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My Screen-Time Sabbatical: 3rd Week

This is the end of my third week of my 3-month Screen-Time Sabbatical. I have new insights to share and some book recommendations.

My goal is to reduce my screen-time by at least 75% over 3 months, translating to 6 hours less a day. By doing this, I get back over 3 weeks of my time in only 90 days.

Elephant in the Room - Screen-Time Increase:

I thought that my screen-time would be even lower than the previous week, so I was concerned to see that it had almost doubled. How could this be true when I'd been leaving my phone on the kitchen counter for the majority of the day, I didn't have it in my bedroom, and I continued to avoid social media?

The answer to this mystery inspired me to sit with my goal and ponder my definition of 'success.' My screen-time had gone up for 3 reasons:

  • Camera Use: I'd started taking photos again, overcoming my concern that a photo might lead to a Google search, and then to a check of my email, and then...

  • Pinterest: Our basement renovation required some Pinterest research, allowing me to be specific about design and finishes when planning with our builder.

  • Sonos/Spotify: I'd started listening to more music in our house, inspired by a week of sunny days and teaching our son about 80's music.

In all 3 instances, I felt comfortable with the use of my phone. The increase in screen-time was the result of a conscious choice to use it as a tool for a specific outcome - rather than passively using it as a distraction. This was not in contradiction to the INTENTION behind my goal.

With this awareness, I wondered...

What did I like about how I had used my phone over the past week?

I love to take photos and videos of nature - it's part of who I am, feeling connected to the world around me and what gives me joy. That said, there is a fine balance between slowing down, being present to the moment and experiencing my surroundings through my senses - versus responding to everything I see with the need to capture it in an image to share with other people.

I have to admit, it was REALLY hard for me to not take my phone outside with me at 6:30 a.m. so I could take photos and videos of this precious time of the day. That was an ingrained habit I had, with good intentions. I'm the first person up in our house, and my family misses the sunrise, the uninterrupted birdsong, the dew on the leaves... But, when I skip the step of truly experiencing this myself, all of us only experience it on my screen. I had to ask myself, "What if I fully-absorbed the moments of my morning by breathing in the scent of the cedar and rain, watching the colours dance in the sky as the sun rose, feeling the cool dew on the grass touch my toes, listening to the symphony of birds and tasting the tiny mint leaves emerging from the ground - and I shared that experience with my words?" Not only is this shift an opportunity for me to start my morning feeling fully alive, it's also an opportunity to connect with my family through story and conversation. If it's the most amazing sunset I've ever seen, I'll run indoors to fetch my phone and capture it - but only as a conscious exception.

So, when do I take photos? I take myself on photo walks, with the sole purpose being to take pictures. These are short walks (in distance) where I wander in a specific area, noticing everything around me at a very slow pace. Often, this is simply in our garden or on my route for walking our dogs. I love to return to familiar places because it reminds me that while nothing stays the same, there is predictability and beauty in the constant rhythm of life.

Finding images for our builder on Pinterest and playing music in our home are both examples of why I like to have a phone. It's a helpful tool. With my awareness that it could lead to more screen-time once I'd found what I needed, it felt natural to return my phone to its place in the kitchen and leave it there.

Was there anything I could do to ensure this increase didn't lead me to distracted use again?

I've been using the tip from Tim Ferriss to leave my phone on Airplane Mode. I do this when I'm taking photos, preventing me from being distracted by incoming content. Without cellular connection, my phone is simply my camera.

For playing music in our house, I'm considering leaving an old iPad in our kitchen with only our Sonos and Spotify apps on it. That way, anyone can play music, adjust the volume and choose the room to listen in. If we want our son to explore and know about music, we need to give him (supervised) access to choose the playlists too! With this, playing music is not controlled by my phone - another way to avoid picking it up.

Connecting With People:

In honour of Earth Day, I spontaneously invited friends from around the world to join me for a 90-minute Forest Therapy walk. Instead of spending 90 minutes texting them or liking their social media posts to connect, it felt like an opportunity to really connect - with them, myself and the forest in our garden.

That morning, I remotely-guided a group of 16 friends using a simple audio call. Everyone dialed-in from their garden, local park, patio - even a farm. We were spread across Canada and the U.K. I can't describe how meaningful and beautiful this was - I think it took all of us by surprise. The warmth and generous listening as people painted pictures of where they were with their words felt like a soft blanket on a cold morning. If my Screen-Time Sabbatical only impacted me by inspiring this moment to happen, it would be enough.

I've Started to Read Again:

Before bed, I used to listen to a podcast, scroll through Instagram or read the news on my phone. I thought this cleared my head after a busy day, but it did the complete opposite. The blue light on my screen triggered my brain that it was time to wake-up rather than prepare for sleep. I would attribute my alertness to being a person who was 'creatively inspired at night' vs in the morning. It wasn't uncommon for me to get out of bed to go to our studio and sit at my computer, often until the wee hours of the morning. In the morning, of course, I'd be tired and have difficulty concentrating. With 2 dogs and a son who needs to go to school, there was no option to sleep-in. I simply thought that I wasn't a 'morning person.'

For me, the truth is, I am a morning person. My creativity and ability to execute on ideas is abundant - so long as I've slept well the night before and I follow my Morning Routine when I wake-up. In order to sleep well, I need to follow my Evening Routine. At 8:30 p.m., my phone goes away and my body spends the next 2 hours putting the day to rest, preparing for the next day - and I read in bed. It's been so long since I've done that!

Some books that I've been enjoying:

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

The Practice, by Seth Godin

Embers, by Richard Wagamese

The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron

What I've Been Noticing:

Here are a few photos of what I've been noticing this past week. Spring has brought flowers, rain and new growth. I love this time of year, everything emerging from its slumber.

When I think of Spring, I always think of For a New Beginning, by John O'Donohue:

I hope that this week's post has offered some helpful insights and ideas. I welcome any of your own ideas for what works best for you.

Stay-tuned for a blog post later this week about integrity - to yourself.


Valerie spent over 25 years leading technology teams to reach their potential in the energy, utility, banking and technology industries. Over the last 6 years, Valerie has developed a private practice as a trusted Executive Coach (ICF), Mentor and Certified Forest Therapy Guide (ANFT) for clients around the world. Her unique approach incorporates guided time in nature in support of mental health and overall wellbeing.

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