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Turn Increased Screen Time Into an Advantage

Dad tickling daughter in car seat. both laughing and having fun before the head out on a road trip that the dad planned after researching on his computer

As we near the end of a challenging year, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of time we spent looking at screens in 2020. Many of us relied on a laptop to work remotely. Most of us stayed glued to our phones to follow the news. A significant majority of us also had to help our kids navigate virtual learning every day.

It’s no surprise that screen time estimates doubled in 2020, seeing their largest spike in March before falling off over the summer and rising again in the fall. But the increase didn’t come about because we suddenly changed our minds about the impact of screen time. It arose out of necessity—and we’ve adapted to those challenging circumstances.

“The first thing to let go of is fear and guilt” about the steady rise of screen time in 2020, says Dr. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, in a recent Boston Globe interview. “Those serve no purpose except to use up a lot of energy in a negative direction.”

Rich believes that humans have simply adjusted to a new reality, where we bounce between virtual and real-world activities with ease. We lead digital lives; there’s no changing that. Instead of worrying about the time we spend on screen, we’re better off channeling our energy into living well—sleeping enough, eating healthy, pursuing hobbies, and working out—when we’re not.

If you do find yourself unable to break away from your laptop, tablet, or phone, the following 10 tips can help you make the most of that time. Whether you’re connecting with family, learning something new, or simply keeping up with the demands of work and school, CMIT Solutions wishes you a safe and healthy holiday season.

1) Stay in touch.

Hundreds of millions of North Americans have spent most of the year maintaining physical distance from friends and family to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Because of that, loneliness and disconnection have increased, particularly for the most vulnerable among us. Take some time this holiday season to participate in video chats, phone calls, text conversations, or even scheduled streaming events with relatives, acquaintances, and colleagues. We may not be able to gather in the same room as those we love, but we can still reach out and talk to them on our laptops, tablets, and phones.

2) Donate money or time to charity.

If your finances are stable, consider helping those who may not be in the same situation. Many charities and non-profits have shifted their fundraising and membership activities online this year. That makes it easier than ever to send donations via text, schedule outreach efforts for flexible hours, and participate in safe ways. Food banks and toy drives are particularly popular this time of year; mutual aid organizations that provide direct support to vulnerable populations in specific communities have also increased in popularity. As always, vet the charity you want to support first by looking for relevant information about how they distribute their money and other resources.

3) Plan a holiday drive.

In the past, many of us would relish the opportunity to walk through a favorite neighborhood strung with festive lights and holiday decorations. In 2020, the safest way to do that is from your vehicle. Look for local news stories that promote such activities and plot your route using online maps. Bring along hot chocolate or cookies to make the experience extra fun; have your kids wear their favorite holiday pajamas and take pictures they can share with friends and family. Don’t forget to check the weather forecast before you leave the house and drive safely once you do!

4) Explore a museum or art exhibit.

If you feel like you’re stuck at home with nothing to do, just know that millions of us feel the same way. Cultural institutions have had to shift their offerings to welcome visitors virtually, and we can all benefit from that increased access. Check out online programming at your favorite museum or art gallery. Many offer online tours, digital archives, and even virtual classes. This is a great way to support your local cultural organization, too.

5) Buy a gift certificate to help local businesses.

Speaking of supporting local, it’s no surprise that thousands of small businesses have suffered this year. If you can, consider buying an online gift certificate now to be used in person when the pandemic ends. That could help a local company make it through these tough economic times while giving you (or a loved one) something to look forward to in 2021.

6) Clean up your digital photos.

Most of us carry a high-powered camera around every day, allowing us to take a staggering number of photos without even thinking twice. The downside is that it’s easy to lose those images on our phones, social media accounts, or cloud-based backups. If you have extra time before the end of the year, devote some of it to organizing those photos. You can arrange them in folders on your desktop computer, back them up to an external hard drive, or even print them out (using easy online ordering) to make an old-fashioned scrapbook.

7) Organize your desktop.

This connects to the previous tip—whether it’s photos or files, you don’t want a mess to overtake your computer. Arrange documents and application icons in labeled folders; then, align those folders into grids on your desktop to streamline the look and feel of your computer. Change download destinations to a specific folder—then clean them out regularly. Finally, give your keyboard, mouse, and screen a regular disinfectant cleaning. These simple tips can work wonders on your productivity when you get back to work in the new year.

8) Get outside (even if it's virtual).

Even in the winter, you can still find safe and responsible ways to enjoy nature. Take a daily walk in your neighborhood or at a local park. Look for birds or wildlife in your backyard or out a window. And if you can’t safely access the outdoors, you can use your device to enjoy live streams of animal and nature cameras or take an interactive tour of our solar system.

9) Relax your mind.

There are other, more immersive ways to turn the stress of digital life into a calming experience. Consider streaming nature sounds, like ocean waves or rainfall, in the background while you work. Explore that meditation or yoga app you’ve been meaning to try. If fitness helps you unwind, look up home workouts or bodyweight exercises to occupy your mind and body. Listen to music, loop a scenic slideshow, get lost in an audiobook—whatever works for you, take a little time each day to do it.

10) Safeguard your data.

Ransomware attacks and phishing attempts have increased this year. Hackers have used COVID-19 to try and capitalize on our fears. Valuable information has been stolen and government agencies have been compromised. In other words, there’s never been a better time to protect your personal and business information. Don’t click any links or attachments in unfamiliar emails, don’t divulge personal information over unusual phone calls, and don’t let a data disaster impact your day-to-day operations. Make sure data backups are performed regularly and stored remotely. If a ransomware infection or a natural disaster does strike your business, a reliable data backup is critical to recovery.

At CMIT Solutions, we’ve spent 2020 helping North American businesses navigate significant changes to the workplace. If you need help with remote work protocols, mobile device management, or network security, we’re here to help. Together, we’ve made it through a challenging year by focusing on all the good that brings us together. Here’s to more of it in 2021.

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