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I stopped using screens on Sundays. This is how it changed my life

Taking one day away from technology each week has helped me realize my resiliency, and inspired confidence. 

I stopped using screens on Sundays. This is how it changed my life
[Photo: DMRACREATOR • BY DANIELLA/Unsplash]

At the end of 2019, I experienced a traumatic fainting episode, seizure, and concussion in the middle of the night, which landed me an overnight visit at an NYC Emergency Room. Afterward, I decided I needed to slow my pace in life down—a lot. Prior to this, I didn’t consider myself “addicted” to my phone. I turned off my notifications years ago; my phone doesn’t join me in bed, and it’s easy for me to spend time doing things that don’t involve any technology. 

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Despite all of this, I’d always be a bit shocked at my Weekly Report of screen time. My phone usage seemed to be made up of a lot of micro moments, small chunks of time on my phone spread out over the course of the day. 

After my fainting episode and concussion, I started to spend less time in front of screens. I needed to abstain in order to recover. As awful as the accident and subsequent symptoms were, I did enjoy this restful, quiet time, and way of existing that brought healing beyond the physical symptoms. Inspired by this experience, I opted to bring a weekly screenless sabbath to my life, in what became my “Screenless Sundays.”

In January of 2020, I eliminated use of my laptop and texting on Sundays. Instead, I spent my time doing old-fashioned things, like reading physical books, writing with pen and paper, and going for silent walks (that’s right: No podcasts or music). 

At first, I felt a bit unsure about the experiment. Would this harm my friendships? Would I feel more lonely and less connected to people? Would I be less productive? Early on, I encountered some changes I needed to make. For instance, when I’d make plans to see friends on Sunday, I had to let them know ahead of time that I wouldn’t be checking my texts or emails, and ask them to let me know Saturday if they needed to cancel. When I’d head to a yoga class, either walking or by subway, I did so without scrolling my phone or listening to an audiobook. 

Rather, I sat and observed myself and the world and people around me. If I was planning to go anywhere on Sunday, I’d make sure to look up directions on Saturday, or else on Sunday, I’d do the unheard of: ask someone for directions. Without my digital friends, Google and Siri, I struck up conversations with people nearby—at the park, subway, cafes, yoga studio.

I felt more connected to these people than I did people I just followed on Twitter. I noticed things I wouldn’t have otherwise had my nose been buried in my phone. Things like colorful birds, cute dogs walking on the street, the sky, the emotional expressions of strangers on the street, signs advertising events or looking for lost pets, and street performers, or artists sharing their craft. 

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The hardest Sundays were the ones when I didn’t leave my apartment or block. Isolated in my one-bedroom apartment without use of my phone or TV to connect me to anyone else. Those days became the days where I was really forced to be friends with myself. I asked myself questions. I looked to myself for entertainment. I did art projects, wrote handwritten letters, cooked food, read books, cleaned my apartment, practiced yoga, and sometimes, I just sat looking out my window or walked alone at the park across the street. This time alone helped me realize my resiliency, creativity, and inspired confidence and satisfaction knowing that I could feel joy, rest, excitement, from just being with myself. 

Once the pandemic hit in March, I went to quarantine at my family’s farm in Michigan. During a time when people were craving virtual interactions, I found value in the digital silence on Sundays—no phone, computers, tablets, or TV. When I told my friends that I go completely screenless on Sundays, they responded with admiration, intrigue—and, often, several reasons why they couldn’t do something similar.

I lost nothing and gained improvements to my business, team collaboration, relationships, and health.

They’d say, “I could never do that,” “I run a business,” or “People may want to talk with me; there may be something I need to respond to.” My response: I get it. People want to talk with me, too. I run a business, am on a team, advise several companies, host a late-night comedy show, and have friends and family. I simply asked people that may want to talk with me on Sunday to please contact me on any other day. There are six other possible days, and I am taking just one out of the realm of possibility. Everyone who respects me respects my time and respects this day for me. I lost nothing and gained improvements to my business, team collaboration, relationships, and health.

