Adopt These Healthy Digital Habits for 2023

How healthy are you and your family? Sure, you may be eating better and working out more in the new year, but what about your digital habits?

Digital habits are the regular routines and behaviors we practice using digital devices. These technology behaviors apply to adults, teenagers, children, retirees, students, you name it. Whether the devices are smartphones, laptops, desktops, gaming consoles, mobile games or tablets, unhealthy digital habits can actually adversely impact physical and mental health. We’re not just talking about avoiding blue light an hour before bed to encourage better sleep. Poor digital habits reportedly feed anxiety and depression and can expose devices to corruption and result in identity theft, unauthorized access and distribution of your personal information and photos and lead to inoperative systems.

The beginning of a new year is a natural time for setting resolutions. The occasion is also an excellent opportunity to review your digital and online practices and those of your family, set new rules and establish fresh routines. With the prevalence of digital device usage—some reports reveal we spend more than seven hours online each day—it’s more important than ever to regularly review digital habits.

Just what technology practices and behaviors should you adopt?

Numerous resources—including technology firms, cybersecurity specialists and education and development experts—regularly publish informed opinions on the topic. Common threads quickly emerge.

Microsoft, which knows something about computers and gaming, recommends the following five tips for healthy family digital practices:

  1. Regularly discuss healthy digital habits with your children in age-appropriate ways. Explain what catfishing—the practice by which a person creates a fake persona in an attempt to commit some type of fraudulent act—and identity theft—the practice in which a miscreant collects personal data about another that they then use to commit fraud or other crimes—are. Establish rules, such as never sharing names, addresses, photos or other personal information online. Remind family members, too, that the actions taken online remain on the web, a circumstance that can prove regrettable.
  2. Sample the digital worlds your children inhabit. Try playing their games and using the actual programs and social media apps they do. Beware of applications that permit anonymous or video chat. Set rules upfront, then touch base periodically to ensure your children are following your guidance.
  3. Place computers and gaming systems in common areas where you can monitor your children’s online activities. Insist and make rules that kids only watch movies and play games on mobile devices where you can see and hear their gameplay and online interactions. You can also leverage family charging stations to help chaperone smartphone use.
  4. Establish screen time limits and use tracking apps to monitor digital device usage. Employ a family safety app—such as Microsoft Family Safety—that’s compatible with all your household’s devices to assist monitoring online activities, filtering content you seek to block and generating online activity reports.
  5. Discuss cyber bullying with your kids. Teach your children to create and maintain positive online friendships. Emphasize the importance of remaining positive in comments and interactions and seeking your assistance whenever they encounter something that seems negative, troubling or unsettling. Encouraging positive interactions is especially important as children age and begin using social media apps, which can fuel insecurities, anxieties and bullying.

Maybe the most important part of setting such guidelines is keeping them relevant. Regularly remind your kids of the importance of the rules you set and why it is important not to share personal information online.

To better encourage your own focus and productivity, including professionally, consider checking email at specific times throughout the day, not every time a new message arrives. Implement the same practice for news alerts and other unnecessary notifications. While it may remain important to enable text messaging alerts for keeping track of family or professional needs and responsibilities throughout the day, not all ping, bings and chirps require immediate attention.

Another good practice is to regularly review your devices—smartphones and tablets in particular—and remove unneeded apps. Many programs get installed with the belief you’ll use them regularly, only to fall out of favor. Others may get used just once. Uninstalling unneeded apps often reduces unnecessary notifications and alerts. Eliminating unused programs also frees storage space and helps stop apps from spying on your behaviors or slowing the device due to their operating in the background and downloading updates even though you don’t actively use them.

When managing email, consider how often you delete messages from various lists you no longer use. Maybe you purchased a gift for a coworker, once, or completed a one-time transaction with a vendor that now sends you four or five marketing messages a week. Liberally leverage the unsubscribe option typically embedded at the bottom of such messages. Reducing regular inbox clutter helps save time processing and deleting repeated unneeded or unwanted messages.

Cybersecurity should be a significant and deliberate consideration. Corresponding cyber risks are ever-evolving and persistent.

Avoid providing personal information unnecessarily. Resist responding to social media polls that collect specific personal information about you, such as the first car you drove or your first job. Such information can sometimes be used to defeat password protections.

Consider installing a virtual private network (VPN), especially if you travel often or frequently use public WiFi networks. Popular VPN services such as NordVPN and ExpressVPN typically require a subscription but these services encrypt your communications and protect personal and financial information online.

Always run reputable antimalware software, including on smartphones and tablets. Regularly update software applications and try to download and install operating system updates as soon as they’re released. These software and operating system patches fix problems, improve performance and often address known vulnerabilities. Running the most current software is one of the better methods of protecting against cyberattack.

Healthy digital habits also include planning for a crisis and maintaining robust backup habits. Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox and other providers offer cloud-based file storage services designed to protect data from loss due to local disasters or a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop failure. Care should be taken, too, to ensure essential data is protected from ransomware attacks, such as can be done using air-gapped drives or specific business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) solutions. Establishing and maintaining such routines is an important part of healthy technology habits that are sometimes but shouldn’t ever be overlooked.

Consider, too, regularly taking time off from digital devices. While it may prove impractical for everyone to skip an entire day looking at their smartphone, maybe consider avoiding social media apps for a weekend. Regular breaks from digital habits, especially those we often recognize as distracting or disturbing (particularly doomscrolling) can help minds relax and turn our attention to other, more fulfilling and rewarding tasks. Such reasonable and realistic digital detoxes can potentially and naturally help spur the creation of new, healthier habits.

When seeking to make changes, habits—including digital habits—can be among the most challenging to break or adopt. Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero prepared a five-step Digital Habits Checkup students could use, and the guidance works for professionals as well:

  1. Check – Review and record the tech habits you practice and rate each as to how it makes you feel.
  2. Choose – Determine the habits you wish to change and note why it’s important to change that habit.
  3. Challenge – Draft a plan to challenge yourself to make a specific change for a set period, say a couple weeks.
  4. Boost – Consider ways you could encourage yourself to follow through with the new desired behavior.
  5. Track – Monitor and record your progress. Ask each day how your personal challenge is going and what made the challenge easy or difficult today.

As with most initiatives worth undertaking, getting started can sometimes be daunting. Considering how much time everyone spends online—whether for education purposes, professional tasks, personal fulfillment or just to chill—incorporating a regular review of your daily digital habits is becoming as important as flossing: not necessarily something any of us enjoy but a necessary task we all know makes for a healthier life.