You can make 2023 the year where you stop living a life filled with infinite scroll, passive consumption, and lost time.
Smartphones are engineered to steal our attention every second of the day.
The more eyeballs these multi-billion dollar companies can get on their apps, the more money they make. That’s why billions are poured into analyzing user behavior patterns to make apps and services as addictive as possible.
Depending on how you use your smartphone, it can be the perfect equivalent of a gambling machine or slot machine, except you put your precious time on the table instead of money.
There are billions of dollars to be made by stealing our attention. Our attention makes companies a fortune! That’s how valuable it is.
If we develop a healthy relationship with our phones, we can use this attention more intentionally on things that make the world better and our lives more meaningful.
In this blog post, I will tell you about 10 ways you can get out of this toxic relationship with your smartphone, and invest in more meaningful relationships with friends and family.
Why Use Your Phone Less?
Through my personal experiences, I have seen great positive changes in my life once I started using my phone less and less.
Some clear benefits were:
- Increased attention span
- Easier to focus on things
- Fewer distractions
- Think deeply about things
- Consume more meaningful content
- Improved critical thinking skills
- More meaningful relationships and experiences
Once again, the list above is very personal to me. I am sure your mileage will vary given your existing relationship with your phone, and where you are in life.
However, if you get at least one of these benefits in your life, this blog post will be worth the time I am spending writing it.
Only Keep Essential Notifications Turned On
The biggest way your smartphone steals your attention at random times during the day is through notifications.
Notification is the most obvious way your phone tells you — “Hey! I don’t care what you are doing right now, there is something more important that you need to look at. Pick me up!”
By giving our phones so much power, we are essentially telling them no matter what we are doing is less important than those priceless notifications.
This stops us from working or thinking deeply, which is essential for most of the meaningful things in life.
To stop this from happening, go ahead and turn off all notifications from your phone. Once everything is turned off, only turn on the ones that you actually need — banking apps, item trackers, calendars, etc.
Once you do that, you will be in the driving seat. You will go into apps when you want to, not when the app tells you to.
Delete Apps With Infinite Content Pools
One of the most common ways apps trick you to spend countless hours on their platform is through the promise of infinite content.
We live in a world where most content is free. We can consume as much as possible. When you have so much content, it’s obvious that most of them are not quality content.
Most apps nowadays have a “Recommended For You” section. To populate this section, complex machine learning algorithms are running 24/7 to analyze your every swipe and every tap. Then, it’s spitting our content that will appeal to your deepest emotions and keep you on the platform for hours.
The manipulation is subtle, but it’s there.
Pay close attention to any apps where you can just swipe down for “more fresh content”. Or, apps where you can keep scrolling down infinitely.
This is one of the main reasons Facebook moved away from only showing your friend’s content to you, and Instagram has also started exploring news feeds with “recommended” content — not only from accounts that you explicitly follow.
Review the apps on your phone and delete any apps with such features. You won’t be surprised to find that most of these are social media apps — TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.
Delete these apps as soon as you can. You can always access them through your browser or desktop where the usage is less manipulated — hence less fun.
No Phones at Your Work Desk
Your work desk should be an environment that encourages you to engage in deep work.
What’s the point of bringing your phone there then?
If you are using a focus timer on your phone, set it, and then leave the phone in the next room. Just turn on the ringer so that you get notified when your focus time is over.
If you use apps for productivity, try to choose apps that have a desktop or web version so that you can use them on your computer.
By following these, most likely you won’t have a desperate need to keep your phone next to you when working.
Organize Your Home Screen…and Don’t Swipe Away
If you find yourself using “search” to access apps that you need, or going to some App Library where you have a list of all your apps, you are doing it wrong.
You should only have a handful of apps that contributes to your productivity.
Once you find the subset of apps you need all the time, organize your home screen with these apps.
You should never need to swipe away from your home screen to access an app. If you do that, you open yourself to tons of other distracting apps craving your attention.
