When to Get Your Eyes Off the Screen

When to Get Your Eyes off the Screen

It may be ironic that I’m asking you take your eyes off the screen while you are reading this on a screen, but please stay with me, at least until the end of the article.

While I was internet-lite over the holidays, I noticed several times that I wanted to check my phone. It wasn’t because I was waiting for anything, it just felt comfortable. It had become a habit for me to check my phone after a yoga class, before I went out, waiting in line and other times throughout the day. I gave in a few times, but each time I resisted, that desire to check in faded.

How many times do you check your phone/iPad/computer/Kindle/ because you are:

  • bored?
  • anxious?
  • annoyed?
  • curious?
  • uncomfortable?

When does all that checking become a habit?

If sugar is the new smoking, digital devices are the new habit-forming comfort food.

Our devices provide connection, entertainment, education, inspiration and sometimes vital communication. More often than not though, nothing is as time sensitive as we make it out to be.

The very best part of our devices may be that they provide a sense of comfort, but the very worst part is that they distract us from what’s right in front in of us. This video from Life Edited is a great demonstration of our hyper-connected society. “It’s a world of distractedness, extraneous documentation and general lack of presence. For many of us, it is our world.”

7 Times to Keep Your Eyes Up & Heart Open

  • 1. In the car. Keep your phone off or silent when you are in the car. When you take your eyes off the road, even at a stop light, you risk more than you can imagine. If you’re a passenger, keep your eyes up too. Have a conversation or do a little sight-seeing. Enjoy the ride.
  • 2. When you are saying hello or goodbye. If the first thing you do when you walk in the door after work is get on your phone, you aren’t really home. Exchanging a greeting with eyes (even one) on a screen is nothing shy of bad manners. Your hellos and goodbyes lose all sincerity. This is easiest to forget with the people we say hello and goodbye to everyday, so the next time you go home, be home.
  • 3. When you are eating. No devices at the dining table is a great rule to enforce. Give your body a chance to enjoy the food on the table, and your heart a chance to connect with your dining companions.
  • 4. When you are waiting. You can’t stand in line anywhere or walk into a waiting room without seeing glowing screens everywhere. What did we used to do while we waited before? Trade your device for being alone with your thoughts. I dare you.
  • 5. Before you fall asleep. If the last thing you see before you fall asleep is an email from your boss, guess who you are going to be dreaming about? Enough said.
  • 6. When you wake up. Give yourself time to welcome the day. Breathe, stretch, create a meaningful morning routine, and turn your attention to the needs of the world afterwards. You deserve an opportunity to give your best and that starts with giving it to yourself first.
  • 7. When you are tired/angry/moody/grumpy. Getting online in a volatile mood opens the door for words you may regret later. Contentious Facebook updates, needless comments and knee jerk reactions all happen when you aren’t thinking clearly. You don’t get to take those words back. Get back to basics and if you have nothing nice to say, take a bath or go for a walk instead.

Easier said than done, you might be thinking and you are right. This eyes off the screen stuff can be challenging, habit-breaking stuff, but luckily, there are no harsh physical side effects. If you want more meaning and connection in your life, it will be worth the effort.

A few things that will help you on your journey to lift your eyes & open your heart …

Remember what matters

Anytime you are around other people, put them before your phone or device. Ask permission to use your device when you are with friends and family. Often, just the thought of asking will be a great reminder and you will choose to pause instead.

Vow to breathe

This starfish story from Rachel at Hands Free Mama will inspire you to slow down and breathe.

Post reminders

I created the eyes up, heart open graphic above and saved it as wallpaper on my phone. It’s the first thing I see when I check my phone. It’s a great reminder about what I might be compromising when I make a needless check in to the world-wide web of endless information. Feel free to use it on your favorite device or tape a written reminder until you break the habit.

Schedule screen time

Remember when you were a kid and you were only allowed to play video games or watch tv for a set time each day? Now you are all grown up and you can do what you want, but limits help. Plan a certain amount of time each day to check email, surf the web and yes … read your favorite blogs. When your time is up; eyes up, heart open.

The information on your device can be really helpful. It may contribute to your work, help you book a flight, find directions or a new recipe. The trouble is with the moments in between. You don’t have to search for everything online. Chance are that what you are looking for is right in front of you.

