Digital Minimalism

Amal Madhavan
Nov 13, 2020 · 6 min read

4 effective ways to spend less time on your phone

I recently watched Social Dilemma and I’m pretty sure you’ve watched it too. The same week, I happened to come across the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Both of them had a huge impact on the way I started seeing these digital devices and services. We all know that we’re addicted to both our phones and the services they provide. According to Inc., the average person spends over four hours per day on their device, which amounts to over 60 days spent looking at a screen in a calendar year. I think we’re spending more than that. That’s a significant part of our life.

Smartphones have taken over all the things in our daily life, that we literally can’t live without them. It’s not the smartphones that I’m worried about, it’s how we’re seeing them as a replacement for literally everything. And don’t forget social media and it’s grip on us. I read somewhere that we are walking with a mini slot machine in our pockets. Every time we open our phones we have got something new waiting just for us. Hard not to be addicted, right?

What is Digital Minimalism?

According to Cal Newport, the author of the famous book Digital Minimalism it is stated as:

“Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviours surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.”

Digital Minimalism is a way of living that incorporates only the digital tools that provide value to your life and skip all others. It gives you power over your smartphones and social media. You’re using them for the sole purpose of benefitting you, not them. Getting there is really hard, especially when we’re already deep down in the rabbit hole. And personally, I don’t think this lifestyle is for everyone. That’s why it’s best to start by reducing the amount of time you spend on them, at the same time not getting hooked to them. I have outlined some tips for doing just that.

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1. Uninstall Apps that you don’t need

If you were like me, you’re likely to have lots of apps on your phone that you don't use much or at all. So the very first thing I suggest is that remove all the apps that no longer be of use to you. Some phones even tell you how often you use the apps on your phones, or when was the last time you used an app. It’s up to you to decide which all apps are worth having on your phone.

You can also go as far as uninstalling apps that can easily be accessed on a lap or PC. For me, these are mainly online shopping apps. As an added benefit you’ll get fewer notifications about those sales happening every week, thus, saving money too. Also, whenever I find myself addicted to social media, I uninstall the apps right away and when I feel like using it, I’ll have to go to my computer and type the username, password, and login. This added layer of resistance forces us to use these services way less than when you have access to them at the touch of a finger.

2. Turn off Notifications

Notifications with sound and vibrations are the psychological tricks app developers use to get us hooked on smartphones all day long. All the apps on your phone are trying to get your attention by constantly sending you notifications. They just want you to not forget about their apps and make you spend more time on their app. The best thing you can do is to turn off all the notifications for apps unless they’re important. One of the other major changes you can make is to silence the group chats on your 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.

Ever heard of Phantom Vibration Syndrome? Even if you haven't, you probably have experienced that at least once in your life. Robert Rosenberger, assistant professor of Philosophy in the School of Public Policy, discusses the phantom vibration syndrome.

The phantom phone vibration syndrome occurs when a person thinks his or her phone is ringing or vibrating from a text message when it actually is not. As a society increasingly dependent on mobile devices, the phantom vibrate easily becomes a phenomenon of worry for users.

Vibration and sounds that come with the notifications are used to get you back on the phone even when it’s not in your hands or when you’re putting it away after using it too much. Turn them off and you won’t even know a notification arrived or not. And if you don’t, you cannot put the phone down. Every time you get a notification and you go and check the phone and you're back to square one. So the best practice is to turn off the sound and vibrations for all the notifications unless they’re very important.

3. Use the Screen Time/Digital Wellbeing App on your Phone

Nowadays every phone, both Android (Digital Wellbeing) and iOS (Screen Time), comes built-in with an app to check usage time for apps and even to limit their usage. It shows the number of times you unlock your phone, phone usage, most time spent on apps, and such. If you didn’t know about it, just go to the settings and explore it. You will be amazed by the amount of time you spend on your phone.

Knowing is only the first step; you should aim to reduce the usage if it’s taking too much of your time. They have timers for helping you achieve that. All you have to do is set a sensible time you can use that app for and when it gets over, you'll be not able to use it anymore unless you go into the settings and reset the timer. It’s okay for you to go change the time while starting this, but for me when I get the notification saying that only 5 minutes are remaining I’ll use the app only very scarcely. And after a while, you’ll get used to these set times and won’t be using these apps as much as you did before.

4. Set clear boundaries for using your phone

This is something that I’ve started doing only recently. You should set places and times that you won’t be using phones. It’s totally up to you to choose those places and times, but it’s better if it reduces the phone usage in effect. I started to do this when I began to notice that I’m mostly on the phone even when I’m doing important things like eating food, talking with parents, playing with sister’s kid, or even while watching movies or sports. Imagine being bored with watching TV. So I decided not to use my phone in these places and actually, I started to have a better quality of time while doing these.

Humans are not wired to do 2 tasks simultaneously. We can’t concentrate on 2 things at a time. Either this or that. So what we’re doing by using to text our friends or family or even a random person you found online while doing other tasks is drastically reducing the quality of both tasks.

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Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

These above steps I outlined will drastically reduce your phone use, improve your relationship with your close ones, or even get you out of your addiction. You can decide how deep you want to get into this and align the above steps to suit your needs. Also, I’d like to note that; since we are doing this to get you out of your phone addiction, it would be better if you do something worthwhile with the free time you’re getting, like reading a book or actually talking to people and not a screen. Spending less time looking at screens has a variety of benefits like improving your sleep, helping you to focus more, reduce headaches, and even ease your anxiety. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be present for my life than simply experience it through a handheld mobile screen!

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