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How to Set Screen Time Limits on Your Phone or Laptop To Keep Yourself Focused

Spending too much time on your devices? You already have the tools you need to manage it.

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People using iPhones
Don’t let yourself get sucked in.
Photo: Jason Goodman/Unsplash

As our devices continue to get more and more distracting, they are also adding more and more tools to try to manage this distraction—so that, you know, you can actually get some work done or actually communicate in real life with other people in the same room as you. Besides all the third-party options, there are now various integrated screen time tools built into Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS.

These features all operate along similar lines: You decide how much time is reasonable for you to be spending on social media, gaming, video watching or whatever it is, and your phone, tablet or computer warns you when you’ve exceeded these times. Of course, as you yourself have set the limits, they aren’t difficult to override—but hopefully the restrictions do go some way to helping you keep up a healthy relationship with your gadgets.

How to limit screen time on Android

On the stock version of Android, which Google puts on its Pixel devices, open up Settings and choose Digital Wellbeing and parental controls to see a pie chart showing which apps have been taking up your time over the past day. You can also see how many times you’ve unlocked your phone and how many notifications have come in.


Tap on the pie chart to get more details and to see stats for longer periods of time. and in the list of apps underneath the graphs, you’ll see timer icons on the right: Tap on any of these to set daily screen time limits for a particular app. You can go from 5 minutes to 23 hours and 55 minutes, and all the timers reset at midnight.

Android screen time limit
You’ve got plenty of scope for app timers on Android.
Screenshot: Android

Once you’ve exceeded the time allocated for a particular app, its home screen icon turns gray, and you’ll be met with an “App paused” message if you try to open it. If you want to ignore the restrictions that you’ve put on yourself, you’re going to have to go back into the screen time settings and remove the limit (or increase it).

If you head back to the main Digital Wellbeing and parental controls screen from the Settings menu, you’ll find there are various other options for cutting down on app distractions, including the classic Do Not Disturb and Focus mode options, which snoozes the notifications from a particular subset of apps for those times when you really want to concentrate on something else—and not be continually distracted by your phone.


How to Limit Screen Time on iOS

To get a window into how much time you spend staring at your iPhone, open up Settings in iOS and choose Screen Time. You’ll see your daily average across the current week, how it compares to last week, and total screen time for each individual day too. Tap on See All Activity to see more detail for the current day, including an app-by-app breakdown.


Back on the Screen Time screen, tap on App Limits and then Add Limit if you want to put some restrictions in place. You can choose from entire categories premade by iOS (such as Social or Entertainment), or tap through to get to individual apps inside these categories. Tap Next, and you can specify the daily limit for the app in question, from 1 minute to 23 hours and 59 minutes.

iOS screen time limit
You can group apps by category on iOS if you want to.
Screenshot: iOS

iOS is kind enough to give you a warning before you’re about to hit your daily time limit, and once you’ve gotten past it, you’ll get a message to that effect that opens up instead of the app—together with the option to extend your allotted time if you want to. You can also dive back into the Settings and take off the limit, but hopefully you’re more committed to reducing distractions than that.

On the same Screen Time screen, you’ll find various other options for making your iPhone less distracting: For example, tap Downtime to put your phone into a limited mode of operation where only certain apps are allowed to operate (perfect for getting ready for bed), or Communication Limits to introduce restrictions based around specific contacts rather than specific apps.


How to Limit Screen Time on Windows

Windows is the odd one out here in that it doesn’t have built-in screen time features as such, but you can use a few separate parts of the operating system to cover more or less the same roles. Considering how ubiquitous these kinds of controls now are across software platforms, it seems likely that Microsoft is at least thinking about adding them soon.


First, you can check how much time you’re spending on your laptop or desktop by opening up Settings and choosing System, then Power & battery. Click View detailed info and you can see how much time the screen has actually been on over the last 24 hours or the last week (use the drop-down menu in the top right corner to switch between the two). You don’t get a detailed app-by-app breakdown in Windows, though.

Windows focus sessions
Use Focus on Windows to minimize distractions.
Screenshot: Windows

You can set limits on both screen time and app limits in Windows, but they need to be applied to a child account, and they’ll cover both Windows and Xbox devices—whether or not you think it’s worth creating a child account to keep your app usage in check is up to you. To get to these settings, which are something of a work in progress, you need to open the Family Safety app for Windows or open the Family Safety portal on the web.

What you can do for your own grown-up account through Windows’ own settings is limit how apps can interrupt you. From System in Settings, choose either Notifications and Do not disturb or Focus (which is like a do not disturb mode with a few extras). Even if you can’t set specific limits on apps right now, you can still mark out periods when they’re not allowed to be quite as much of a distraction.


How to Limit Screen Time on macOS

The Screen Time features built into macOS are very similar to those you’ll find in iOS, and indeed, if you have both an iPhone and a Mac, then you can set limits that apply across both platforms. To get to the relevant configuration screen on macOS, open the Apple menu, then choose System Settings and Screen Time—click on App Usage to see how you’ve been spending time on your Mac.


From Screen Time, choose App Limits to put some restrictions in place. The daily time limits can go from a single minute to 23 hours and 59 minutes, and if you need to, you can set different restrictions for different days of the week. As on iOS, you can limit particular categories of apps (such as Games or Creativity) as well as individual apps.

iOS screen time limit
The Screen Time options on macOS match those on iOS.
Screenshot: macOS

When your time is up in a specific app, you’ll see a warning appear on screen instead of the app itself—you can accept the restrictions that have been put in place, or click Ignore Limit to give yourself a bit more time (or to remove the limit for the rest of the day). You can go back and edit the Screen Time settings at any time as well.

Also on the Screen Time screen in System Settings is Downtime, for restricting the usage of certain apps at certain times of the day—so maybe during working hours or just before bed—and Communication Limits, which lets you restrict the time you spend communicating with particular contacts. Again, these settings should sync over with iOS as long as you’re signed in with the same Apple account.