If this isn’t an issue for you, congrats! If you are like me, and there is room for improvement, a few tiny changes will help you get back to what matters most.

Eyes up. Heart open.


  1. says

    Great post. The digital age has created all sorts of monsters … people who crave constant attention, people who need to be seen and heard for every little thing they do, and people who fear missing out if they aren’t connected to someone, somewhere, all the time.

    Taking a break from it always lifts my spirits and makes me feel fully human again. Funny thing, I feel most “connected” when I walk away from my devices and spend face time with people with whom I’ve established solid relationships over the years.

  2. says

    Good for you for addressing this! It’s something that so many of us need to hear over and over again, and we all nod along, but may struggle to actually make changes.

    It’s been really helpful for me to set boundaries like what you described here. I don’t ditch my phone or the Internet completely, but my goal is to keep it in its proper place: as a tool, not a crutch.

  3. says

    This is a great post Courtney! Numbers 2 and 3 are my biggest pet peeves. I always appreciate a dinner without phones being present, even if I am by myself. I hope more people will take these points into consideration and appreciate the present moment instead of the digital one.

  4. says

    Brilliant post. In our house when we get home the mobile phones are switched off and are not turned on again until we are going out the door. After going out to lunch with a ‘friend’ and having her phone take priority over our conversation I always switch my phone off when Im with soemone else (I think its very rude not to)
    We also allocate ‘computer time’ even though we dont have any children (usually about 2 hrs in the evening), we have people that complain that they sent a text and we didnt reply straight away, but we stand firm and tell them, if we are home the mobiles arent on. They can always phone us on the landline. Sure, people think we are odd, but we are not going to bow to the status quo just to please them. Whats wrong with wanting to spend time together having real conversation?

  5. says

    Definitely agree on the time limitations, “just for fun”, “just to check”, “just to see” can turn into hours following one link or thought after another.

    Life is better lived in real time.

  6. Jim says

    It’s just sad, it’s sad that we have to remind ourselves to be real human beings. I can appreciate what you attempted to do but I’m not sure it will change things. People who understand don’t need to be reminded and those who don’t could never be changed.

    I’m a luddite I guess, I don’t own a cell phone my wife has a cheap one if we get stuck in the car. As for checking texts or emails at every moment I’m not that important and I bet most people who own this luxury aren’t either. I read your 7 eyes up, hearts open reasons not to be using a digital device and when I was growing up each one would be reason enough for my Dad to smash the device to bits. Call me if I’m not home leave a message I’ll get back to you. Send an email and when I’m home and at the computer I’ll write back. That’s all the connective I can offer and most people understand. I know, I know times have changed but maybe not for the better.


  7. says

    A great big yes on this, Courtney. I’ve gotta close the laptop and walk away. Otherwise it’s too easy to trot on by and check something online yet once again. No wonder we’re not getting anything done, are distracted, can’t remember half of what we need to.

    Your posts are fabulous, my friend!


  8. Kellie says

    Courtney, thank you. I read the internet-lite, tech-free posts and think “yeah, yeah… I know” but today you struck a chord. The star fish story, the introduction to Hands Free Mama. Reading about “Only Love Today”. I had my breakthrough. Any journey starts with a single step- and today it was reading both your words. Thank you.

  9. Jenn says

    My boyfriend and I went out to dinner one night and left our cell phones in the car. We were more engaged in conversation than most of the people around us. The three people at the table behind us kept smartphone glows on their faces. Each time I looked up, they were looking down…even when their waiter came up to them and asked them if they needed anything. They all just shook their heads, without even bothering to look at the waiter. It’s just so rude!

    This is exactly why I’ve decided not to purchase a smartphone. I’m afraid, however, that in the near future, regular flip-phones will no longer be available because of the gaining popularity of the smartphone.

  10. says

    I eat breakfast, listen to scripture from my phone and this morning i am even reading/answering emails too – that wasn’t the plan! By the end of an hour my body doesn’t know what it’s eaten and my ears don’t know what they’ve heard and my eyes and heart don’t know what they have read.

