founder & digital wellness coach

The Digital Distraction Ratio

A nuanced approach to measuring and tracking your digital habits.
The Digital Distraction Ratio

The silent epidemic of technology addiction is tearing through our society, leaving us frozen in its wake. Study after study points to social media as a major culprit behind skyrocketing rates of teen suicide, depression, and anxiety, yet we seem unable to take decisive action.

One of many studies showcasing a sharp increase in teen mental health issues that coincides with the widespread adoption of social media platforms.

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has been a persistent voice of warning, shining a spotlight on the public health crisis of loneliness and isolation that our growing reliance on digital platforms has only made worse.

While I understand the incenvtives at play (big tech, investors, and advertisers want more money), it baffles me to see something something so evident be so widely ignored.

Part of the problem is the lack of guidance on how to combat technology addiction (something I aim to address through this newsletter), but another significant challenge is the absence of clear metrics for tracking improvement. Unlike other personal goals, such as improving physical health or financial well-being, reducing technology addiction lacks a clear-cut path to success.

Losing weight is generally simple: burn more calories than you consume, and the number on the scale will go down.

The same goes for saving money—spend less than you earn, and your savings will increase.

But when it comes to curbing your smartphone addiction, it's not so straightforward. Because technology usage is so ingrained in our lives, identifying the quantifiable metrics to measure progress is incredibly nuanced and complex.

Screen time is often considered the quintessential measure of progress in managing technology addiction, but it fails to account for the quality and intention behind our device usage.

Think about it. Using Google Maps for navigation during a five-hour road trip is fundamentally different from mindlessly scrolling through TikTok. Similarly, spending two hours on a video call with a loved one who lives across the country cannot be equated with binge-watching your favorite TV series.

The same logic applies to 'Pickups', another main metric captured by Apple's Screen Time feature. While reducing the number of times you pick up your phone each day is a good leading indicator, it doesn't always reflect meaningful progress. 

For example, picking up your phone only three times per day but spending two hours each time falling down a social media rabbit hole is hardly a win.

I pick up my phone way too much. Working on it!

This realization led me to seek a more nuanced and effective approach to managing my screen time and measuring my progress—one that focused on the quality and intention behind my usage, rather than just the quantity.

The Digital Distraction Ratio

Building healthier tech habits is analogous to financial budgeting, but instead of money, you're tracking your most valuable asset—time. Like your finances, there are "fixed costs" when it comes to screen time, such as work emails, important calls, or navigation. These are the non-negotiable ways you use your phone as a tool.

Auditing your screen time over the past months helps establish a baseline for these relatively consistent "fixed costs." But, it's the "variable screen time"—mindless scrolling, endless social media feeds, and addictive games—that eats up your valuable time without providing meaningful returns.

To better quantify progress in reducing variable screen time, I created the Digital Distraction Ratio (DDR):

Digital Distraction Ratio (DDR) = (Variable Screen Time / Waking Hours) x 100

The goal is to keep your DDR as low as possible, as a high DDR suggests you might be spending more time on unproductive, unfulfilling activities and less time on things that truly matter. The beauty of this ratio is that it focuses on the screen time you can control, rather than the essential stuff that keeps your life on track.

Personally, I aim for a weekly DDR of under 10%, but you can set your own goals.

Note: ​​Apple's Screen Time feature only allows you to view data for the past month, which can make it challenging to track your progress over a longer period. So, I’m making a custom spreadsheet to view my data on an extended time horizon. If this interests you, message me and I’ll send it to you when I finish. 

It's your job to identify which apps are 'variable' and which are 'fixed.' If you have an iPhone, you can use Screen Time to help determine where you spend most of your time. If an app falls into both 'fixed' and 'variable' categories, you may need to track more intently to see how much time falls into each category.

Tracking Progress Towards Offline Goals

But while the DDR and other metrics are useful indicators, they don't paint the full picture. 

The true measure of progress is the time invested in meaningful offline activities. 

Just as Netflix views sleep as their largest competitor, our technology usage competes with other valuable activities for our remaining time. With an average of 8 hours spent sleeping and 9 or more hours dedicated to work, our favorite hobbies and personal goals often compete directly with smartphone usage.

To effectively measure the impact of reducing smartphone addiction, identify an offline goal, relationship, or activity in which you want to reinvest your time. Track how much time you spend on this activity while keeping the rest of your time allocation constant. If your screen time goes down and your time spent working towards your goal goes up, you are making positive progress.

For example, I decided I wanted to spend more time reading instead of being on my phone. As my screen time decreased, my daily reading time (and the amount of books I read per month) increased. The extra time was clearly coming from reduced phone usage.

It’s important to note that engaging in offline activities doesn’t always mean you need to be doing something specific or productive. In fact, one of the most valuable offline pursuits is simply spending time alone doing nothing.

Solitude allows us to reflect, recharge, and reconnect with ourselves on a deeper level. It provides a space for introspection, creativity, and self-discovery. So, as you work on the reducing your smartphone addiction, remember that carving out time for solitude is just as important as engaging in other offline activities. Embrace the quiet moments and allow yourself to simply be present without the need for constant stimulation or interaction.

While this may seem challenging at first, start small and be patient with yourself. Identify specific offline goals, track your progress, and celebrate the positive changes you see. Over time, these small shifts can lead to significant improvements in your overall well-being and happiness. By focusing on what truly matters, you can create a more balanced and enriching relationship with technology, one that enhances rather than detracts from your life.

That’s all for this week. If you have any questions or want to learn more about the tools and strategies I mentioned feel free to shoot me a message.

And if you're looking for some extra support and accountability, I offer 1:1 coaching sessions where we can dig deep into your specific challenges and come up with a personalized plan to help you break free from your digital addiction.

You can also head over to Digital Detox Tools, where I've put together a ton of resources there to help you get started and stay on track.

Oh, and one last thing - if you know someone who could benefit from this info, please pass it along.

Now stop scrolling and do something great!