Is Limiting Screen Time Realistic?

By the time a child reaches their first birthday, they begin to notice that screens play a large role in their world. They understand that phones, tablets, and TVs are sources of entertainment and begin to show interest in them. Our children are considered digital natives- they won’t know a time without technology.

In 1999, the AAP recommended that children under two years old have no screen time, however those recommendations are considered outdated and are being revised. Is it possible or even practical to set strict limits on screen time today?

My daughter will be two in June. She’s been interested in phones and the television since she was 18 months old. As she grows up, we know we will have to navigate many discussions about the type and amount of technology in her life.

Passive versus active screen time

Not all screen time is created equal. Passive screen time has been shown to provide almost no benefit to children. Passive screen time includes watching TV shows and videos, but not all TV shows and videos fall into this category. If the show has an element of interaction, it may spark imagination or teach your child something about the world. Some examples of interactive shows include Little Einsteins, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. Entertainment that is strictly passive includes movies and shows where the characters do not break the fourth wall and talk to the audience.

Active screen time promotes brain activity and critical thinking. There are a variety of TV shows, apps, games, and educational websites that fit into this category. Active screen time can also include video chatting on Skype and Facetime with friends and family members. These activities encourage the child to interact with the screen. As a rule of thumb, if the medium requires interaction to work – e.g. pushing arrows on the screen to advance the game – then it would be considered active screen time.

Screentime in moderation

I’ve worked from home with Norah since she was 10 weeks old. After she became more active and interested in the world (around 18 months old) she required near constant interaction. Before that she had no interest in what was happening on the TV and barely glanced at it. She was entertained by toys, stuffed animals, and household items. Since she became an active toddler, I’ve used screen time to get things done around the house, answer emails and phone calls, and to take short breaks.

Norah enjoys her shows. She loves to sing along with Daniel Tiger, pat her legs and lift her arms for Little Einsteins, and dance to Mickey Mouse’s Hot Dog song. She gets so much enjoyment out of 25-40 minutes of television a day that I don’t see the harm in it. I also don’t mind letting her play on my phone. Although she’s frozen me out more times than I can count, she learns something new every time she interacts with it.

The two most important things about screen time are not to use it too often and not to feel guilty when you do use it.

I initially thought I would follow the doctor’s recommendation and not let her touch a screen until she was two years old, but it wasn’t doable with our lifestyle. As a work at home / stay at home mom, I occasionally need something to distract her and nothing does the job better than a TV show or smartphone app.

There are so many factors to consider when trying to figure out the best way to parent your child. You can’t do everything perfectly 100% of the time, it’s not possible. I choose not to be overly cautious about screen time. I feel that the combination of exclusive attention and enriching social activities contribute more to Norah’s development than the screen time takes away from it.

Screen Free Time

As a family, we’ve decided that dinner time is a screen free time. My husband and I aren’t glued to our devices. We prefer to talk to each other and make Norah part of our conversation. When we go out to eat, we bring books and small toys and use smartphones as a last resort to resolve a tantrum. We plan on keeping dinner time screen free permanently.

We also try not to be on our phones in front of Norah. When we’re playing with her, we give her our full attention. We do at least 2-3 activities per week with Norah’s peers. I recently joined a mom’s group and hope to participate in many more activities this summer. We signed up for swimming and tumbling lessons that start when Norah turns two. When she turns three, she will be enrolled in preschool. We want Norah to have a full life that includes technology as well as nature, science, literature, art, and anything else that interests her.

As technology become more and more prevalent in everyday life, we all need to set boundaries for ourselves and our families. Every generation has different challenges than the generation before and screen time is one of ours. The right amount of screen time is different for every person so have a conversation, set some guidelines, and decide what works for your family. Enjoy your time with technology and without.

Toddler selfie
One of the Norah’s many selfies

How To Choose The Right Client For You

During your freelancing career, you’ll work with many different clients. The great thing about this is you get to choose your clients! In a lot of ways, choosing a client is like choosing a friend or significant other. An ideal match should bring together two people with a shared interest in success, similar working styles, and equal amounts of trust on both sides. Ultimately, your goal should be maintaining long-term relationships with your clients. After all, good clients can be hard to find.

What Type of Client Are You Looking For?

Your working preferences should point you towards your ideal client. If you want to hold traditional 9-5 hours then working with a night owl entrepreneur may not make sense. If you want to work at any time of day then a CEO at a Fortune 500 may not be the best fit. In addition, it depends on the type of freelancing work you’re doing. If you’re a virtual assistant, you may need to have regular check-ins and be available all day on email; this may not be the case for a website designer.

