday or after 8 pm, for example – in order to mute notifications. If needed, you can always create a list of favorite callers who can always get through in case there's an emergency.
4. Protect your privacy on social media
Get clarity on what you're sharing with friends, acquaintances and the public by heading into your favorite social media accounts and double-checking those privacy settings. Facebook offers a Privacy Checkup tool where you can adjust what profile details are publicly visible while the Privacy Shortcuts menu allows you make more detailed tweaks – for example, for posts or photos to be inaccessible to certain contacts. On LinkedIn, make sure you know what part – if any – of your career profile is available on public search or to other LinkedIn users.
On Twitter and Instagram, you can toggle whether posts can only be viewed by followers and whether new followers must first be approved. And if you're a Pinterest user, you can prevent your boards from appearing in Google Searches, or set Secret boards that aren't visible to any user.
5. Set up – and secure — reliable high-speed internet
As more of our lives are lived online, and we rely on the cloud for movies, music, work and more, a dropped connection is more than frustrating, it can derail an evening. Invest in a great network, then protect it with a secure network name (never include your real name or address details!) and, of course, a strong, unique password.
6. Slow down
Find yourself endlessly scrolling social media or that personalized news feed like 28% of Americans? Studies increasingly show our brains are wired to enjoy the never-ending feed, which can end up becoming a significant time suck. Try leaving your phone behind on short errands to practice being phone-less, and embracing moments where you are not focused on your device, but present in your surroundings.