Necessary Evil

Photo by  ROBIN WORRALL  on  Unsplash

You are using your phone too much. (Yes, you! And me, and pretty much everyone else.)

Or maybe you aren’t. And if you aren’t, feel free to stop reading now.

But if you sometimes find your phone in your hand and aren’t sure how it got there. Read on.

Technology is amazing. And it’s honestly a bit hard to remember how we all handled everything 10 years ago, before smartphones were ubiquitous. But, like a lot of things, we’ve gone headlong into using our phones all the time, accepting technology as it comes, expecting everything to be better, faster, and more, but most of us haven’t exactly been intentional in our use of such technology.

Apps are designed to be addictive. It’s good for business. And so it’s up to us to figure out where to draw the line, to make sure that we are using technology to our advantage, instead of the other way around. But I’m gonna stop talking about the “problem” now, because I don’t think I’m telling you anything new here. What I really want to talk about are practical ways that we can be intentional in our use of technology, and our phones, specifically. To keep the good parts, and limit the bad parts. Because technology is rarely all good, or all bad. The goal is to use your phone as much, or as little, as you want to. You want to be in control.

If you’d like to be more intentional in your use of your phone, here are some things you can try:

Make it Less Annoying

  • Turn off notifications - This is the big one. Get rid of those notifications right now. Turn off the email notifications, the Slack notifications, the game notifications. They are distracting you unnecessarily and tearing you away from what you were doing, whatever that was. When we are interrupted, it takes, on average, upwards of 20 minutes to get back to what we were doing originally. Think about that. And think about the number of notifications you’re getting on your phone every day.

  • Turn on Silent or “Do Not Disturb” - If you need some head’s-down time to do some deep thinking work, put your phone on silent or “Do Not Disturb”. If you’re worried you’ll miss an important call from your spouse, or your kid, or your kids’ school, you can use the Emergency Bypass feature in iOS or similar Android features to allow calls/messages from specific contacts to get through.

  • Reduce Blue Light - Make sure that blue light isn’t keeping you up at night. Make sure Night Shift is turned on or use blue-light blocking glasses.

Make it Less Appealing

  • Switch to Grayscale - Change your phone from full color to grayscale. This makes your phone, and all those apps, less compelling to look at and use. Just Google “enable grayscale” and your phone model and you’ll find the relevant instructions. (And don’t worry, you can always change it back.)

  • Curate your App Layout - Get all those time-sucking apps off your home screen. Put them 3 swipes in, in a folder called “Time-Wasters”. You’d be amazed how much less you wind up on Facebook or Twitter (or your social media of choice) when you have to make a few gestures to get there.

Make it Inconvenient

  • Turn off “Raise to Wake” - Make yourself do a little extra work to wake your phone. Don’t let yourself absent-mindedly start scrolling simply because you picked up your phone.

  • Turn off Fingerprint Unlock - Make yourself type in that code. The more work you have to do, the less likely you are to use your phone out of habit, or by default.

Create Boundaries

  • Create Rules - Create some rules for yourself/your family such as “no phones at the dinner table” or “no phones in bed”. (But you’ll need to get everyone on board or this one won’t work.)

  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind - Keep your phone out of sight; keep it in your purse or your backpack instead of on your desk or in your pocket. If you have to reach for it, you’re less likely use your phone absentmindedly. Use a charging product like WOBOCO to charge your phone out of sight.

  • Try the “First to Look Pays the Bill” Game - At restaurants, everyone sticks their phone in a pile on the table. The first one to look pays the whole bill. If no one looks, you split it.

Regularly Reassess

  • Cull Your Apps - Every few months think about the apps that you are using. Are you finding them helpful? Are you spending way too much time on some. Uninstall the apps that aren’t serving you anymore. Remove the temptation and the visual clutter.

  • Track Your Time - Spend a week tracking how much time you are actually spending on your phone. Are you surprised? Is this what you wanted? What else could you be doing with that time?

Gold Star Methods

If you’re really serious about this, here are a couple things for you. These aren’t realistic for everyone. But maybe you like being a teacher’s pet.

  • Sleep with Your Phone in Another Room - Simply remove that evening temptation altogether. (For those of us using our phones as an alarm clock, this isn’t necessarily going to work. But if you wake unnaturally, or your kids wake you up, or you use a real alarm clock (or Alexa or Google Home), then give this a try.)

  • Institute a “Phone Free” Day - Once a week, leave the phone at home. Go outside. Meet up with your friends (at a pre-arranged time and place, of course). Take a nap. Pretend like it’s 1995.

  • Remove Your Time-Sucking Apps Altogether - Take a deep breath and just uninstall them all. You can still get to the web versions of all your favorite social media sites on your computer.

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