Five Filters to Use For Less Screen Time and Better Health

October 4, 2023 by
Photo Credit: LA Johnson/NPR
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If you’re reading this, our guess is you have no trouble avoiding the candy bars in the checkout line at the grocery store. You have no issue driving past McDonald’s, even when you’re hungry.

It’s time we brought that same level of restraint for low-quality, high-calorie foods to our information diet. 

  • The health effects of too much screen time aren’t much different than if we were to load up our shopping carts with sodas, ice cream, and potato chips.

According to Statista, the average American spends about 7 hours a day on the Internet. We scroll social media for 2 hours, watch videos and TV for 4 hours, and spend the remaining hour playing video games. The numbers for kids aren’t very different: The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates kids between 8 and 18 spend about 7.5 hours a day in front of screens for entertainment.

We lay all that out simply to ask the question:

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What aren’t we doing when we spend those minutes staring into our small, glowing supercomputers?

We’re probably not sleeping enough. We’re likely not walking enough. It’s possible we can’t find time enough to cook our own meals or read a good book or journal or sit quietly with a cup of coffee in the morning. (All things that, objectively, make us healthier, happier humans.)

In 2023, the seven biggest streaming platforms planned to spend more than $90B on producing new shows and films for us to sit and watch. That says nothing of the money, effort, and time spent creating content for YouTube, TikTok, Nintendo, or any number of other platforms. It says nothing of the advertising dollars spent by Apple, Samsung, and Google to ensure we buy the most up-to-date devices on which we can watch, scroll, and play.

And all of it for what? 

  • So we can strap ourselves into the roller coaster of emotions, stress, and distraction that come from all that dopamine highjacking, comparing, judging, and threat-seeking.

Just like we can’t wait for the grocery store to stop trying to sell Snickers bars while we wait to pay for our bananas, we can’t wait for the streaming services or tech companies to help us put the screens away.

We’re the heroes that we need.

We can take ownership of our attention by better evaluating what we read, watch, and listen to (while readily abandoning anything that doesn’t serve us). Doing so will allow us to reclaim our time, increase our physical vitality, and move us rapidly toward our goals.

Here are five useful filters we can all use to determine if we’re using our phones, televisions, and computers to our advantage:

  1. The “Smarter” Filter: Are you learning something valuable? Will the knowledge you get further some aspect of your pursuit of Health, Wealth, and Time?
  2. The “Happier” Filter: Is this helping you feel uplifted, inspired, or drive positive emotion? Or is it bringing you down, closing your mind, or generating anger?
  3. The “Mastery” Filter: Are the shows autoplaying? Are you checking your email for the fifth time today? What aren’t you doing because you’re watching, listening, or over-monitoring?
  4. The “Engagement” Filter: Are you passively consuming, or are you engaging? Are you taking notes? Spawning ideas? Watching with someone else as a means of connection? Or are you just letting the digital tide wash over you?
  5. The “Abandonment” Filter: If you turned this off, closed the browser, or put down the phone, would you lose anything meaningful?

Patrick Cummings and Jon Gilson are co-hosts of the Optimal Agency podcast, a project dedicated to helping you get ownership of your life by improving your health, wealth, and time freedom. Before that, they started Again Faster Equipment together in 2006.

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