7 Screen-Free Ways to Work and Learn
How to Avoid Screen Fatigue and Improve Performance
For most of us, screens have become essential – especially during COVID-19. They're integral to our jobs and offer a range of options for communication, entertainment, education, and organizing our lives.
But many of us look at our computer or phone screen for long periods every day – and that can cause problems.
In this article, we'll outline the benefits of taking time away from your screen, and explain seven of the best non-screen ways to work and learn.
The Benefits of Cutting Down on Screen Time
Finding ways to get away from your screen can vastly reduce the time you spend sitting down. Research shows that moving more has a range of positive effects on your health . There are even ways to combine work and exercise – by holding a walking meeting, for example, or rehearsing a presentation while working out at the gym or taking a short walk.
Less screen-time will also boost your mental health. You'll guard yourself against sensory overload, which often leads to irritability, anxiety, loss of focus, and stress. You should also see positive effects on your sleep .
By becoming more flexible about how and where you work, you'll spot ways to be more efficient. For example, as we explore in the next section, you might decide to have a quick phone chat with a colleague, rather than writing a long email.
And less screen time often means better learning: you give your brain new and varied ways to explore and encode information, you can find the types of learning that work best for you, and you keep challenging your brain – which has been shown to boost your thinking and learning.
We recognize the irony of an online learning provider promoting screen-free habits, but here at Mind Tools we're equally passionate about your health and well-being as we are about learning – which is why we include resources in a range of formats, including printable workbooks and downloadable audio.
7 Screen-Free Ways to Work and Learn
Here are seven of our favorite ways to move away from the screen and still operate effectively – maybe even more effectively. Apply them where appropriate to vary and energize the way that you work and learn.
1. Talking With Others
Before you fire off an email or instant message, consider phoning the person instead – or even meeting them for a chat, if that's possible. It's often a quicker and simpler approach, as well as one that strengthens relationships and adds variety to your day.
Talking is particularly important for learning. Explaining an idea to someone is a great way to check that you understand it yourself. And discussions can deepen everyone's understanding and open up novel ways of thinking.
2. Reading Books, Magazines and Journals
Turning paper pages can make a pleasant change from scrolling down your screen. Consider printing out any documents you're working on, or ordering a physical copy of something you need to read – larger texts are often easier to explore and annotate this way.
What's more, there's no bright screen to strain your eyes and make your mind race, and no chance of distracting notifications popping up!
3. Listening to Podcasts and Audiobooks
When you access information by listening, you create even more possibilities for where and when you can do it – while walking, driving or cooking, for example. It also gives your eyes a rest and you'll have the chance to get up from your chair.
Be careful though, because some audio resources are so absorbing that you'll find it hard to concentrate on anything else!
4. Doing Hands-on Work
Why not swap the virtual work you do on your screen for something tangible from time to time?
This might be a practical task that's part of your job, or a physical process such as putting your designs onto paper. It's often a good way to move around your workspace, make contact with others, and use a range of different skills.
For some people, a hands-on approach is the most effective way to explore or learn something.
5. Using Puzzles and Games
Research shows that even a brief diversion from your main task can improve your focus when you come back to it . When you need a break from your screen, a physical game or puzzle can be a great way to rest your eyes and wake up your brain.
If you're learning something specific, see if there are any ready-made activities to help – or create your own. For example, you could write questions and answers about the topic you're studying on file cards, then try answering them at random.
6. Writing in Notebooks, Diaries and Journals
Experiment with different types of books and pens, and take them to locations that suit you. Collect notes and explore your ideas in novel ways – perhaps using a creative technique such as Mind Maps.
A paper diary gives you more scope to be imaginative when you're scheduling and planning for future events – and recording your reflections afterward. And journaling is a great way to work on many different aspects of your personal and professional growth, with no screen in sight!
7. Making Time to Reflect and Plan
When you need to think about your work, it's often best to get away from all the distractions of your screen. Try to find opportunities to sit somewhere else, take a walk, ride your bike, or do whatever helps you to think clearly and creatively.
And when you're learning, periods of reflection are vital for embedding the information in your memory. So take breaks from your screen to reflect on how much you can remember, and to plan what you'll do with the things you've learned.
For the times when you still need to use a screen, the U.S. Department of Labor has an online tool for setting up and using your computer safely. And the U.K.'s National Health Service offers a practical guide to looking after your health while working with screens.
But if you still find it an effort to focus your eyes, experience headaches, or start feeling physically or mentally tired from working on-screen, you're likely suffering "screen fatigue." When that happens, take the hint and switch to another approach for a while.
The Right Environment for Screen-Free Working and Learning
Do your best to create an environment that makes you and others feel able – and motivated – to work and learn in a variety of ways, either at home or in the office. Our article on Creating an Energizing Work Environment explains how to use décor, room layout, music and other means to inspire creativity and encourage positivity.
Have all the things you need for non-screen working nearby – such as notebooks, pens, journals, and headphones. And, where possible, improve other people's access to tools like these too.
Common Worries About Reducing Screen Time
If you decide to spend more time away from your screen, you may have to face up to some fears – such as:
- Fear of missing out by not being "plugged in" permanently.
- Fear of other people thinking that you're not working.
- As a manager, fear that you won't be able to communicate with your people or see what they're doing.
However, with ongoing communication and mutual trust, a blended approach can give you "the best of both worlds" – you're at your screen long enough to feel connected, but you also have more face-to-face conversations, engage with people and events beyond your own team, and have a bigger presence in your organization as a result.
The more your co-workers try to benefit from it too, the more it will become the norm – particularly if managers embrace this way of working and learning themselves. Your team could even commit to regularly blocking out parts of their calendars for screen-free time.
Screens can be essential and highly effective tools, especially when operating remotely. But it's good for your physical and mental health to reduce screen time where possible. You'll also boost your performance – and enjoyment – if you have a range of other ways to work and learn.
To make a success of screen-free time, your environment needs to be right. Find ways to enable and promote a range of working styles, and equip yourself with everything you and your people need to go screen-free.
Seven strategies for working and learning away from screens are:
- Talking to others.
- Reading physical books, magazines and journals.
- Listening to podcasts and audiobooks.
- Writing in notebooks, diaries and journals.
- Doing hands-on work.
- Using puzzles and games.
- Making time to reflect and plan.