Tell me if you’ve been here before. You pull out your phone with every intention to just check an email, send a quick text, or find out what that notification was, only to find yourself 20 minutes later scrolling through your Instagram feed until it says you’re all caught up. Or maybe you’ve even caught yourself “zombie checking”- using your phone throughout the day without even thinking about it, mostly to avoid boredom.
Smartphones are without question a useful tool in our every day lives, but as research and experience have shown they can also become a problem. Addictive behaviors can start to creep in and what started as a useful tool becomes a crutch for filling in every free moment. The good news is phone developers are starting to take note and build in features to bring awareness of time spent on our phones and place limits. If you feel like you need a healthier relationship with your devices, here’s a few practical tips and resources to be more mindful of phone usage and help you focus when your phone becomes a distraction.
Before moving on, I want to mention our podcast interview with Catherine Price author of How To Break Up With Your Phone. If this is a topic you’re interested in learning more about it’s definitely worth checking out (along with her book).
1. Turn off push notifications!
I think you’ll be surprised by how much this simple step can help. But if you think about it, the less your phone dings or vibrates, the less you will be reminded to check it. By removing push notifications on almost all your apps, you are essentially removing the Pavlovian features in your phone. Most of the “alerts” you get are not urgent and are not worth interrupting whatever it is you’re doing.
2. Delete distracting apps
For many of us this means the social media apps (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.). If these are your time suckers it might be best to remove them from your phone. Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean cutting off all access. You can still use the mobile versions of these sites by going through your browser or just check them on your computer. But sometimes that extra step is all you need to limit the amount of times you check in. Also remember, you can always add these apps back again later after you’ve realized life does go on without them.
3. Buy a watch and alarm clock
It sure is handy having those clock features built into your phone, but they often create yet another reason to pull it out when you don’t need to, or it can create the habit of using your phone right before bed and immediately upon waking up, which can actually be unhealthy. By simply wearing a wrist watch you won’t be using your phone to check the time anymore and if you get an alarm clock you can remove the phone from your bedroom altogether, especially if you decide to charge it overnight somewhere else.
4. Be mindful of your phone use and know your weaknesses
This tip is highly recommended by Catherine Price author of How To Beak Up With Your Phone. She recommends leaning in when you have a temptation to check your phone and being mindful of what is causing that feeling or drive to check your phone. She says, “The moment you recognize that you don’t have to say yes to every invitation is the moment you gain control over your life – both on and off your phone.”
5. Fill your phone time with something else
What will you do with all your new-found free time!? Well, if you don’t know the answer to that question then you will likely go back to filling it with your phone again. So, it’s important to think of some activities that will fill the void and hopefully also inspire you to continue maintaining healthy screen time. Maybe you want to spend more time with your kids, take more naps, read a book (we’re biased towards that one), exercise, write, meditate, learn an instrument, the possibilities are endless!
Apple’s Screen Time
The latest version of Apple’s iOS for the iPhone has built in features for tracking and limiting your phone time. You can even set time limits on specific groups of apps. If you’re an iPhone user this is a very handy tool readily available. No installation required! You will need to do some setup though, so take a look at this overview from the Apple website.
Android’s Digital WellBeing
Digital Wellbeing is Google’s similar screen monitoring tool for Android users. It is free to install and gives Android users the same features as Apple’s Screen Time including some additional ones like a YouTube breather that reminds you to take a break after watching a lot of YouTube content.
The Forest app takes a different approach by gamifying your focus sessions. Set up an amount of time you want to stay away from your phone and the timer immediately starts. During that time a little tree starts to grow on your screen. Don’t kill your tree by using your phone. It’s that simple, but can work like a charm. Bonus: each Forest session builds points. Reach a certain number of points and a real tree will be planted by Trees for the Future!
These are just a few tips and resources, but there are many more out there. What apps do you use to cut down phone time? What habits, bits of wisdom, or articles have been helpful to you? Please share in the comments.