Establish healthy boundaries with your phone by employing these strategies.
I think we can all collectively agree that we’re addicted to our phones. According to Inc., the average person spends over four hours per day on her device, which amounts to over 60 days spent looking at a screen in a calendar year. For a 30-year-old woman, that means that she will spend nearly eight years on her smartphone for the remainder of her life.
There goes almost a decade of living.
That’s eight years she could spend on her hobbies and interests, her goals and dreams, her friends and family, her overall health and well-being.
One of the worst parts of being addicted to your phone is that it takes you out of the present moment. You go to a concert, but you watch through your phone. You go to the game, but you’re snapping the action through your screen. Start looking up when you’re in public and you’ll realize that most people are looking down at a device.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be present for my life than simply experience it through a handheld companion. And what better time to revisit how much time you spend looking at screens than the fresh start that comes with a new day and a new year? Turns out, reducing screen time has a variety of benefits. Spending less time looking at screens can improve your sleep, help you focus, reduce headaches and even ease your anxiety.
I’d rather be doing almost anything other than incessantly scrolling through social media feeds or reaching for my phone to see if I have any notifications. Chances are, you probably feel the same way I do. If so, follow the 12 steps below to overhaul your screen time and revitalize your relationship with your phone. You may find it helps you improve your relationship with yourself, too.
12 steps to limit your screen time
- Get real about your habits
- Set screen time limits
- Establish clear boundaries for when and where you’ll use your phone
- Delete apps you no longer use
- Change your notification settings
- Ask someone to do this with you
- Out of sight, out of mind
- Take advantage of Airplane Mode and Do Not Disturb
- Use a voice assistant instead
- Try using another tool
- Find something to do with all that new time on your hands
- Stick to your rules
1. Get real about your habits
It’s time to get brutally honest with yourself. How much time are you really spending on your phone? Start by asking yourself these questions:
- How often do I check my phone?
- Which apps are useful in my daily life? Which ones aren’t?
- Do I really need my phone for that?
- How would I feel if someone used their phone around me like I do around them?
- Do I really need to do that right this second?
- When do I usually reach for my phone?
Signs you may be in need of a detox:
- You text while walking or driving
- You respond to emails and other notifications within minutes of receiving them
- You struggle to leave work at work, checking messages long after the office is closed
- You reach for your phone but forget why you picked it up
- You do things for the sole purpose of sharing them on social media
- You find yourself filling all of your downtime with your devices
If you have an iPhone like me, the Screen Time section within your Settings will be your best friend in this detox. According to my Screen Time section, I spent an average of two hours and 41 minutes per day on my phone over the past week, which was down 36% from the previous week. When you click on “See All Activity,” you can see stats for your most-used applications, how many times you pick up your phone on average per day and how many notifications you receive on a daily basis.
Over the past week, Instagram, Messages and Mail were my most-used apps in terms of time spent. I also picked up my phone over 70 times and received over 50 notifications on an average day. Regardless of whether your numbers are higher or lower than mine, you’re here because you’re interested in getting those numbers down.
Once you have a deeper understanding of exactly how much time you’re devoting to your devices and the apps that are taking up the most time or interrupt your day with notifications, you can decide exactly what you want to do about it, and set specific goals to better measure your progress.
2. Set screen time limits
One of the great things about the Screen Time function on the iPhone is that you can set time limits for a specific app or group of apps. If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time browsing social media on your phone, this is a really practical way to restrict the amount you’ll allow yourself to scroll before you pull the plug. I decided that I didn’t want to spend more than an hour per day on social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Once I hit that limit, my social media apps get grayed out on my home screen. When I open a social media app, a lock screen appears and informs me that I’ve already met my limit for the day. From there, you can either ignore the limit or continue using the app regardless.
In order to ensure you don’t cheat yourself by hopping to another device, I recommend turning on the Share Across Devices option as well. This will take into account your activity on other devices where you’re logged into iCloud, which will help you to stick to an actual time limit instead of just restricting time on one particular device.
If you want to be even more stringent with yourself, you can also set a Screen Time passcode, which will make you enter a password each time you reach your limit. I have chosen to forego this step, but it can be particularly useful for those who have a hard time sticking to their constraints.
Other Screen Time features include Downtime and Communication Limits. Downtime allows you to set a specific time window during which you plan to forego using your phone. I have a daily Downtime set from 10 pm to 7 am, which means that my phone will be disabled outside of phone calls and specific apps I select. Communication Limits, on the other hand, allow you to limit contact with particular people during your Allowed Screen Time as well as during Downtime.
Between all of these features, you should be able to adequately restrict your daily phone usage within reason to achieve your goals.
3. Establish clear boundaries for when and where you’ll use your phone
One of the simplest ways to cut down the time you spend on your phone is to get explicit about places, times of day or circumstances where you’d like to refrain from using your phone. For example, you might want to cut back on how often you check your phone at the dinner table or when you’re spending time with your best friend or significant other. Here are some key times I prefer to avoid my phone and help get my daily phone usage down:
- First thing in the morning
- Right before bedtime
- During meetings at work
- While eating a meal-especially with others
- During quality time with friends and family
- While commuting
Try making a list of your own. This kind of clarity is exactly what you need in order to successfully stifle your time spent on screens. Once you have your own list of specific situations, use it as a general checklist of when you set your phone aside. You’ll naturally decrease your total time clocked on your phone that way.
