Filling Downtime without Phone
Dear Ms. Smartphone: I noticed that my four- year- old nephew has difficulty spending free time alone. He prefers to play a game on my phone or use his tablet. But when I examined my own habits, I saw that I was like him! When I have downtime I also play games or scroll on the phone. I’ve decided to change this and not scroll when I feel bored. Suggestions for filling downtime without phone? I am planning to do it for a month and see what happens! Darryl
Dear Darryl: Kudos for your observations. You are certainly not alone in checking your phone when you are bored. This site claims that the average adult now picks up their phone once every 3 minutes or 344 times a day (accounting for sleep). That rate has doubled 4 times since just 2019, perhaps because of the pandemic. But, don’t take a survey like this too literally. It’s meant to be click bait, what you hope to avoid. The truth is that after your self-imposed 30 day experiment, you won’t care about averages and what other people do. This experiment in filling downtime without phone is entirely personal.
As technology becomes more immersive we are all forgetting about the value of unstructured time. Yet it is important for adults and vital for young children. Learning to manage down-time and making discoveries through unstructured play deepens a child’s capacity to learn. Your nephew will thrive when he spends more play time in a three dimensional world with a caring, attentive uncle. And your own experience will improve. There are wellness benefits- it’s likely to calm your mental disposition and rest your eyes.
Families need this and often try to reduce screen time with an extended digital-detox or a digital-Sabbath on weekends. However, that longer break from tech is not always feasible. The compromise you seek, choosing to not pick up and use the phone during downtime seems like a good compromise.
To get started, first try to understand the triggers that make you pick up the phone. What are you browsing when you have downtime? One suggestion is to check the sites you visit on your phone. On an Apple phone go to >Settings>Screentime>See My Activity. You’ll even find an option there for scheduling their version of downtime! Or, you can keep an offline log. If you email me, I will send the materials I use in my class on Mindfulness and Smartphones.
If you are accustomed to checking sites like Facebook or Twitter throughout the day there’s a way to rein them in. You don’t have to give them up but set a time, boundaries, when you agree (with yourself) to permit access. Checking in on social media at your pre-established time, and keeping to that schedule, will help you manage an alternative for your downtime. Perhaps your agreement will be to do a certified check-in, just two or three times a day, or less. If you post on these sites then use a program that will cue-up your messaging for the week. The same rules hold basically for check-ins for email or the news.
It is a good idea to think ahead and re-imagine how you will spend this new found time. Do you need to redirect the downtime or just relax? When you are with a four- year- old, that’s an easy choice. You can build something together, read aloud, or just get down on the floor and play. When you are alone, maybe you will want to keep an off-line journal and observe your emotions. If journaling is not your thing, find another activity that helps you observe things differently as you gain renewed focus and attention. And remember to reward yourself, even if it’s small.
Your ‘experiment’ away from the phone is just a month long. Those 30 days will go even faster if you happen to make the change when you are on vacation or busy with a new project. But, don’t despair if that’s not feasible. What really matters is what you do after the 30 day experiment. Hopefully, you will find that discipline you have found in resisting the phone during downtime will extend into other areas of your life. Let me know how the deep 30 dive goes.