Other facets to consider are a client’s communication and management styles. Some clients are hands-off while others are micromanagers. Some want to speak daily while others prefer shooting off weekly emails. Being aware of your preferences can help you find your ideal clients.

I don’t like talking on the phone. I can do it, and I have a professional and friendly demeanor that would not tip anyone off to the fact that I don’t like phone conversations, but being on the phone is my not favorite thing to do. Adding a loud toddler to the mix has only furthered my dislike. I express myself more clearly and succinctly in writing and I like having a paper trail that I can look back on and double check for accuracy and completion. Regular phone calls are not a deal breaker, but they are something I’d consider a “con” when choosing a client.

Finding Your Best Client Fit

There’s something special about finding the right client; someone who just gets you. You don’t have to worry that an email came off too brusque or that the client didn’t think your joke was funny. People that don’t make you feel like you have to be “on” are good fits for clients.

However, you are still running a business and delivering a service so you don’t want to be too casual. You’re not doing a favor for a friend, you’re being paid for your services and that deserves a certain level of professionalism.

My ideal client is tech-savvy and wants to communicate primarily over email, text, or messaging service. I prefer someone who can give me orders then trust that I’ll have the vision to carry them through. I prefer an easy-going personality and don’t like clients who try to make their urgency my emergency. I’ve found my best clients from a variety of sources.

When you’re choosing clients, two things are important to keep in mind.

Know Your Interests

If I have no interest in agriculture then I’m probably not going to look for a client who runs a family farm or sells pesticide. Although I’m confident that I could research the industry and gain a working knowledge over time, I would find absolutely no joy in it.

Time flies when you’re doing things that interest you. You should look for clients that are working in fields or industries that you feel a connection to. It’s tempting to grab whatever clients you can get when you’re just starting out, but that strategy will ultimately cost you time (and money!). If you have to do a lot of background work before you start the part of your job that you get paid to do, you’re going to make very little or even lose money. For example, if you need to research trends in industry X to write a blog post, because you have no familiarity with the industry, it may take three hours to pull together a few reputable references. A person who is already interested in the industry may be able to get their sources within 15 minutes. This could be the difference between making $100 per hour or $10.

Know Your Deal Breakers

Do you hate when people are late? Are you allergic to small talk? Knowing your deal breakers will give you a better sense of who your clients should be. Even when you work for yourself, you still have to work with and for other people. If you can’t get along or see eye-to-eye, you won’t be able to achieve your goals. Don’t waste precious time trying to force a relationship with a mismatched client. There is a client out there for everyone and you cannot be the best person for every job. If you keep your standards high, your profits will be too.

Clients are the lifeblood of your business. Although you can’t please everyone all the time, you have a much better chance of keeping clients and making them happy if you only work with people who are a good match. Take your time vetting potential clients before starting work together. You may not earn as much as someone who takes every client, but not having to work with difficult people is one of the greatest perks of being a freelancer and you can’t put a price on that.

Which Bird Are You: Lark, Owl, or Hummingbird?

Your brain works at an optimum level at some point during the day, categorizing you as either a lark, owl, or hummingbird. The main difference between the bird types are when they feel energized to work. Larks are raring to go from the moment their eyes open in the morning. Owls feel their creative juice flowing when the sun goes down. Hummingbirds are ready for action at any time of the day. Figuring out which type of bird you are will improve your productivity. At different times in my life, I’ve been each type.

Owl in College

In college, I was a night owl. I had classes throughout the day and worked two jobs. The only time I had left for homework was either very early in the morning or after my shift ended at 10 pm. I never liked getting up early, so I did my work at night and went to sleep around 3 or 4 am. This schedule was hard on me physically and mentally. I got sick more frequently than usual and didn’t feel like anything was my “best work”. I often thought I would have enjoyed the material more if I’d had more time. After college, I learned I didn’t need more time, but that I needed to work at a different time.

Lark in the Office

In my corporate position, I started work at 8:30 am each day. I felt most productive from around 9 am – 12 pm. I developed the routine of doing my most creative work, a newsletter and website content, first thing in the morning. I quickly figured out that after lunch, I was more easily distracted. The room was louder, people were chattier, and I found it harder to concentrate. As my attention span waned, I’d work on things that required less brain power like copying & pasting information and answering emails.

Hummingbird at Home

Working from home, I’ve had to adopt a more flexible schedule which has transformed me into a hummingbird. I’m able to work whenever I have the time and usually feel just as creative and motivated at 6 am as I do at 1 pm.

