When I’m writing a new post, I always create five titles and choose the one I think is best. The first title I wrote for this post was how to break your phone habit. But as I thought about it, it’s more than a habit for me at times. I have moments when I feel like I have a smartphone addiction.
Since Apple introduced Screen Time, I’ve paid much more attention to my smartphone usage. Every Sunday I get a popup that tells me exactly how many hours per day I spent on my phone. And to be honest, I’m rarely happy with that number.
I’m sure many of you agree that you have a love-hate relationship with your phone. It’s hard to remember how I ever got by without it. It’s my alarm clock, notebook, GPS, camera, calendar, and everything else. It can also be a huge distraction.
I don’t know about you, but my relationship with my phone is not always healthy. It helps me stay organized. But it’s just as easy to use those tools to distract me from doing what’s most important. When I’m feeling uneasy, picking up my phone and scrolling through Instagram is a quick and satisfying distraction. And I can’t tell you how many times I pick up my phone to make a note or put something in my calendar and 20 minutes later find myself trying to remember why I picked it up in the first place.
That’s why I’m calling it a smartphone addiction instead of a habit. By definition, addiction is “a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.” Not everyone will agree with my word choice. And I know that it’s not a struggle for everyone to put their phone down. But it’s easy for me to see patterns between my smartphone usage and my life as a former smoker.
We know all the reasons smartphones are great. They wake us up for work in the morning. And ensure we get to our meetings on time. Our phones get us from point A to point B in the most efficient manner, avoiding slow traffic and speed traps. We can check the weather, buy and sell stocks, and keep up with email. And social media has helped us reconnect with old friends and make new connections too. There’s a lot of really great things about smartphones.
At the same time, loneliness has become an epidemic. Nearly half of Americans “often feel alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others.” Smartphone addiction and social media aren’t the only reasons for these increased feelings of loneliness, but they are a big part of it.
When was the last time you talked to someone on the phone, just because? Not for business or to schedule an appointment, but to simply catch up. It’s probably been five years for me. Texting is much more convenient and takes a lot less time. And besides, I’d rather chat face to face. But I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t think that cutting out this form of communication could be contributing to our collective loneliness.
Social media has connected us to old and new friends alike. There’s no better tool than Instagram for connecting with likeminded people. But how often does the connection stop there? Rather than using it to find people we’d love to connect with in real life, we remain online acquaintances. And then there’s the whole comparison trap that can make us feel like we’re falling behind and not keeping up.
As much as this independent introvert hates to admit it, we are social creatures. We have been since the beginning of time. And cutting this aspect from our lives hasn’t been good for us.
Could breaking our smartphone addiction help us get out, connect, and enjoy life again?
Here are 12 tips to help break your smartphone addiction.
1 – Turn notifications off.
Once you get over the initial uneasiness, you’re going to thank me for this tip. I turned my notifications off in 2012 and I’ve never felt compelled to turn them on since.
At the time I had a job where I traveled and worked remotely. I found myself in meetings with clients, unable to focus because phone calls and emails kept flooding in. I also didn’t feel safe driving with constant emails and emergencies coming through. So I turned them all off.
In a world where many people expect an immediate response 24-7, this might not work for you. You may need to ease into it and set expectations and boundaries for your contacts slowly. However you choose to approach this, it’s worth exploring.
Each time we’re interrupted, it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on task. Let’s say you get interrupted once per hour during the workday. We’ll assume you spend eight minutes responding to each interruption. Those eight minutes, plus the 23 minutes it takes you to get back on task costs you four hours and 8 minutes each day. That’s almost 21 hours per week, 83 hours per month, and 992 hours per year! That’s essentially 25 40-hour workweeks.
But maybe you practice some of the tips below and aren’t interrupted as often. If you’re only interrupted once per day, that’s still 124 hours each year, more than 3 40-hour workweeks.
I don’t know about you, but there are lots of ways I’d rather spend that time than being interrupted and task switching. The best way to prevent this is to turn off your notifications.
2 – Put your phone away.
While I write this, my phone is hiding in another room. There’s nothing I need from my phone while I’m writing so why have the temptation?
When I’m out interacting with people, my phone stays in my purse or I turn it screen side down. Face to face interaction is becoming rarer as we all feel busier. Keeping my phone out of the way shows the people I’m with that their presence is important to me.
3 – Set app limits.
Screen Time for iOS is the greatest invention since the smartphone. It allows you to see exactly how much time you spend on your phone each day. It compiles each app’s usage and even allows you to set app limits.
