“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” — Henry David Thoreau
Today it seems every product is competing for our attention. Bright colors, notifications, infinite scroll, and autoplay all work to hold us captive. As an interactive designer myself, I know these design choices and sneaky featuresquite well, and yet they still seem to trick me into engaging longer than intended, alongside many other Americans, We pick up our phones nearly 50 times every day.
It’s no coincidence these lures rely heavily on cognitive science and behavioral psychology. Companies like Facebook and Google are some of the first to explore the ethics of these tactics and to advocate for humane design by implementing screen time limits and restrictions. While it’s definitely a step in the right direction, the responsibility is still on us as the users to set healthy boundaries for our (less than admirable) digital habits.
Personally, I’m committed to taking more control over my devices to improve my mental and physical well-being. I’ve reconfigured my digital ecosystem to serve more as tool for utility and education and less for consumption. (But hey I’m still human and succumb to the Instagram vortex occasionally.) If any of this is resonating with you and you’ve been thinking about minimizing your digital distractions and dependencies then I encourage you to try these 4 tips and tricks toward a healthier digital lifestyle in 2019.
Disclaimer: I’m not a licensed health professional. Do not take these tips to be health advice. They are not proven or guaranteed to solve any serious health issues. I’m simply sharing practices that I’ve found to be personally beneficial and worth trying.
1) The Bathroom/Bedroom Rule
We use our devices for everything. Every moment of life can be filled with a productivity app, news article, email sweep, or cat meme, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to set boundaries. If you don’t know where to start, try the Bathroom/Bedroom rule.
The bathroom has been deemed “one of the worst places to use your phone” according to TIME. “When toilets flush, they spread germs everywhere, which is how phones end up with fecal bacteria like E. coli.” See: “Your Cell Phone Is 10 Times Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat”. This disgusting revelation is even more of a concern due to the fact that 90% of people admit to bringing their phones into the bathroom.
Not only is this putting public health at risk, it’s also putting our brains at risk. We are praised for being productive, however while you think you’re getting ahead on the pot, author and productivity coach Peter Bregman says it could be the worst thing for your productivity… “If you never let your brain relax and wander, you’ll never solve the deeper, stickier creative problems that are ultimately more important than responding to an email within five minutes.”
This one seems like a no brainer, and an easy place to start. I’m not a germaphobe, but after knowing these statistics, it now feels like a small act of public service to keep the phone away from the restroom, plus I’ve come to enjoy the much welcomed screen break and quiet time.
Why the bedroom?
The bedroom should be a sanctuary: a place of escape, relaxation, and rest. The last thing we need is our devices getting in the way of that. Studies have shown that using our phone at bedtime destroys the quality of our sleep, and the blue light from our phones could be damaging our eyes. When the phone lives on the bedside table (or even worse, under the pillow) you’re more likely to be interrupted or tempted by work emails, texts, and reminders of that never-ending to-do list.
“But my phone is my alarm clock.” I recommend investing in an alarm clock or keep your phone on “do not disturb mode” as far from the bed as possible (as long as you can hear the morning alarm you’re fine).
Leaving my laptop and phone outside the bedroom has provided countless benefits for me. For one, I sleep better, but it also allows me to reflect on the day and welcome in the new one with an added calmness. Our phones don’t need to be the last things we say goodnight to and the first things we say good morning to, we can do better.
2) The Home Screen
They say a cluttered home(screen) is a cluttered mind. We’re feeling the negative effects of product overload and it’s apparent in our home screens. A retina display of tempting notifications and alluring apps all shouting “me, me, look at me!”. On the left is your typical home screen, you can see everything and yet nothing all at once, a cluttered mess of confusion. It stresses me out just looking at it.
Personally, I try to spend as little time as I can searching for an app or trying to complete a task, which is why my screen on the right looks a little different. Reducing applications and reorganizing the home screen with the goal to use the phone as a utility tool instead of an entertainment vortex.
The first page of my home screen includes only functional, task-performing tools that don’t require me to spend unnecessary time inside them. I then organized the rest of my apps on the next page in their respective folders like “Work” and “Finance”. Making sure to keep the most time-robbing apps the furthest away from my immediate grasp. Out of sight out of mind. Lastly choose a simple wallpaper that complements the new arrangement.
This easy fix is a game changer. There’s a place for everything and everything is in its place serving a purpose. an aid not a distraction. I’m still able to watch Netflix and catch up on Twitter when I need to and have the time, but now these more habit-forming apps aren’t front and center, decreasing the likelihood of “accidental” tap.
3) B&W Mode
After you clean the home screen, take it one step further by introducing black and white mode.
Our retina displays have become so intensely prismatic; we see colors on our devices so vividly that it makes our real world feel bland and dull. Our cartoonishly bright screens have the ability to encourage, warn, appeal, frighten, and persuade. Color is power. We see this at work daily when the Pavlovian cue of a red notification sends a hit of dopamine to the brain.
By switching to B&W mode, you are regaining that power, and reducing the stimuli. By making the junk less appealing, you will start to realize how much you relied on color, and how foreign things feel at first.
For me, I realized there is something wonderful about a smartphone with a lo-fi appearance. It reminds me of a simpler time when a phone was purely a device for making calls. And it turns out many people are opting for black and white modethese days. According to TV historian Jeffrey Borinsky “Technological “progress” often just gives us more of what we don’t want. Endless choice is misery-making rather than liberating. No wonder the 7,000 rebel against color TV’s gimcrack lunacy of red buttons…”
So here’s how to do it:
3 clicks to turn it on, 3 clicks to turn it off. I love that it’s so easy to turn on and off, say for when I’m using google maps or editing a photo, I can quickly tap to use color when absolutely essential, but otherwise I keep it grey.
The most drastic and unexpected result of a black and white phone screen is that my brain is more inclined to focus on things like nature, architecture, people, and the world around me. I love color, and I don’t expect color screens to be replaced by greyscale UI. Just as long as we are considering the physical, emotional, and psychological power that color has on us, then we can continue to build more ethical and responsible UI/UX.
4) Social Cleanse:
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.” ― Marie Kondō
Marie Kondo has attracted quite the buzz lately, clearly decluttering is “in” but it doesn’t just have to stop at the home. Clearing the digital clutter is equally important!
If you’re like me and have owned social accounts since high school, then forewarning: this exercise will take some serious time. If you view it as a personal investment and a cathartic experience, it can actually be kind of fun.
First, identify which of your social channels aren’t sparking joy (maybe it’s all of them). For me I started with Facebook, and while tempted to just deactivate the whole thing, I realized that was not the practical solution being that I use it for work and family. Instead, I went full Marie Kondo, cleansing and re-curating friends, feeds, and followers to spark more joy and remove the noise.
This took hours but I ended up unfollowing over 650 friends ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and over 200 pages and groups. What was left? A feed consisting of only people I genuinely know and care about and pages that inspire and inform. Happy to report FOMO is at an all-time low. Now, when I open up my feed, it’s a little more reflective of the people I love and the life I want to live.
Try one, try ’em all. If you have some personal favorites not listed above, I’d love to hear (Twitter: @MaggieChambers_ )! After implementing these 4 practices and challenging myself to stick with them, I feel way less distracted and have more space devoted for the things that really matter and bring happiness to my life. More time for reading, exercising, family and friends is an added bonus as well. Saying goodbye to the rollercoaster that was 2018 leads me to believe we all could live a little more presently, mindfully, and joyously in 2019, IRL and elsewhere.