On weekdays, I work before my daughter wakes up. I get up around 5:45 each day and work until Norah wakes sometime around 8. Since I typically have more than two hours of things to do each day, I use her afternoon nap as another working session. Norah consistently naps from 12 – 1:30 each day. Sometimes, she sleeps in, or takes a supersized nap, and I get a ton done; other times she’s up at 6 am and I have to adjust my schedule and my expectations for the day. I also work in the evenings while my husband does the nighttime routine and on weekends. For the most part, I feel sharp and inspired throughout the day with my only major energy dip occurring around 2 – 3 pm. A soda usually fixes the problem!

I prefer to do my creative writing, like this blog, in the early mornings. My ideas flow more freely and my concentration level is at its peak. I play ambient music like Soundrown or Brain.fm while I write. I leave administrative work for the afternoon and return to creative work at night. I use the time when I’m mentally depleted to get things done around the house, return calls and texts, and schedule social media posts.

If you told me in college that I’d be intentionally waking up before 6 am to work, I would have laughed hysterically at you. Had you told me even two years ago, I would have scoffed. However, necessity is the mother of invention. When you have to do something, you find yourself more willing to do it, and even growing to like it, as time goes on.

If you need to transition from one type of bird to another, how should you go about rewiring your brain? Here are some tips that have helped me make the transition.

Make a Tiny Change

One of the best ways to change your routine is to incorporate small changes in your daily life. BJ Fogg offers free week-long email programs on adding tiny habits to your life. I used his system to start each day with a positive affirmation and to make flossing a habit. BJ suggests that you create new habits that connect to existing habits. This can help you slowly put together a routine that moves you from one type of bird to another.

Create a Morning or Evening Routine

It can be helpful to add a five minute morning routine to the beginning of your days. A morning routine can be as simple as brushing your teeth, making coffee, and spending five minutes listing your goals for the day or it can be a 15 step process; it’s up to you. My morning routine varies, but I like to start with a short meditation session, have my first of two coffees, read blogs and the Medium digest, then work on personal writings for at least 20 minutes.

An evening routine for winding down and getting ready for bed is also a good idea no matter what type of bird you are. Many studies have shown that blue light is terrible for sleep. My husband and I both use f.lux on our devices. We also try to spend 10-20 minutes reading (paper books) in bed before turning out the lights. This helps me decompress and make steady progress towards my reading goals for the year.

Go With Your Strengths

Ultimately, you should go with your strengths. It’s always easier to do what feels natural and make small, gradual changes. Organize your day so that your most creative work is done at the time when you are at peak performance. Time blocking your schedule on Google calendar is a good way of managing your day. Save your administrative tasks, busy work, and email responses for points in the day when you feel less sharp.

Whether you are in a traditional career path or are a freelancer, discovering your bird type and doing your most important work when you are in the zone will make a huge difference to your success. Figuring out when you should work will improve the quality of your work and increase the enjoyment you get from it.

What We’re Into: February 2016

As a family, we have eclectic tastes and love trying new things. We’re always reading, (binge) watching shows and movies, and listening to podcasts and webinars. The amount of content we consume each month is staggering. Our daughter is also a voracious “reader” and as she enters toddlerhood, her interests are becoming more pronounced. She will tells you exactly what she wants and when she wants it – “String cheese now!”

At the end of each month, I’ll share a list of things that we were into over the past ~30 days.

Erin

This month it was all about food and audio experiences. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to music while working, driving, and doing errands around the house. Norah loves to dance and watching her spin in circles makes me happy. My birthday was this month and my husband and I had a great day going to the natural history museum and having my favorite food – sushi! I’ve always been a low-key person, but since I became a mother, I just want to spend quality time together making memories as a family.

Surf and Turf sushi
This may be the happiest mistake we’ve ever made. During a sushi run, my husband tried to order an entree of Surf and Turf for himself, but instead brought home the most delicious sushi roll I’ve ever had. The restaurant’s website says the roll is marinated steak and crab fried in tempura. There’s also some sort of delicious brown sauce on top. This roll dethroned our previous favorite, The Godzilla.

Music that sounds like it’s from another era
I have a few dozen Pandora stations that I cycle through, but right now, I’m really digging alternative music that sounds like it’s from a different era. Most of these recommendations came from my Young the Giant station. The first one is Fleet Foxes, who have a ‘70s sound. My favorite songs are He Doesn’t Know Why and Mykonos. I also like Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats; they have a funky mid ‘60s vibe. I’m loving S.O.B. and I Need Never Get Old. My last great find is Rocky Votolato who’s channeling ‘90s emo godfather, Elliott Smith, in his song White Daisy Passing.