Instead, make it easy on yourself and keep everything on your home screen.
Use Do Not Disturb (DND) Generously
Or maybe your phone’s Airplane Mode?
Even phones from the 2010s have an Airplane Mode or DND which shuts off most outside noise from your phone.
No notifications, no incoming calls or texts.
Newer phones running newer OSs offer even more customization. You can only let certain people reach you or certain apps notify you. That’s perfect!
Now you have no excuse to not use these modes more frequently.
Afraid that your parents won’t be able to reach you for emergencies? You can add them to a “repeat call” list where your phone will only let the call through if they call more than once in a short span of time.
What if I miss important calendar events? You can allow your Calendar apps to the list of apps that are allowed to notify you of time-sensitive events.
Customize your DND mode and have it turned on more often than not.
Auto Decline Unknown Calls
Yes, telemarketing is still a thing in 2023. Can’t believe that!
To me, it feels like with every passing year these calls get more and more frequent. This is not helped by the countless data leaks by careless companies who give access to our phone numbers to all these telemarketers.
There are only a few things more distracting than a random call that you answer, only to find someone trying to sell you the same car insurance for the 10th time.
To put a stop to this, use whatever features your phone gives you to directly send unknown callers to voicemail. Later on, you can sort through and see if anything important was sent there.
If your phone doesn’t offer the feature by default, look into third-party apps that do the same.
Your Phone Should be a Productivity Tool…Not Offer You Cheap Entertainment
If it’s not clear already, I will just come out and say the obvious:
Your phone should be a productivity tool. Not something that distracts you and helps you procrastinate by offering free or cheap entertainment.
How do you make that happen?
That’s easy. Just do a comprehensive audit of all apps on your phone, and only keep the ones that contribute positively to your life.
Keep the essentials of course. And then, maybe keep a few that are good for your mental and physical health. Of course, keep the phone and messaging app to stay in touch with your loved ones.
Stop there, though. Don’t keep adding apps that look cool or are trendy.
Don’t Bring Your Phone to Bed With You
One of the best changes I have brought into my life recently is to make my bedroom a “no device zone”.
No phones. No iPads. No laptops.
Now that I have been doing it for some time, I can actually see the benefits.
Firstly, so much better sleep! I don’t think I have slept this well for years now.
Secondly, I read so much more before sleep and naturally fall asleep.
Thirdly, I have so many more random ideas and thoughts spark in my head that never got a chance to come out in the middle of mindless scrolling and passive consumption.
Even if you don’t care about the last two, do it just for the sake of getting better sleep. It’s so worth it!
Use “Screen Time” and Set App Limits
Whether you use Android or iOS, you should have access to digital well-being apps.
These are apps that tell you how many hours a day you are spending on your phone, on what apps you are spending them, how many times your phone is getting bombarded with notifications, and how many times during the day you are picking up your phone.
These are priceless stats! They can tell you everything about your relationship with your phone. It’s amazing how these companies give us so much data about our toxic usage, yet we barely bat an eye at them.
Both Android and iOS also give you the ability to set a time limit on apps. Once the time has expired, you will get a popup that tells you to exit the app. It’s frighteningly easy to just ignore it. However, at that point, at least you are making a more conscious decision to stay on.
Use these features! They can guide you to the most seamless breakup with your smartphone.
Move From Digital to Analog Systems
Don’t get me wrong — I love digital tools!
Most of my content is based on digital tools for productivity and health. However, I will be the first one to admit that sometimes, using analog systems and using fewer screens is so much better for your health.
It’s a fine balance, but it’s a balance that you should actively think about all the time.
A few systems that come to mind:
- Journaling with pen and paper
- Task manager with a productivity planner
- Physical alarm clock
You don’t have to move to an analog system if you already have a healthy relationship with your phone.
If not, however, you should consider it, just for the sake of reducing your overall screen time.