  11. Sara says

    Really good, thank you! Guess when I read this?! On my lunch break! Why not just take a break? I will be considering this everytime I reach for my phone or computer on my next break :)

  12. Thomas says

    Handed down my cellphone some weeks ago when a family member needed it more because of driving each day. Thought about buying an new one but could not bring myself to do so.

    I’m fine without it.

    Nice reminder, the graphic at the top of the post is cool.

  13. Paige says

    Thank you for the reminder! I struggle with a few of these and it is my goal to be more present this year. My children are growing up so fast, I don’t want to miss it and I do not want their memories to be of mom always in front of a screen. Thank you again!

  14. says

    A month ago, my iPhone died. It was like saying goodbye to a loved one as they lay unconscious in a hospital bed and they unplugged all life support.

    What actually happened to my phone is, the charging port got damaged. I couldn’t charge my phone, and I was forced to watch its battery slowly drain away.

    Unfortunately, this all happened at night on December 23rd. All stores were going to be closed for the holidays.

    I needed a phone to keep in contact with my family, so I bought one of those no-contract track phones from Walmart while I figured out how to get the phone repaired.

    It was a major adjustment. These cheap phones have practically no memory. I have to stop writing a text so my phone can receive another text. No memory to process both tasks at the same time. The internet is pitiful, no apps, poor pictures…Ugh!

    I moaned and groaned for the first week about just how useless my new phone is. Then I got used to it. At first I thought life would be completely unbearable without a smartphone, but I somehow survived.

  15. says

    I work in an office project managing websites so I’m on the internet and in front of my computer all the time.

    I produce music on a computer as often as I possibly can.

    I have a smartphone that is always on, cus marketing never stops.

    Despite all these things I do feel quite present to what is happening around me. I definitely do get a bit twitchy if I go on holiday and disconnect, but after a few days I’m totally cool with it.

    What would you suggest for someone in my situation? Baring in mind that I enjoy my work and I enjoy my music.

  16. DC says

    Read ‘Hamlet’s Blackberry’ by William Powers. It’s right on target. Your post is right on target as well. I caught myself last year at an air show trying desparately to get really good photos when I realized that I was not paying as much attention to the actual demonstration that was happening right in front of me as I was in getting things just right with my camera. I put it away and enjoyed the rest of the flight demonstrations.

    Pet peeve: cell phones being held up to get pictures at concerts. When you pay the prices for concerts today the last thing to do is miss the show trying to get that one great shot. You paid to see a performance. Put the phone down and watch the performance!

  17. John says

    Very timely article. I just finished writing an essay on a similar subject, the fragmentation of American society because of the over use and dependency on smart phones / devices for communication. People are more prone to use their device to “communicate” with someone distant while ignoring the people around them. As a result, the close bonds of a neighborhood or community are falling apart – fragmentation.

    • says

      Totally agree with John’s comment. I am always amazed at the “Mommy bloggers” who wax poetic about their wonderful blogging friends, and travel all over the country to meet each other at conventions. Meanwhile, they don’t know even know their own neighbors next door and around the block. What goes?

      • John says

        One of my goals this year is to be more intentional with my neighbors. Instead of just waving a ‘hello’ when we cross paths, stop and chat for a few minutes face-to-face.

        • says

          I’m very lucky. I know most of mine… we have a neighborhood book club, a neighborhood dinner club, and holiday potlucks (weather permitting) on the greenspace (the boulevard) in our neighborhood. We have a great time. We don’t have to be besties, but we know each other, and have formed a Neighborhood Watch, which greatly deters crime in our ‘hood. We do use an email chain to keep everyone abreast of all these activities, though, so I cannot say that the Internet hasn’t been a boost for “community,” in this way.

  18. says

    So true! I get panicky if my phone is not within reach and lately the only times I don’t check it frequently are when I’m online, or when work is too busy to check it.

    I also love what you say about keeping devices out of your morning routine. This is the second post I’ve read recently that talked about having a meaningful morning routine and it’s clearly a sign, since I don’t have one.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  20. Tia says

    Ok I’ll add one more. When playing with your kids :) I do check my phone around my kids occasionally but not when specifically playing a game or hanging out with them–more a quick glance on the way to get water or the bathroom. That being said the only one I will break the rules for is when waiting. Actually I never check my email or phone most of the day and all the alerts are off so my only time to check my phone is while I’m waiting in line!