Brain.fm
Sometimes I’m very task oriented and other times I can’t stay on one webpage for more than five minutes. When I need to focus on something, I use Brain.fm. The ambients sounds are created to improve concentration and focus. I liked it so much, I bought a full year membership. I use it for at least 30 minutes every single day and it continues to work wonders. If you’re interested in buying the service, here’s my referral link.

Michael

My husband, Michael writes a blog about solving problems, productivity and ideas. You can read more at Your Fool Laureate.

February is always a weird month for me. I can sense winter coming to an end, and we’re getting closer to one of my favorite times of the year—March Madness (more on that later). However, it’s still bone-chillingly cold here in the Midwest, and 9 times out of 10, there’s snow, so there’s still that winter malaise hanging around one’s shoulders like a long and heavy existential shawl. So more than ever during this time of year, I turn my attention to welcome diversions—those creature comforts that help resuscitate some of that warm feeling from spring and summer that I know is just on the horizon. I read, I listen to things, and I eat and drink.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This book was just recently published in January, 10 months after the death of its author. Dr. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon at Stanford, but was steeped in all the things I hold dear: philosophy, classics, religious studies, art, etc. This book is a memoir about his life as a thinker, a doctor, a husband, and a father, up until his death from stage IV cancer. It’s a really great read—filled with great musings on the bigger questions in life, but also warm accounts of lessons learned by being there as people died. While Kalanithi’s account of his own journey toward death is moving on its own, my usually stone cold heart was nearly melted by the epilogue, which his wife, Lucy, wrote after his death. The epilogue is an account of Paul’s death, and how Lucy experienced it. It is gripping, but told in such a way that you really feel what it must feel like to be in your final moments. It’s a fantastic book.

Blanton’s Bourbon
I have been into whiskey for a couple of years now, and I’ve tried to sample new bourbons, ryes, and scotches whenever I get the chance. Recently, I found myself far away from the home base—in exotic Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on business. After a long day of work, a few higher-ups from the customer I was visiting accompanied me to dinner. When I expressed my preference for ordering a bourbon with dinner, and that it just might be Blanton’s, one of them exclaimed that it was his absolute favorite. Apparently, there are seven different variations of the stopper for the Blanton’s bottle, which is a jockey riding a horse. Each variation represents the different stages of a race. The recommendation was a solid one. Blanton’s is a damn good bourbon, and may have usurped my favorite bourbon, Four Roses Single Barrel. I plan to pick up a bottle soon, but probably nearer to the warm part of spring. Bourbon (at least to me) is a warm weather drink, one to sip as the sun sets over the green (or greening) trees.

Back To Work Podcast
I have been listening to podcasts since waaay back in 2006, before they began booming. It’s really the only thing that I got in on before it blew up, so I’ll sing that song to anyone who will listen (lucky you, dear reader!) Since that time, I’ve cycled a lot of podcasts in and out of my regular rotation, with some being long-standing ones, and others being flashes in the pan. Back to Work has proven to be the podcast that once in my stack, never left—and for good reason. The hosts, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, have a great rapport. But what really makes the show is the sincerity and candor with which Merlin works through problems that nearly all of us face. While the show is nominally about productivity, it runs the gamut, touching on a wide variety of topics, and handles them all with a wonderful touch of humor. The podcast was good from the start, so if you are inclined to check it out, begin with episode 1, and enjoy a really good ramp-up to episode 7. Also very worth checking out is the three-part series on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, beginning with episode 95 – “She’s Five for a Living”

Norah (21 months old)

Daniel Tiger
Almost every morning, the first request Norah has is “milk,” the second is “Ugga Mugga”. We try to limit her TV consumption, but she watches 1-2 episodes on most weekdays. She loves the show, interacts with the characters, and tries to sing the songs. She has four Daniel Tiger stuffed characters that accompany her on most of her adventures. Some children’s shows can be annoying, but I find this one sweet and nostalgic, the characters are all descendents of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood puppets.

Potbelly’s
We got out to eat more than we should, but we’re working on adding a budget and meal plan into our repertoire. When we ask Norah where she wants to eat, she almost always says “Potbelly’s!” She loves the chicken and cheddar melt with avocado and the sugar cookies. She can be a bit of a picky eater, but she always finishes her half of the Big size.

Playdates
Prior to this month, Norah had only been on one play date, but this month she had three. As she nears two years old, she’s much more interested in being around other kids. This month we went to the natural history museum, the children’s museum and an indoor playground. Her favorite activity was splashing in the giant water table at the children’s museum. Her least favorite activity was getting stuck in a tube at the indoor playground. We’re looking into signing her up for gymnastics and swimming lessons in the summer. It’s so fun to watch her personality blossom.

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