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Thoughts on Screen Time Apps - one week in

Thoughts after one week of using an app designed to reduce screen time

A week ago, I signed up for Opal. Opal is an app that markets itself as reducing the time spent using apps on your phone. It is used to set schedules for when applications on phones and desktops are available. For example, I can restrict the usage of certain apps in the mornings between 5 am and 9 am. I can restrict usage again between 10 am and 1 pm, and again in the evening. These are called 'Blocks.' Each block can be configured with a varying level of difficulty, such as a 'snooze' function and 'deep work.' Snooze allows you to snooze the app for a set number of minutes at a time, after waiting about 45 seconds to do so. Deep work cannot be turned off.

This is my brief review after using this app for one week. I will talk about my configuration, the benefits I am experiencing, and whether I think the annual subscription fee is worth paying.

Why Use a Time Control App?

I get distracted very easily. This is not ideal given the type of work that I do, which is engineering-focused. I need to be able to flow into a deep work state. However, my mind wanders, and before I know it, I am sucked into doom scrolling. This interrupts my work state, and without me realizing it, I have spent most of my day consuming content and racking up screen time.

The distractions also take a toll on my mental health. For quite a long period, I was finishing days feeling unfulfilled, with a mountain of tasks that felt unachievable due to my inability to actually work on anything. This is because I would start tasks, then receive notifications from some app that would take me to the app and down a completely irrelevant rabbit hole.

My sleep routine was getting ruined too. I found that in the evenings, I would lie in bed and consume more content, often for hours, keeping my brain turned on and preventing me from falling asleep. This carried over to the mornings, where I would wake up and immediately check my notifications, go onto some app, and then spend a while scrolling or watching videos.

What Have I Noticed One Week In?

I have noticed how easily I get distracted. Opal displays a page when you visit a website that is blocked, preventing the page from loading. I am realizing that often while I am working, if I encounter a difficult problem, I open a new tab in the browser and type in a default URL. Opal blocks this, which puts me back on track. This is a subtle habit that I hadn't previously noticed until using this app to reduce my screen time.

I am more productive overall. For the first few days, I didn't really notice a huge difference in my productivity. However, from day three onwards, I started to notice the world around me more - the buildings, trees, and daily activity of the city. I also started to notice I had more energy. Waking up became less difficult, and I felt more enthusiastic about walking or cycling somewhere.

My mental health is improving, and I am more rested. Not staring at a phone screen for the final 2 hours before sleeping and not rushing to check notifications and pick my phone up when I wake up means my body is winding down effectively. When I wake up, not having an app to scroll through means I am able to focus on my breathing and think about my day, which is getting me out of bed earlier than before, as I am not getting distracted. Overall, rest and fewer distractions before sleeping and after waking up are improving my overall welfare. I am finding that I have more energy and am a bit happier.

Conclusion & Thoughts

It has only been one week, so this could be a placebo effect. However, my productivity is increasing, and my ability to focus is improving. I think it is easy to get sucked into the 'always on' mode where you believe that if you miss something, the world will crumble. This is generally not the case.

I am finding using Opal net positive. I am able to focus on reading, feel more in control of my time and my days, and am able to enter a deep work state, which I have struggled to achieve for a while. I am also finding that the content I am producing is of higher quality, and my attention to detail is greater.

I am interested to see where I am after one month of using screen time control apps. However, after one week, it is fair to say that I have more energy, am finishing tasks I previously felt were huge, and am finding myself more in the moment than I have been before.

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#time management#screen time#productivity
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