While it’s easy enough to override the limits, the notification is usually all I need to put my phone down. If you find yourself constantly overriding your limits, ask yourself if your limits are reasonable. When I started, I set a limit of 40 minutes per day on Instagram. It turns out that wasn’t enough time for me to interact the way I needed to so I increased it to one hour.
If you’ve set a reasonable time limit and still find yourself overriding it all day long, ask someone else to create a password for you. If there’s a social media emergency, they can log you in. But on a daily basis, getting locked out will help you break your smartphone addiction.
If you’re an Android user, there are apps that do the same thing. At the time I’m writing this, Google is beta testing a similar feature called Digital Wellbeing. And for both devices, I’ve heard great things about the Moment app.
4 – Schedule It
I have a daily schedule that I try to stick to most days and on that schedule, I set aside time for email and social media. It’s a lot easier to stay off of social media during the day if I know I have dedicated time in the evening.
5 – Delete social media.
When you pick up your phone when you feel bored or need to distract yourself, what are your go-to apps? For me, it’s social media. Nothing distracts me from that argument I just had with my spouse like a scroll through Facebook.
That’s why I deleted social media apps from my phone. Other than Instagram, which works best on mobile, I deleted them all. There’s nothing on Facebook or Twitter that’s urgent enough that it can’t wait until I log on from my laptop. And if it was truly urgent, I hope your friends and family have other ways to contact you other than social media.
6 – Create Anti Phone Addiction Rules.
The first hour of my day is dedicated to healing, growing, and setting my mindset to have a great day. My current morning routine includes reading something for spiritual growth, journaling, and meditation. While I’m reading, I often come across quotes I want to share on Instagram. And while journaling, I always come up with great ideas for blog posts. In those moments, it’s easy to pick up my phone and get sucked in.
At one point last year I felt like it was getting out of hand, so I made a rule that I wouldn’t touch my phone for the first hour of the day for an entire month. Being the competitive person I am, the first hour turned into 4 hours, and then the whole day. Not only was I breaking my smartphone addiction, but I was insanely productive too.
The key is to identify your triggers and problem areas and then create rules around them. It also helps to create accountability. When I did my own 30-day challenge, I shared screenshots in my Instagram story.
7 – Use timers.
When I’m working, I set timers and work in one-hour blocks. This ensures that I don’t go down a rabbit hole with research or write a small book. It also allows me breaks to get up, change positions, get a drink, or use the restroom. I’ve also found that it prevents distractions like social media. Anyone can focus on something if they just have to do it for an hour.
I also set a timer for my morning routine. When it goes off, I’m done. So if I choose to use that time checking email or making notes in Evernote, I miss out on my important reading and journaling time.
8 – Find the power button and airplane mode.
If your smartphone addiction is really out of hand, use the power button to turn it off. By the time it boots back up, you’ll likely have forgotten what was so compelling that you had to turn it back on in the first place. I’m also a fan of airplane mode. When my husband, Jer, and I are traveling and spending time together, I often suggest that all the phones stay on airplane mode so we can spend quality time reconnecting.
9 – Try a fast.
Consider a phone or social media fast. My first social media fast was during lent of 2014 and it was glorious. At the time I was feeling pretty burned out on everything Facebook so I shut it all down. Guess what? I didn’t miss it at all. And no one missed me. I even inspired a few people to do their own fast.
When I disconnected from social media I found that I had more time for things I cared about. I had more time to read. I enjoyed more quality time with my spouse. And I felt less anxiety about my life.
10 – Go Screen-free.
Maybe you don’t need a 40-day fast to break your smartphone addiction. How about scheduling one screen-free day each week? Think of the fun your family could have if you agreed to give up your phones every Sunday.
11 – Write it down.
There are a lot of benefits to physically writing things down. It creates a different connection in your brain which has all sorts of wonderful benefits. And for me, it also keeps me off my phone. I go back and forth on this but right now, I’m physically writing my weekly and daily plans on paper.
One less reason to pick up my phone means one less way to be distracted which means more time to focus on what’s truly important.
12 – Be intentional.
I could give you a million more tips, but I’ll end with this. Be intentional with how you’re using your phone and social media. For each task or app, ask if it’s helping or hurting you. Here’s a great list to help you be more intentional.
When writing this post, I didn’t choose the words smartphone addiction lightly. There are times in my life when I use my phone to numb and that feels like an addiction to me. There are also times when I’m in public and watching people makes me feel like our collective smartphone addiction is becoming a crisis.
These 12 tips are simple ways to begin creating healthier habits with your devices. Smartphones can be a wonderful tool if we’re using them as a way to connect and not as a way to numb and disconnect. The beauty is that you get to decide exactly how you’ll make your smartphone work for you.