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Limiting Screentime as an Author

Step away from the screen to improve productivity and wellbeing.

How much time do you spend in front of a screen every day? Set trackers on your devices and the result will probably shock you. It’s an uncomfortable topic. Not only do many of us spend six or more hours working on a computer each day, but we also rack up at least two more hours scrolling social media on our phones. That’s eight hours total, and many of us exceed 12! But is this a problem? Not for everyone. Productivity wizards do walk among us. These individuals can grow a fruitful business working four hours a day, browse the internet in moderation, and live healthily with screen-free downtime. But they’re unicorns.

Most of us lack such balance, and it costs us our health, productivity and happiness. According to a 2019 article from Harvard Medical school, overusing devices interferes “with everything from sleep to creativity.” A Psychology Today article concurs, stating that excessive screentime “changes our ability to think, read, and write at a deep level.” What’s more, Enterpreneur.com found in 2017 that, “between 50 and 90 percent of people who use a computer as a tool in their work exhibit at least some symptoms of […] eye-related issues.” Plus, there the increased risk of:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Strokes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Repetitive strain injury
  • And social isolation

In essence, many of us are addicted to using screened devices, and it’s affecting our physical, cognitive and mental health, as well as our happiness and professional prospects. So, how can we remedy it? The answer: limit your screentime. Simple, right? You might believe it’s impractical — after all, your business is online and needs more attention, not less — but improving the balance is possible, providing you change how you work in a few simple ways. What’s more, no sacrifice is needed. You can level up your author business while reducing your screentime. Today’s blog post will show you how.

Nurture Healthy Habits

As self-development expert Gretchen Rubin says in her book Better than Before, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” If you gain weight, for example, one epic salad banquet won’t reverse a lifetime of small chocolate snacks. To make real change, you might instead introduce healthy meal replacements and book a weekly session with a personal trainer. The change doesn’t need to be drastic. In fact, according to multiple studies, moderation will provide more sustainable and overall better results than going cold turkey. Balance helps instil positive lifestyle changes until they become habits you can develop.

Hacking your habits to reduce your screen reliance works in a similar way. Running with our weight metaphor, for example, you could reduce your “sugar” supply by shrinking office hours over time and banning your smartphone from your bedroom after dark. The daily deadline will stop you dragging out your screentime by procrastinating online each day and the bedroom ban will help numb the habitual pull of your devices. Add to this tactic a custom of setting an activity with friends during your downtime, much like getting a trainer, and the accountability will convince you to step away from your screen regularly, which will help healthy habits stick.

Work Smart

Imagine you’re already reasonably disciplined. In this scenario, you never scroll Facebook in bed, you already set office hours and you succeed at being screen-free outside of work hours. It’s just that maintaining 70-hour workweeks is the only way you can stay profitable. Then what? If that 70 hours includes a day job, that’s understandable. But if you’re a full-time author, your problem might not be your habits but your systems. If you’re honestly writing for six hours a day and doing other tasks for a further four, without procrastinating, seven days a week, you’re working inefficiently. Only working smarter will help you reduce your screentime.

Do you work in a distraction-free environment?

How many fresh words do you produce each day?

How many times do you revise your books?

Do you check your ad dashboards every hour?

These are all questions you should ask yourself. If you work at home with relatives that don’t respect your writing time, try moving to a coffee shop. The coffee will cost money but give you an opportunity to work in peace. If you have silence but write slowly, are you leaving your writing until you’re tired? If that happens, perhaps switch your writing window to another time, track your wordcount-per-hour and write when you’re energised. And if you’re losing a lot of time to marketing, analyse what activities deliver the biggest impact for you time. Then cut out the busywork. Working smarter, you will likely discover you can complete double the work in half the time.

Proofread in Print

Ask any reader how they think authors work and many will repeat cliché working practices: they “scribble ideas in spiralbound notepads,” “write longhand” and “snail mailing manuscripts to publishers.” The reality for modern authors, however, is that most of us have digitised the production process in the name of efficiency. Where we once used to jot ideas on napkins, we now type them into notetaking apps on our phones, which auto-sync to our computers. Instead of writing longhand, we type first drafts to remove the need for re-writing. And instead of parsing editors’ handwritten notes on paper, we browse their TrackChanges in Microsoft Work.

Removing screens completely is impossible when running a modern author business. That said, reverting to analogue on some steps is justifiable. Start with proofreading, for instance. According to a 2021 MasterClass article, printing your work makes it, “less strenuous on the eyes, and can make it easier to find typographical errors.” The fresh context also allows you to see it from a new perspective and read without having to scroll, which makes it easier to spot formatting issues and repeated words, among other issues. It’s an easy first step to take and — who knows — proofing in print could inspire you to go analogue for other stages of your process.

Dictate

Dictating a book years ago was a pain. If you wanted to re-read a previous section before you transcribed your words, you had to skip around huge recordings. Plus, the transcription period was time consuming or costly, depending on if you outsourced it. These days, however, it’s far easier and more affordable. The tech company Nuance, for example, offers Dragon Dictation, software that types your words in real time. Its voice-recognition AI isn’t perfect, but the field is developing rapidly, with Apple, Google and Microsoft all racing to create effective voice assistants. Using this technology, you can get instant transcriptions, which authors are using to:

  1. Speed up their writing process
  2. Reduce their screentime
  3. Lead more active lifestyles

To reduce your screentime, you could adopt a similar practice. Many authors outline books in a physical notepad and then dictate their first drafts into a handheld device while walking. Trying the same technique, you could then sideload any files you record onto a computer with Dragon installed when you get home and have it transcribe your words to edit later. Dictation is tricky to master and feels unnatural when you first try it. It also makes mistakes. But authors who persevere and advocate for this method report a significant reduction in their screentime, as well as an uptick in the health benefits associated with living a less sedentary lifestyle.

Attend Real-Life Events

Despite the shadow that Covid-19 draped over the world, lockdowns sparked innovations, fast-tracking technological adoption like no other time in history. Zoom became a household name and has survived into the new world, so much so that families, friends and professionals of all kinds — including authors — now use it on a regular basis. It’s created home-based speaking gigs and other income streams for authors that would have once required them to travel around the globe. The remote working revolution spawned an abundance of fledgeling opportunities but, alongside them, raised insidious cuckoos like screen fatigue and loneliness.

Making an effort to orchestrate more real-world appearances, however, can battle these new monsters: book signings, school talks and corporate events — you can attend all in person now that most countries have loosened their Covid restrictions. In fact, it’s often encouraged. Many event organisers will pay a premium to have an experienced speaker attend in person. Show up at the live show and not only will you reduce your screentime, but you’ll also deepen real relationships with potential readers and contacts. The effort will enrich your happiness and improve your results. If a venue allows it, you can even use the opportunity to collect email addresses in person without having to worry about monitoring ad spend and performance on a screen.

Limiting your screentime isn’t easy in the modern world. Efficiency demands and an abundance of addictive triggers can make it seem like the world and your own brain is working against you. Swimming upstream will require discipline and intentionality. However, stick with it and you will reduce your screen dependence, even while levelling up your author business. Willpower is a small price to pay for improving the quality of your life.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.