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Say YES to screens, say NO to…

Last week, I demonstrated the ‘attention switching’ cost of snacking on screen time. If you haven’t read it and done the exercise, I strongly recommend you do. It will take you 3 minutes. It will give you back hours, months and maybe years of your life in the long run. Not a typo. 

This week, I want to focus on the ‘opportunity cost’ of screen time. Let’s meet 23 year old Shara. 

“My self esteem is sh**. I feel so low and crap most of the time.”

“How much time do you spend on screens?” (This is the biggest untapped opportunity for happiness in this age group so I went straight for it). 

“I don’t know.”


She checks her screen time tracker on her phone.

“10 hours.”

“A week?”

“No. A day. Most of it is on social media.”

“What the living sh**!” (I didn’t say this out loud. Just in my head.)

“How often do you check your phone?”

“Maybe every 5-10 minutes.”

I start losing hair in real time. 

“Is that a lot?”

“Delete all your social media apps for 2 weeks.”

“What? Why? I can’t do that.”

“Do you want better self esteem and to stop feeling so sh**?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then delete all your apps. If you do it for 2 weeks, we can see what happens to your mental health. I think it will improve. If you can’t do it for 2 weeks, then we have a different problem.”

The opportunity cost of excessive screen time

Opportunity cost states that when you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you say ‘no’ to an infinite number of things. Every ‘yes’ has corresponding nos. 

Saying ‘yes’ to unnecessary screen time may carry the biggest opportunity cost of our time.

When you say yes to screen time, what do you say no to? It could be,
Being present with your family. 
Building a business. 
Rest (physical and mental). 
Meeting someone new. 
Writing a book (guilty). 
Playing with your kids. 
Your favourite hobby. 
A date with your partner. 

If you were in Shara’s shoes, what would you do with an extra 10 hours a day? 

If you are stressed, overwhelmed, unhappy, depressed or anxious AND you spend a lot of time on your screen with not much to show for it, the answer is simple – The 4 R’s. 

The 4 R’s

Spend a week writing down every time you use a screen for a non educational/work purpose. This exercise will bring awareness to the quantity and frequency of your screen time habits. You are only building awareness here. We are not changing anything yet. 
This is the simplest (not easiest) way to rapidly eliminate unnecessary screen time. It will immediately free up time and energy that you can invest into actions that improve your mental wellbeing or progress your life’s goals. Seriously consider deleting apps on your phone. 
Alternatively, you can reduce your screen time usage by setting boundaries and enforcing them. 
Here are examples of some boundaries. 
-Check email only three times a day at 8am, 1pm and 5pm. 
-Check social media once a day between 5 and 5:30pm.
-Decide that you will only open a screen if you decide what you are going to look at beforehand.
Once you review your screen time usage and then remove or reduce, you are left with 3 incredibly powerful resources: time, energy and attention. If you are interested in improving your mental health, funnel these three resources into one or more of the eight fundamentals of Doing Happy. Instead of jumping on a screen, you could call someone you care about (relationships), send a message thanking someone for their friendship (gratitude), notice 5 things that you can see where you are (meditation for focus), go for a run (exercise), go to bed 1 hour earlier (sleep), immerse yourself in the great outdoors (nature) or eat a fruit without distraction (food). 
If you are someone who spends hours engaging in unnecessary screen time, the 4 R’s have the potential to give you back your life. 
If this resonates and you want some help with freeing up time, energy and attention so that you can focus on what matters (e.g. deep work, family, health, personal development), reply to this email with ‘COACH’.  
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Much love to you and of course myself,

Dr G

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