Psychology suggests the method of conscious phone use. I decided to try it out for myself to see if it really works.
Up until just over a week ago, I used my phone for an average of eight hours and thirty minutes each day. That’s over half of my waking hours. The worst part is, using my phone so much didn’t serve any purpose to me: I could barely remember what, exactly, I was using it for each time I picked it up.
So, I decided to try and change how much time I was spending on my phone. I neglected to go for a big detox and put it in a box for a weekend: I figured a healthy approach to downsizing my general phone usage as much as possible was better than a mere two days away.
Instead, I focused on methodology. I decided to opt for the “conscious phone use” method, which would have me focus each time on why I was picking up my phone, and if there was something else I could be doing with my time.
Overall, I have to say that the results are much, much better than I had anticipated. I’m using my time more productively and finding active things I can enjoy doing. Here’s how I brought my average daily phone time down from nearly nine hours to about forty minutes (and the full results that came with doing so).
For me, the number one time-sucker I was using my phone for was social media. However, at the end of the day, I couldn’t see any point in doing so. It wasn’t something I enjoyed — it also wasn’t even remotely useful to me in the long run. Most of the posts on my explore pages were trivial: I could barely remember what they said even ten seconds after reading them.
With that thought in mind, I decided to limit my social media time to communications only (i.e. messages from friends) and, before picking up my phone to do anything, spent a few seconds thinking over what I was planning to do with my phone and why.
The problem with smartphones is that they’re incredibly easy to access. A fingerprint, facial recognition, a quick password, and you’re in. From there, it’s only another second or two until our favorite apps are launched and ready for use. This means that the conscious decision of what we’re using our phones for and why is quickly taken away from us.
But, with a cognizant idea of a phone limit you’re shooting for and knowledge in what you’re going to be using your phone for and why, picking up your phone to mindlessly browse social media is going to be less appealing than usual. Thinking about whether or not you really need to use your phone is going to keep you from picking it up more often than not.
This was the main method I focused on during my week of experimentation. I actively wanted to get better at not using my phone for everything, so I focused on simply not picking it up as often. The conscious idea of, Do I really need to be picking up my phone right now? will change the way you think about your phone usage.
Limiting Certain Apps
Again, with the knowledge that I wanted to get off social media as much as possible, I set a goal to stay away from social media apps. For me, that meant no more hours of mindless scrolling. I could answer direct messages, and that would be it.
I also made up my mind to stay off of other random apps as much as feasibly possible. For example, I could use my phone’s search engine: or, I could go on my laptop to find whatever answer I was looking for. Not only would it prevent the ease of accessing other apps, bigger screens are also better on the eyes. The same goes for checking mail on your phone, writing notes, online shopping, reading and news apps, and even streaming apps like Netflix. All of these are perfectly accessible on a laptop or computer.
Note: Screen time on iPhones is calculated by how much time the screen is actively on, not by whether an app is running or not. This meant that I was able to listen to music as often as I wanted without affecting screentime: music apps will run in the background after the screen itself is turned off. In a similar fashion, timers, stopwatches, and metronomes will all still function without an active screen.
Stepping Away from the Phone
This one can be especially difficult to do. It’s customary to carry your phone with you everywhere: after you’ve gotten used to it, it even feels awkward not to have your phone right next to you all the time. While I certainly still recommend carrying it with you while out and about in case of an emergency, I find that placing it in a different room, or simply out of reach, effectively prevents its use.
When your phone is next to you all the time, it only helps shorten the amount of time it will take you to turn it on and access it. It’s working directly against the conscious method: by having it with you at all times, it will always be more difficult than it needs to be to resist using it.
However, once the phone is off and away or in a different room, you’ll find that you’ll become more accustomed to not having it ready and available for use at any time. With your phone packed away, you’ll have more time and energy to devote your focus to activities you actually want to do, or work you really need to get done.
Finding Other Activities
After I had reduced my screentime from over eight hours to a mere forty minutes, I suddenly had over an extra seven hours on my hands. So, what, exactly, was I supposed to do with them?
It wasn’t terribly difficult to find more things to fill my time with, and I think they were all much more productive and beneficial than staring at my phone. For one, I had extra time to devote to hobbies I already had: namely, writing and music, which I doubled down on. I also spent much of the day reading, learned how to crochet, did some baking, spent more time with my family, and got a little extra time outside.
Without my phone there to distract me, I also found getting to bed on time to be much easier than it was before, as was cleaning and doing chores. Since I thankfully still had my music with me, losing the screen simply meant that I could focus my energy on completing my to-do list, making things go by much faster than they usually did.
It’s now been over one week since I decreased my phone use by about 90%.
Focus and energy: Compared to day one, I find myself more able to focus on tasks I need to get done. There is no social media to scroll through, no pressing forums I need to check. I have more clarity when I write, and more energy to devote to longer tasks.
Mindlessness/Unconscious phone use: Conscious phone use has gotten easier and easier each day I practice it. Now, every time I pick up my phone, I’m thinking about what I’m going to use it for and why. I don’t bounce back and forth from apps randomly: I think about what I’m going to use my phone for, use it, and set it back down.
Time: I have a remarkable eight hours of phone use that has disappeared. In the morning, during breaks, through lunch, and in the evenings, my phone was a constant. Now, I have plenty of time to devote to other tasks that I enjoy: reading, creative writing, journaling, even getting a few extra hours of sleep. I’m grateful for this new ability to put down my phone: it’s given me time to refocus on things I enjoy (and can feel good about doing).
As always, there are a few things I’d like to improve on, and a few things I have to consider in this sudden lack of phone usage.
For one, there are some apps I gave up that I will eventually have to let back in. One of them is Duolingo: I practice languages for up to two hours a day. Although I enjoy using the site on my computer, it’s not always feasible: there will always be learning and productivity apps that contribute to screen time, but not all of them are bad. Now that I’m on the path to fixing phone addiction and social media habits, I don’t need to worry about limiting these other apps as much.
I still plan to keep my phone use as low as possible, although I expect it may vary from day to day. While I don’t plan to return to my over-eight-hour count, I can certainly see myself using my phone for an average of one to two hours a day. And that’s totally okay! Not only is the medically recommended daily phone use two hours per day, but keeping my usage about that rate will allow me to focus on the things I mentioned above, like learning languages, communicating with friends and family, and occasionally watching a movie or TV episode if I have the time.
Overall, I’m very happy with this weird little journey to use my phone less. I think I’m developing habits that I will be able to continue in the future: I plan to keep my phone use as low as possible and continue testing different methods in the future to make sure it stays at a manageable limit.
I hope this helps you start your own journey to letting go of your phone. While it seems daunting at first, it’s surprisingly easy to stop wasting time on your screen and start taking advantage of every day.