How to stop checking your phone
How often do you check your phone? Every 30 minutes? Every 5 minutes? Every 30 seconds?
Smartphones can be incredibly addictive. Tap, tap, tap and you’re playing a game, tap tap and you’re replying to a friend. Ping! and woooooh, someone liked your photo!
And so it goes, minutes pass. Then hours. And then you look up, and you still haven’t studied for the exam or worked on that proposal. Time has passed and you have nothing to show for it.
We know this problem well. We’ve faced it and overcome it. Here are some practical suggestions that helped us cut down from an average of hours on the phone to about 30 minutes.
Let’s start with the most obvious.
Step #1: Turn notifications off
Notifications are fun. Did someone message me? How many people liked my post? Who mentioned me?...
Social media and other apps that rely on notifications want to draw us in. They feed on our insecurity and want us to return to their product and tap away. That’s the purpose of notifications.
Turn them off.
We used to have them on too. Those likes sure felt nice. Seeing them come in, one by one. But you know what didn’t feel nice? Lack of focus. Inability to work. Feeling bad at the end of the day, knowing you didn’t do your best.
We recommend that you turn off all notifications with the possible exception of direct messages from friends (if you don’t get too many of those).
Step #2: Delete unnecessary apps
You probably don’t need Twitter, Facebook, Reddit or YouTube on your phone. Seriously.
They make it too easy to waste your own time.
I (co-founder Vita) used to have all of those apps on my phone. Every time I was bored, I reached for my phone and tap, Twitter, scroll and scroll and scroll…
It’s too easy. Too easy to waste hours every day, tens of hours every week, hundreds of hours every month. For what? Internet points?
Those hours could be better spent writing your thesis, working on your presentation, or building your business. Since I deleted the most distracting apps from my phone, I’ve used my time better and have been much happier with myself.
You can always check Twitter or Facebook on your computer, where you can better control the environment - use a site-blocker like ours to limit how much time you can waste.
With the possible exception of Instagram and Snapchat, you can get everything you need from the website version of the product, if you need to.
Remove games from your phone too. They eat up time faster than a sped-up Pacman and only leave you with guilt at the end of the day. They’re too much fun. You might install them thinking “I’ll play for 5-15 minutes at the end of the day,” but before you know it, you’re playing an addictive game at 10AM instead of doing what you need to do.
Remove the most time-sucking apps from your phone.
Step #3: Make your phone less visually appealing
We’re visual creatures. If you reach for your phone, unlock it, and see a familiar icon with a red dot in the corner, you’re going to tap it. It’s one of the easiest and worst habits to get into.
So, here are 3 tips to make your phone screen less enticing.
No non-productive apps on your first screen.
Put every app that has the potential to distract you on your second screen. No social media, no video apps, no messaging apps. If you have them on the first screen you see, you will tap them and destroy your productivity.
Group distracting apps in folders.
You can also make distracting apps less appealing by putting them into folders. E.g. Messenger, Slack, and email into Communication.
Grayscale your phone.
Ever notice that games are super colorful and bright? It’s that way for a simple reason - we biologically wired to like bright and rich colors. It’s fun to look at and fun to interact with colorful and animated screens.
So, make it less fun by turning everything gray. For iPhones go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters and then tap on Grayscale.
For Android phones, google “How to enable grayscale mode on android” - the process is more complicated.
Make your phone less visually appealing and you’ll be less tempted to use it too often.
That’s it for once-and-done steps, now time for habits.
Habit #1: Use the Rule of 3 senses - keep your phone out of sight, out of reach, and out of hearing
Sight: Keep your phone out of sight
Imagine your desk looks like this:
There’s a catch. Our brain sees this:
If you have your phone in your field of vision, it’s a constant reminder that you could be doing something fun (dopamine!) instead of doing something that feels like work (but is productive).
When you want to work, hide your phone from sight.
Touch: Have your phone out of reach
Even if you don’t see your phone, if you have it within easy reach, it’s easy to succumb. All you need to do is extend your hand and an hour is gone and you still haven’t done anything productive.
Put your phone out of your reach. Ideally, have it in a different room entirely.
If you’re not home or at work, you can put it in your backpack or purse and put it out of easy reach.
You can assign your phone a dedicated spot. A spot in your bookshelf, a cupboard, or a drawer. Anywhere far away from where you want to work is good.
Have your phone out of reach.
Hearing: Put your phone on silent (Do Not Disturb on)
A funny video, a question about your weekend, a photo from a trip… they aren’t that urgent. You’re much better off not seeing those notifications and definitely not hearing a loud ping! when you’re just starting to get focused.
You can check all the notifications and replies once you got a solid piece of your work done or wrote a page of a paper you have due.
You don’t need to see every like or post as they happen. That might make engineers at Twitter or Facebook happy, but definitely not you in the long-term.
You can check everything when you take a 5 min break after doing something productive.
When you want to focus and be productive, put your phone out of sight, out of reach, and out of hearing (on silent).
Habit #2: No phone first thing in the morning
If you use your phone as your alarm clock, you might want to consider buying an analog one.
Here’s frequent scenario for many:
rolls over, grabs phone and presses Stop
Oh, look at these messages. And an email from a co-worker. And someone mentioned me in their Insta story….
an hour passes
This is hardly a good, positive, or active way to start the day.
Almost any kind of morning routine is better than getting snared in a time-sucking black hole of checking everything.
Solution: buy an analog alarm clock.
They don’t have notifications. You can then leave your phone in a different room.
Alternative solution: put your phone in airplane mode when sleeping.
This way, you wake up without a full screen of things to respond to.
Habit #3: Embrace boredom (instead of checking the phone)
Waiting in a line? Check phone.
Friend went to the bathroom? Check phone.
Want to focus? Check phone.
Wait, scratch the last one!
Every time you check your phone, you reinforce the habit. Since it’s often within reach, in your pocket or on the table, it’s easy to do again and again, looking for a bit of something new.
This habit can quickly get out of control. You start opening the same apps, over and over again, even though there’s nothing new there. It becomes a behavior tic to escape any kind of boredom.
But boredom isn’t bad. In fact, it can be helpful. When you’re bored, your mind starts to wonder. Vast networks of neurons activate in your brain and that often leads to interesting insights and ideas. Those ideas can lead you to naturally make progress with whatever you were procrastinating on.
Many people become de facto zombies, only looking for NEW!!! instead of brainzzz.
Embrace boredom. Let your mind wander.
Pick a step or a habit to apply to your life
3 steps to being less distracted by your phone:
- Turn off notifications
- Delete unnecessary apps (and games)
- Make your phone less appealing
- Remove distracting apps from your first screen
- Put distracting apps into folders
- Grayscale your phone
3 habits to become more focused:
- Use the Rule of 3 Senses: keep your phone out of sight, out of reach, and out of hearing
- Use an analog alarm clock or put your phone into airplane mode.
- Embrace boredom.
If you do these things, you will start spending less and less time on your phone and become more and more productive. If you do them.
Take action today. Pick 1 app to remove from your phone, turn off notifications for Instagram or Twitter, or buy an analog alarm clock. Reclaim your attention.