Between laptop-based remote work and using Zoom for nearly everything, I noticed an uptick in my screen time during the early pandemic days. My body noticed, too. My eyes and neck strained. My head sometimes felt overloaded from being constantly connected to a device. With my wellbeing in mind, I decided to embark on a phone detox.
I created a simple goal: for three weeks, every day I would turn off my phone one hour before I went to sleep until one hour after I awoke the next day. It was harder than I expected.
Although I did not achieve my goal every day, I did significantly reduce my average daily screen time by the end of the experiment. And more importantly, I felt more refreshed and calm. Here’s my best advice for breaking your phone addiction and reclaiming moments of recollection in your life.
Find out how much time you waste
Every phone user is different. To break your phone addiction, you must first discover the aspects of phone usage that create your addiction. Determine how many hours (yes, hours!) you spend on your phone on an average day. Create a baseline and set a goal for improvement. I used the iPhone’s Screen Time function to identify my average daily screen time. There are some good apps to reduce phone usage that might prove helpful — I also used the app Moment to display my number of daily phone pickups and the times of the day I most used my phone.
Next, determine what aspects of your phone usage you want to change. You might intuitively know what areas of phone use occupy most of your time. If you don’t know, apps such as QualityTime (Android) or the iPhone’s Screen Time function can help you.
Create a phone-free morning and evening routine
If you tend to start and end your day scrolling on your phone, consider reclaiming those moments with more nourishing activities. This habit of mindless scrolling sparked my original goal to hold a screen-free first and last hour of my day. I created a morning and evening routine that would bring me relaxation. Once I put my phone on airplane mode and began my evening routine, I committed to keeping my phone off until I had completed my morning routine the next day. I gradually learned to begin my day with my gratitude journal and a book before turning my phone back on. This change led me to feel more peaceful and less reactive.
Live as if smartphones haven’t been invented yet
Believe it or not, there was time when phones were simply phones. Reduce your screen time by switching your phone’s apps for its old-school precursors. If using your phone as a clock is your thing, try waking up to a real alarm clock or purchasing a watch. If you still own an iPod, charge it up and go for a jog without your phone. It’s nice to unplug from the conversation online for a while.
In my experiment I realized that email, navigation, and entertainment contributed greatly to my phone usage. I then memorized directions to common destinations so that I didn’t have to rely on Google maps. I deleted my email app and promised to only check email on my computer. I listened to podcasts via my laptop. I realize that in some of these cases, I was simply exchanging my phone’s screen for that of another, but my eyes and my neck felt so much better not staring at a tiny little phone screen when I did choose to use media.
Delete apps and block websites that distract you
Find the apps that distract you and get rid of them. I deleted a couple social media apps on my phone, and I have appreciated not even having the option to check them. As I said before, I also deleted the email app from my phone. I realized that no email is important enough to merit my response as soon as the notification arises — yet, I would typically check my email notifications as they popped up. This has been unexpectedly helpful for me.
Streamline responding to messages
Don’t let responding to a simple text or email suck you into your phone. I found that unlocking my phone to respond to a message ended up being a distraction that led to engagements with other apps. I’d unlock my phone to respond to a text, but it wouldn’t stop there. I’d check the news, then maybe I’d check social media. I decided to change my notification settings to show the entirety of the text or message received on my lock screen. It might sound like a small thing, but being able to read messages without unlocking my phone gave me the ability to avoid a response that could devolve into longer periods of distraction.
Replace phone use with activities you love
Stay motivated by focusing on what you want to do more of in your phone-less moments. Increasing my time spent on meditation, reading, and art were at the top of my list. I began bringing a book and a small sketchpad to situations during which I’d normally revert to fiddling around on my phone (for example, while in a waiting room or on a bus ride). When I was standing in lines I chose to meditate or pray rather than check my messages. Using these little pockets of time to do nourishing activities led to me feeling more refreshed and connected to the world around me.
I’m so glad that I took this period of time to examine and begin to change my phone use habits. As tempting as it can be to go off-grid without a cell phone in order to truly unplug, it’s not realistic for me (or for most readers). Intentionally reducing screen time has brought more balance and connection to my day-to-day life.