A RADICAL GUIDE TO SPENDING LESS TIME ON YOUR PHONE
It’s there: in your pocket. On the desk. In the cup holder of the car. It’s everywhere..!
You want to use it. Just grab it and alleviate the boredom or discomfort. Might as well check the headlines instead of struggling to type words on a blank screen or start a business spreadsheet. And why stay in this tense argument with your spouse when you can see what’s new on Facebook or Instagram? “Hey kid, sorry I can’t play with you right now – I have to answer this email.”
That’s what our phones have become. An instant escape, and a constant burden. We didn’t realise from the inception of mobile phones what they would evolve into did we.
My phone, once a source of liberation — I could send a simple sms, take call whilst not in the office, check email without having to be at a fixed workstation, which meant I could spend more time out doing things — eventually is becoming a weight tieing us down.
One has to wonder if it makes us better at our jobs or if it is preventing what Cal Newport calls “deep work” — focused, dedicated, creative time.
So recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use it less. About how to get the benefits from the technology without all the downsides.
If that’s what you’re looking for, too, these strategies might help you. Some of them are easy. Others are tougher, and you’ll probably think some of them are nuts. Maybe they are. But there may just be something amongst them that resonates and helps not be a ‘slave to our phones’.
Turn off all alerts
My lock screen is almost always blank. It’s because I went into the general settings on my phone and turned off all alerts by default, with the exception of texts and alarms for literal emergencies. Even once I unlock my phone, I don’t see any red circles showing me how many messages or notifications I have. I don’t need Strava to tell me I need to check Strava. I definitely don’t allow anything to make noises or buzz me. (I turned off vibrate for texts as well.) No alerts means fewer things to check and a lot less FOMO.
Decide how you’re going to be reachable
One of the best decisions I made a few years ago was to limit how people can get in touch with me. Some people have email, text, phone calls, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Messenger, Twitter and Instagram DMs, LinkedIn messages, Slack, Telegram, and Goodness knows what else. Very overwhelming.
Perhaps limit yourself to three: You can whatsapp/text, email, or call.. Email is day-to-day work stuff, texts are for friends and family, and when my phone rings, it’s usually something worthwhile.
This way one won’t feel the need to check 20 different apps and inboxes 50 times a day, because everything that actually matters will come in through one of those three channels.
Sleep with your phone in the other room
If you have an alarm that’s not your clock app, your phone can go in the other room, and if your phone is in the other room, you can’t check it at night.
This means you won’t know if you get a text message or an email. It means you won’t be tempted to scroll through social. It means you’ll have to lie there with your own thoughts, read a book, or maybe even go to sleep at a reasonable time.
Start phone-free mornings
About six months ago, I was invited to a challenge on the habit-building app Spar to not touch my phone for at least 10 minutes after I woke up. I’d been sleeping with it in the other room for years, but I still usually grabbed it first thing in the morning.
One can increase the challenge in small slots and who knows it may be an hour or two into the morning that you build up to that you don’t need to touch your phone. I wonder if it makes one more productive?
Get a smartwatch
I’m not a big fan of the “solve a device problem with another device” logic, but in this case, it’s really worked. Having a watch that connects to my phone — but that I don’t use as a phone — has substantially reduced the amount of time I spend on my phone and helped me curb the desire to always have it near me. The only alerts I allow on my watch are calendar reminders and phone calls, which keeps me at least somewhat tethered to my work life. I can reject calls from my wrist, too, without having to go into my pocket.
Get AirPods too
Not having a physical cord tethering me to my phone makes a huge difference. I want to listen to music. I don’t want to be tempted by my email. I want to talk to this person on the phone. I don’t want to be scrolling at the same time.
Get rid of social apps
The decision to remove social media from my phone radically reduced the role these apps played in my life. Twitter, FB, Instagram are fine as a social diversion from time to time. As a thing you can access every time a thought pops in your head? Not so much.
Don’t use your phone for entertainment at all
Why do cellphone companies strike deals with Netflix? Why did AT&T buy DirecTV? Because they want to turn your phone into your television. They want you to mainline data and entertainment. This is good for them, but not good for you. When you want to watch TV, sit down on the couch and use a remote.
While we’re on the subject, delete your games, too. Really smart psychologists, designers, and marketers have figured out how to make them as addictive and immersive as possible and cutting them out is one easy way to use your phone less.
Use child protection settings
You know you can block certain sites on your phone, right? So if you deleted Facebook but still check it in your browser, you can use parental controls to protect yourself from yourself! There are a number of sites I wanted to stop checking, so I made it harder for me to do so.
Go on a purge
Delete contacts you don’t use. Delete apps you don’t need. Clear your cookies. Do you need Woolies, Checkers, Pick n Pay and Spar grocery apps? Do you actually need both Bolt and Uber? Simplify. Your phone wants to remember everything to make your experience using it more seamless. Don’t let it.
“Do Not Disturb” is your friend
Use this feature all the time. Whenever you sit down to a meeting. Whenever you got into a movie. Whenever you’re doing something nice with your family. Put up a wall that prevents people, emails, and texts from getting through. Protect your space. Be in the moment.
Whenever possible, replace your phone with another solution
If you read news on your phone, try subscribing to a newspaper or a magazine. If you want a restaurant recommendation, ask a friend. If you use a countdown app with your kids, get a kitchen timer. Yes, the phone can be easier for all these things, but what we don’t factor in is the mindless scrolling that we slip into once the task at hand is done. The less you use your phone to deal with trivial matters or minor conveniences, the less dependent you’ll be on it.
Okay, but what do you use your phone for, then? Well, lots of helpful things. It’s a calculator. It lets me look up information I need on the go. I can take pictures. I can listen to music and podcasts. I get directions. I can call an Uber to pick me up anywhere in the world. I manage my schedule. I write notes to myself. I record my runs and my swims. I FaceTime my kids when I’m away.
My life is better because of the ability to do these things. It’s the stuff that prevents me from doing them that I want to get rid of.
Let’s get more in the moment in life and not get engulfed in staring at a screen.
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