My team tried ‘screenless mornings’ – it worked wonders

Do you want to feel completely stressed, anxious and / or tired before you even have breakfast? I highly recommend checking your phone properly when you wake up.

I tend to look at Slack, email, and (* sigh *) Twitter right after I wake up. But sometimes I wonder if my head was clearer if I just … didn’t. So I tried it – and asked my Zapier colleagues to join me.

I didn’t set strict rules, but I did make suggestions.

  • Choose a time, and then don’t look at your screen until then. I suggested an hour after you wake up, but in the end, you should choose whatever time makes sense for your morning.
  • Think of something else to do instead. Maybe take a walk, maybe do some journalism, maybe have a nice breakfast – just make sure you have a plan, so you don’t ruin your phone.
  • Do not use your phone as a warning device. It’s going to be a pity not to check your phone if this is the first thing you call in the morning. Consider buying an old-school, real alarm clock, and charge your phone outside of the bedroom.
  • Turn off calls on your phone. Both Android and iOS offer features that delay all messages until a certain time. If you need to call your phone in the morning, consider setting this up.

For me, this was not about hard rules – it was about being deliberate. Thinking about our relationship with technology, then throwing as needed. Here ‘s how it went – and what we learned.

Small things stressed us out less

The first thing I learned: looking at my phone first thing in the morning stresses me out. I didn’t know this.

I thought cleaning up dishes yesterday put pressure on me. I thought breakfast made me stressed. I thought the problem was the actions; the problem seems to have been time. If I don’t look at screens, I have more time and, therefore, less weight.

Katie Redderson-Lear, an integration engineer at Zapier, felt the same way.

Good work that usually gets me stressed in the morning because I’m ripped and my attention is just squashed… was it done? For example, I forgot to turn off the laundry last night, the dog bowl needed to be cleaned, and I poured a glass of water. Most days, those things would stress me out, but today I was just dealing with them.

Erin Ozoliņš, Zapier’s chief customer champion, noticed that she consistently started her workday on time.

In fact I did my morning skincare / toothbrushing practice, yoga, did oatmeal, and let the dog out before my 7am. I would usually go into work at 7:15 am, worrying that I was 15 minutes late.

We all waste time in the morning without realizing it. Without looking at our tools, it turns out, is a simple way to get some of it back.

We had to be deliberate

Sometimes I pick up my phone with intent – that is, to know what I want to do. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s directions, or maybe it’s my to-do list.

Usually though, I pick up my phone for no particular reason and just kinda… handle stuff. Texts, emails, likes – I mentally explore things, sometimes for a time. Getting into that reactive mind first thing in the morning makes it harder for me to focus.

Eileen Ruberto, Zapier ‘s senior UX researcher, said avoiding her phone in the morning made her think about her intention.

This challenge made me realize that I should be more secretive about my morning routine, which is awful at best. It was great to spend the last hour of the day yesterday and the first time waking up today without my phone.

Jason Kotenko, on the Labs team at Zapier, said the change inspired him to build a new innovative practice.

I find myself in my mind very slowly in the morning, and with no phone to fall back on I shower to wake myself up.

Jesse Parker, Zapier’s community manager, found themselves using the time with intent.

I spent an hour reading my book, drinking coffee, and taking the dogs for a good 30-minute walk. It is still a shame to check my phone for texts, but it has been very peaceful to take the time to breathe and read without eating my thoughts.

It’s too easy to deal with messages first thing in the morning, and then stick to dealing with things all day. By avoiding your phone you have to be deliberate – to decide what you are going to do, instead of just responding to something. That is a relief.

Prohibition is probably not the answer

As I said earlier: I did not set strict rules for this test. Enforcing the hard rule was not the point – it was about what happens when we try something. And what happened depended on each person’s specific situation.

Deb Tennen, managing editor for Zapier’s blog, learned that her results depended on the day.

When I get to sleep until 7am, screen time is not surprising and allows me to use my energetic morning to focus on my family. When I wake up at 4:30 am with a one – year – old, I need that morning screen time to wake up my brain.

Janine Anderson, who was also the managing editor for Zapier’s blog, had the same experience.

I woke up one morning at 4 in the morning for no good reason, so I watched things for a while when it was obvious I wasn’t going to sleep. Then I sat up and read some stuff on my phone.

Because of the changing practices, Deb and Janine each set different rules for themselves. Deb decided to stay off Slack alone but still read the news or do a crossword puzzle online, and Janine said there was no social media or email while she was lying.

Jacob Sowles, frontend engineer at Zapier, found himself changing the rules.

I woke up, and my brain was like, ‘Hey, we could kill time to 8 in the morning just by staying in bed. ‘

He didn’t want another hour of sleep – just an extra hour of bed. So he changed the rule: there were no screens for the first time after you leave the bedroom. That worked better for him.

All of these rules make sense to me. I like to make a magazine of the first thing in the morning, which I do on my laptop. I’ve been missing that first thing in the morning during this test, so maybe my rule of thumb is to go ahead before breakfast is good, but not Slack and Twitter.

Prohibition may work better for you – it may not. The important thing is to set rules for yourself and stick to them.

Some of us stick with it

It really surprised me how calm my morning was after I started this test, so I’m going to keep going – at least, a version of it. I find that I get a lot more relaxed when I skip screen time, and that I enjoy chatting over breakfast a lot more. I hope this can be a habit.

Katie, who I said earlier, also plans to continue.

I pretty much stick with it because it’s been really nice so far, and I think it will take longer than a week to make it a real practice. I still reached for my phone this morning, so I’d love to see who it feels like after three weeks.

Katie may or may not hold up after a few weeks. That’s fine. The point of testing like this is to learn something about yourself, examine your habits, and think of small ways to improve things.

If that’s helpful, I recommend avoiding scratches in the morning for a few weeks. You may not stick to it, but you will definitely learn something.

Published March 19, 2021 – 10:32 PM UTC