They’d say, “What if I miss out on something important in the news or on social media?” My response: It’s only one day. When was the last time important news ceased to exist after 24 hours? You’re either choosing to miss out on a headline or Instagram post that will still be there the next day, or choosing to miss out on quality time with people around you, the nearby environment, and yourself. It’s ultimately your choice, and that’s the tradeoff you’re making.

For people with children, 56% of parents report spending too much time on their phones and 71% of adults are concerned their kids are spending too much time in front of screens. So why not set the example, and the practice of going screenless? Even Bill Gates and Steve Jobs limited their kids’ screen time. Do it together with everyone and practice a family ritual, as research shows that family rituals are associated with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement, and stronger family relationships. 

What I learned

During the pandemic when we are spending more time using screens, there is no shortage of loneliness, doubt, and uncertainty. The screens don’t solve these challenges, unfortunately. But I noticed that on “Screenless Sundays” I feel connected, calm, joyful, grounded, rested, and energized. Those are all things I want to feel during the pandemic, and I got them without a screen.

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The world didn’t end when I fully unplugged. In fact, it was more of a beginning. In addition to the obvious benefits from this practice, like giving my eyes a break from screens, there are so many benefits and implications in my life that I didn’t even anticipate. 

I feel less lonely. I feel more connected to myself and others. My relationship with myself has improved. Daily journaling (and extensive journaling on Sundays), about my life, my feelings, my fears, my dreams, has all fueled self-awareness that improved my relationships and my work. I’ve made intentional decisions about my work and life, rather than reactive decisions based on whatever the world on the screen is influencing. I’m also feeling healthier, too, and haven’t fainted again (knock on wood).

I sleep better. Previously there were nights I wouldn’t fall asleep until 4 a.m. Now, I’m out by 11 p.m. and sleep consistently. I wake up ready to get out of bed, versus wishing I still had another hour (or four) to sleep.

I am more focused. I’ve completed several projects that I’ve been wanting to complete. When the work week starts and I’m back on screens, I am able to shut off the screen distractions. If I can go an entire day without using Instagram, I can definitely go three hours without it, so that I can focus on a project, a conversation, or a meeting. Screenless Sundays have helped me feel more creative, too. 

I didn’t need to go “Thoreau” and disappear into the woods for years.

Sure, there are a ton of other factors that influenced these improvements. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Still, going screenless one day a week certainly played a role, as it gave me time and space to fill with beneficial activities. 

I didn’t need to go “Thoreau” and disappear into the woods for years. I could incorporate a media fast into my week, regularly, and reap benefits consistently. I didn’t need to abandon my life, my family, my friends, or my work. I could give myself a break, some offline time, to reconnect with myself and whatever is around me, and in taking that day I improved my relationships with my family, my friends, my work, and myself. Doing this puts me in control of my time. I decide when I am going to use the screen and when I am not. 

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I love Sundays. They are by far my favorite day of the week. And though Sundays are my favorite day, I don’t wish for every day to be Sunday, because every day doesn’t need to be Sunday. That’s part of the magic about this practice. Taking one day, fully off, is enough, if done regularly. It’s restorative, reenergizing, and helps me regroup. 

When Monday rolls around I’m excited and energized for another week. I appreciate myself and everything else so much more. When I do use screens, it’s so much more intentional. I don’t spend as much time on them during the week, because I realized I don’t need to. I used to outsource my happiness, joy, entertainment to my phone. It sucked at that job, so I’m taking it back in-house. I don’t need to use screens in order to feel connected, energized, engaged, informed, involved, or creative. I got all of that on Sunday, so I don’t need to rely on screens anymore to generate those feelings.


Mary Lemmer is an entrepreneur, improv comedian, author, startup adviser, philanthropist, and recovering venture capitalist. She’s the creator of Improve, empowering leaders and teams to improve communication, collaboration, creativity, inclusion, and more, with improv comedy.


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