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My Screen-Time Sabbatical: 4th Week

This is the end of my fourth week of my 3-month Screen-Time Sabbatical. I have some insights to share, tools for understanding your emotions and an online summit recommendation.

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.

Looking at ALL Screen-Time:

With working from home on my computer, and even guiding people in nature using my iPhone, I thought about how much total screen-time I was having each day. I questioned my original decision to only focus on reducing the amount of time I looked at my phone. Why wouldn't I pay attention to the amount of time I'm looking at my computer screen - and even my Apple Watch? If I was using my phone less, what if I was unconsciously using my computer and watch more?

This wholistic approach had a significant impact on my behaviour this past week. By paying attention to my habits with all devices, I became conscious of how long I was sitting, the environment I was creating for 'thinking time' and how I prepared for a task that required focus or learning.

I realized that I had a habit of sitting in front of my computer to begin most things. Even if I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to plan, research, learn or write, I sat down and typed my password - as if my screen was a Magic 8 Ball. It had become a learned habit that my computer was an extension of my brain. Without a keyboard and screen, I unconsciously assumed that my brain wasn't 'plugged-in.' The truth was my brain was being cluttered by images and ideas before I gave myself a chance to start with a blank page and ideas of my own. This translated to hours of screen-time that wasn't only wasted, it was also keeping me seated. I needed a new way to start.

A Fresh Start:

As I noted in my blog post about the 2nd week of my Screen-Time Sabbatical, my Morning Routine is the standard structure of how I start my day, every day. It's an essential part of my wellbeing. That said, the next chapter in my day is focused on my work. With clear priorities, objectives and questions in-hand, what if I didn't begin each task with a screen?

This past week, I've chosen to begin any work I do in a few different ways. I'm experimenting to see what feels most natural to me. Some examples of my fresh beginnings are:

  • Going for a walk outside for 15 - 30 minutes while holding a question, such as:

    • "What would the best outcome be?"

    • "How do I need to show-up right now?"

    • "How might this allow me to teach, inspire or improve things for someone?"

    • "How does this serve my priorities?"

    • "What is the question I'm trying to answer?"

  • Writing a mind map on my whiteboard for 15 minutes (while standing) - the name of the task in the middle and 5 branches to begin with:

    1. desired outcome

    2. who might benefit from this?

    3. information & resources I'll need

    4. what I already have & know

    5. key steps to get from start to finish

  • Writing for 15 minutes, with a paper and pencil, about everything that comes to mind about what I'm about to start doing - no stopping

My experiments with 'fresh starts' have revealed 4 things over the last week:

  1. I used my computer for an average of 2 hours less a day.

  2. My ability to focus, generate creative ideas and apply critical thinking has improved.

  3. I finished my work much more quickly - and with higher quality.

  4. I walked at least 3,000 more steps a day.

Now, all of my work begins outside or at my desk without computer screens. Here, you'll find me in flow with a clear head.

Mental Health Week:

Here in Canada, Mental Health Week is May 3 - 9th, 2021. This year's theme is understanding your emotions.

Noticing your emotions, being able to pause to recognize what they are, and taking time to identify the possible trigger for them is an essential skill for wellbeing. I like to think of my emotions as being like the dashboard on my car. If I don't understand what the symbols mean when they illuminate, all I know is that something is wrong. It could be that the car is due for a service - or it could mean that the engine is on fire. To respond appropriately, I need to recognize the symbol and know the appropriate response. Likewise, it's good to make sure that my car is operating well before I go anywhere. Before I drive, I note that the tank/battery is full and the engine temperature is normal - I can start my journey safely. Why is everything ok? Because I proactively monitor and maintain my car. It's equally important for me to monitor my emotions and regularly do things that I know will maintain my overall wellbeing.

"Am I having a 'negative' emotion that I need to pause and address?"

"Am I feeling at ease, ready to begin?"

Understanding emotions isn't just an exercise for children in school. Many adults aren't able to articulate how they're feeling beyond: happy, sad and mad. Sad and mad are often avoided or numbed. Happy is frequently fed with activities that generate temporary dopamine hits to maintain it. While a sense of wellbeing includes feeling more "positive" than "negative" emotions in the overall balance, it doesn't mean that it doesn't include negative emotions. In fact, pausing to notice the trigger for a negative emotion can inform a person to make better choices in life that will consistently serve their needs.

Being able to identify, name, and describe emotions is not only empowering, it also allows us to talk about them - and even ask for help. Research supports that attaching words to our emotions can positively impact our physical and mental health.

Discover more resources, data and toolkits at

You may find this Summit of interest as well: The Science and Wisdom of Emotions

What I've Been Noticing:

Here are a few photos of what I've been noticing this past week.

I've been paying attention to the beauty of beginnings and the threshold of change. Spring is a time of vibrant cherry blossoms, fresh needles emerging from the buds of fir trees, mason bees building mud nests for their eggs in wooden tunnels - and several puppies in our neighbourhood! It's also a time of the blossoms falling to the ground as the fruit emerges, soft needles blending into hardy needles that will support heavy cones, and the 4-week lifecycle of mason bees coming to a close as their eggs develop in the cocoons that they made with precision and care.

Bright beginnings emerge into new things. This can feel uncomfortable - we may even experience a sense of loss. Sometimes, it's good to remind ourselves that we started with beautiful intentions to ultimately create something that matters.

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.




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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