4. Delete apps you no longer use
Fewer apps, fewer opportunities for distraction. Fewer notifications, too. It’s good to get rid of the clutter and only keep what you actually use. It’s also good to pare back on apps that you spend a lot of time using but that aren’t contributing to your life. For example, if you are single and using a bunch of different dating apps, it might be worthwhile to limit your usage to one or two apps where you have the most success actually landing quality dates. Give yourself permission to get rid of the other apps that just aren’t worth the time you’re spending on them.
As a part of this app-pruning exercise, I deleted almost 50 apps from my phone. How many apps are on your phone that you’re not actually using? Time to give them the ax and remove them. Not only will this free up memory on your device, it’ll free up time in your day and space in your mind since you won’t have as many apps to obsess over.
5. Change your notification settings
Notifications are one of the primary culprits for drawing you back to your devices. Given how tempting it can be to look at your phone when you see or hear something new pop up, a straightforward way to reduce how often you use your phone is to limit the apps that you’ll allow to notify you of any new activity. In order to turn off or limit this function for a particular app, go to the Settings section of your iPhone and click on Notifications. Then, click into each of the apps for which you’d like to disable or decrease the amount and type of notifications you receive from those apps. As a part of this detox, I disabled all notifications from about 20 apps, and changed the notification settings on about a dozen more, helping to limit what I allow to steal my attention throughout the day. One of the other major changes I made was to silence the group chats on my phone. If you happen to be in a lot of very active text message chains this is another great way to banish the buzzing and reduce your reliance on your phone.
6. Ask someone to do this with you
Studies show that having a support system is a key factor in determining how successful you’ll be when you make a life change. Ask a friend, family member or colleague to do this detox with you. Then follow through by holding each other accountable for reaching your respective goals. For example, encourage everyone at dinner to turn their phones on silent or stack them on the table. The more folks you have along for the ride, the more likely you all are to stay the course.
7. Out of sight, out of mind
You can’t check your phone if it isn’t easily accessible. Another strategic way to reduce the time you spend on your smartphone is to simply leave it in another room. For instance, if you know you’re about to sit down to dinner with friends, leave your phone in another room or at least out of arm’s reach. Personally, I like to do this at night as well, opting to leave my phone in the kitchen before I retire to my room for reading before bed. Bottom line: If you can’t see or touch your phone, you’ll be less likely to pick it up — and cut your time spent scrolling in the process.
8. Take advantage of Airplane Mode and Do Not Disturb
Here’s a quick phone hack: When you don’t want to be bothered or perhaps you’ve already surpassed your screen time limit for the day, enable Airplane Mode or turn on Do Not Disturb. With Airplane Mode on, you can go completely off the grid and stop the influx of messages, emails and alerts that draw you into your phone to begin with. Be sure to disable Wi-Fi if you go this route, or your notifications may still come flooding in. If you opt for Do Not Disturb mode instead, keep in mind that you will still receive notifications, but they won’t flash across your screen. You’ll have to pick your phone up and unlock it in order to access your alerts. Either way, utilizing these features can help you disconnect from your device and reduce your screen time in the process.
9. Use a voice assistant instead
Hey Siri, send a text to Ben.
What do you want to say?
What time do you want to grab dinner [question mark].
Your text to Ben says, “What time do you want to grab dinner?” Ready to send it?
With the prevalence of voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, you may not need to pick up your phone, unlock it, open an app and navigate to the particular function you’re looking for. Instead, you can assign a task to your voice assistant and have them complete it for you. Feel free to have Siri send texts, set reminders, check the weather, tell you the score of the game, call someone or much more. The more Siri does for you, the less you have to do for yourself and the less time you’ll spend looking at a screen in the process.
10. Try using another tool
One of the primary reasons we use our devices so frequently is because we expect them to be a one-stop shop for all of our daily activity. Need the time? Check your iPhone. Want to write an email? Reach for your iPhone. But it may be time to ask: Do you really need a device to get that done? One of the things I plan on doing, for instance, is getting an alarm clock instead of using my phone to wake up, which will allow me to keep my bedroom a device-free zone overnight. While this particular choice might not be the right solution for you, try to see if there are ways you can decentralize your life from your devices, like reading an a physical book instead of reading it on your phone. Old-school tools can help you cut back your phone usage even further.
11. Find something to do with all that new time on your hands
You may be wondering, What am I supposed to do with all that extra time I’m not spending on my phone? Well, that’s completely up to you. Use it to exercise more. Spend it with friends or family. Go to bed earlier. Meditate or quietly self-reflect. Get outside. Write, read or journal. Or do all of the above. The key is to do something intentional with the extra time so you’re not tempted to fill it with other devices like your television, which will also keep you in a mode of constant consumption. Replace your passive habits with active ones and you’ll work toward your goals and see results.
12. Stick to your rules
Once you’ve followed all of the steps, the only thing left to do is stick to your boundaries and try not to give into temptation. If you do happen to exceed your screen time limits or break a boundary like not using your phone at the dinner table, simply aim to do better next time. After all, this is about reducing your reliance on your smartphone, not eliminating its use altogether. If the moment arises when you get into a groove with the new limits you’ve set, feel free to adjust them even more. The key is to find a balance that works for you. Then you can get the most out of the phone time you’ve allotted instead of it getting the most out of you.
What are some of the ways you use to reduce the time you spend on your phone? Tell me in the comments below — or Tweet me @crackliffe.
Originally published at https://www.crackliffe.com on December 30, 2019.