Despite being a self-confessed phone-addict, I’m pretty good at recognising when I’ve “had enough” and need to take a break. And right now, I feel like we all need a bit of a break!
If you’re finding yourself stuck indoors more thanks to the current Covid-19 crisis, you might also notice that your phone screen-time has shot right up. We’re all doing it, I think: refreshing for news updates, contacting loved ones, or just turning to the social media platforms to look for comfort, solidarity, or distraction.
If you’ve been noticing your phone and screen usage creep up lately, I have some tips to help you cut back. Most of these are based on habits I picked up at a Digital Detox retreat I did a few years ago. Although I don’t always stick to them, they have helped me a lot! These are some basic, easy-to-enact steps which might help you cut back your screen time a little…
Turn off News Notifications
My Google app sends me automatic news notifications for stories it thinks I might be interested in. Previously, the headlines were usually for Playstation, Harry Potter, and travel news. Now, it’s every new Covid-19 story.
While I definitely think we all need to stay on top of the news at the moment, I also think that we need to be careful about how much, how often, and – most importantly – HOW we consume it.
Constantly refreshing social media feeds, and scrolling through various news apps all day can’t be good for your mental health. In fact, studies have found that it’s not. Likewise, in this era of 24-7 news, many papers and news channels have to look for “extra” stories to fill time – and start focusing on the human element of the news. This can mean hearing lots of sad stories which we’re not always mentally or emotionally prepared for.
Obviously, it’s good to acknowledge that other people beyond ourselves are suffering. But consuming many sad stories can have a knock-on effect on our mental health. And right now, I don’t think we need that.
Just turn off the news notifications, and allocate certain times of the day for when you will consume news content. For example, listen to the radio when you wake up, again at lunchtime, and then watch the TV news in the evening. You don’t need to be updated with every facet of the news 24 hours a day.
Turn off Social and Email Notifications
Unless you work in a field where your email replies are needed urgently, you don’t need to be getting email alert notifications on your phone. Especially not outside of work hours.
Likewise, you don’t need social media notifications popping up telling you when you’ve had a comment, or that so-and-so has just retweeted such-and-such.
Constant notifications are a distraction and a temptation. You’re much more likely to check the app more frequently if you keep seeing notifications. Instead of checking every time something new happens, it’s far healthier to go on the apps at fixed points during the day to see what’s happened why you were away.
Set up “do not disturb” hours on your phone. Many smartphones allow you to block specific app notifications at certain times of day. I also highly recommend removing the notification counter buttons from the app shortcuts.
About four years ago, I switched off all social media and email notifications completely. It was meant to be a temporary measure, but I just never felt the need to switch them back on. Ask yourself – do you really ever need notifications for social media or emails? The only social app I keep them on for now is WhatsApp.
Try switching off the notifications for a few days as a challenge, and see how it feels.
Hide (or Uninstall) Your Social Media Apps
It can be really hard to break the cycle of scrolling. Sometimes, I catch myself opening Twitter, scrolling a bit, closing the app… and then, unconsciously, opening the app again and refreshing the feed immediately afterwards.
There is no issue with spending time on social media – in general, but especially right now. It’s nice to stay connected, reach out to people, giggle at silly memes, or just distract ourselves with pretty pictures. But with no way to filter what you see – sometimes it can be a barrage of bad news headlines, argumentative comments, and general negativity. Plus, there are countless studies that show too much social media is a bad thing.
The best way I’ve found to control how much time I spend on social media is to simply make it harder for myself to access it.
Delete the app shortcuts from your phone’s home screen. I did this years ago and it’s definitely a big help. If you can’t see the Twitter or Instagram button when you pick up your phone, the temptation to check it is lessened. That tiny barrier of extra time and effort gives you a moment to check yourself.
Sometimes I find I need to give myself a total break. If I notice I’m going on a particular social media app too much, or that I’m feeling less happy after spending time on one, then I know it’s time to cut myself off.
Take a look at your phone screen time data. Most phones show these under settings, or you can get an app to monitor how much time you spend on your phone, and which apps you’re spending it on. If there’s one that’s claiming way too much of your time – delete the app temporarily.
Last week I took Facebook off my phone. I can still access it on my laptop when I need to. Even if you don’t have a computer, you can still visit Facebook or Twitter through your phone’s internet browser in case you really need to. But when do you ever urgently need to access Facebook?
Uninstalling your apps for 2-3 days as a temporary measure is a great way to kick-start healthier habits. You might even find that you never feel a need to reinstall it!
Allocate Set Phone Time
It is all too easy to simply keep your phone near you at all times. But that makes it so much easier to cave to the temptation of “quickly” checking it.
Set yourself allocated “phone-free time”, such as during meals, while you’re working, or when you’re spending time with loved ones. Try actually turning your phone off, or leaving it in a drawer or another room, so that you’re not tempted.
Better still, give yourself “on-phone” hours and try to ignore it for the rest of the time!
No Phones in Bed
This is the big one. Checking your phone before you go to bed is a AWFUL for you in so many ways. Especially because the mental stimulation and blue light can really affect your ability to fall, and stay, asleep. Many studies have proven that screen time before sleep can be super disruptive to the length and quality of your sleep. And yet we all seem to do it anyway!
Never look at your phone in bed. Get into a new routine of ending your phone time before you start getting ready for bed. Turn the phone off completely, or put it in a bedside drawer. Better still, leave it on the other side of the room so it’s completely out of reach.
And try to do something “analogue” between the last look at your phone and sleep; like reading a book, writing a diary (even if it’s only a line a day), colouring-in, knitting, talking to your partner… anything that doesn’t involve a screen.
If self-control isn’t your strong suit, leave your phone in another room altogether when you go to bed. That will not only help you resist the temptation to check it while you’re in bed, but also when you wake up.
Swap Your Phone for an Actual Alarm Clock
This is an easy one. When I used my phone for an alarm, I’d invariably pick it up, see my notifications, and start scrolling immediately after waking up. Again, many studies have shown that checking your phone as soon as you wake up is pretty bad for your mental health.
Now, I use a real alarm clock – and try to leave my phone in the drawer until I’m actually out of bed.
I have a Lumie Alarm Clock* which lights up slowly for 30 minutes before the sound goes off – and I love it. The light starts to wake you up gently before the actual alarm, so you’re not being torn from a deep sleep by the time it goes off. Highly recommend – although an ordinary clock alarm will do fine too!
Leave the Phone at Home
A good way to kick-start some healthier habits is to cut yourself off completely. Even just half an hour away from your phone might be enough.
Next time you go out for a short trip, like to the supermarket or just out for a walk, leave your phone at home completely. Try to practice mindfulness, and actually spend the trip being totally aware of everything around you.
See it as a challenge and an experiment – if you notice that you keep reaching for a phone that isn’t there, you might be more addicted than you think!
READ MORE: Looking into Smartphone Addiction
Take a Whole Day Off
If you’re really struggling to cut back your screen time on your phone, why not try a short digital detox? These can be a really good way to give yourself a much-needed break from the over-consumption and over-stimulation of spending way too much time on your phone.
Tell people what you’re doing, so that no one gets offended if you don’t reply. Then switch your phone off and put it somewhere safe for 24 hours (or longer). If you can’t trust yourself, give it to a friend to look after until the time limit is up.
If you want to go the whole hog, make it a full digital detox and go without all screens – including TV and laptops. It’s a challenge – as I discovered on my digital detox retreat a few years ago – but it’s a great way to give your mind a break. Which maybe we could all do with at the moment.
Plan in plenty of analogue activities; maybe there’s a skill you’ve been meaning to learn, a few books you haven’t had time to read, or a DIY project you’ve been putting off.
Or you could just use the time to really connect with your loved ones. Cook together, play board games, do a puzzle… just enjoy each other’s company without distractions. It’s amazing how much more engaging conversations get when you put the phones away. –
Remember what your phone is really for!
Phones have a lot of fun ways to distract and entertain us. But at the heart of it, they’re really just for connection. And right now, that’s the one thing we all need them for above all else!
See my previous post for some great ways to use your phone to stay connected with your family and friends. Prioritise those things, and the real people in your life, and try to cut back on the rest.
Off – Your Digital Detox to a Better Life – book by Tanya Goodin, founder of Time to Log Off (affiliate link).