How I stopped checking my phone 80+ times a day
How many times a day do you look at your smartphone?
If I said the average American checks their phone every 12 minutes, would that feel about right to you?
How did it get to be so that having a phone in our hands and looking at it constantly is now normalized behavior?
I’d been looking for a way to make meaningful cutbacks and optimize how I used my phone for a long time. I recently read two books that changed my relationship with my iPhone.
I read Cal Newport’s new book on Digital Minimalism, and Nir Eyal’s upcoming book coming out later this summer called Indistractable. They’re both excellent books, with different slants on the same topic. Cal Newport’s book is more a philosophical deep dive on the relationship we have with our phones, whereas Nir’s book is more a practical tips guide on how to train your attention and focus.
After reading these two books, here’s the top tips I’ve used to stop constantly checking my phone:
1. Put your phone away in moments of downtime
We’re conditioned to get our phone out within a couple seconds of downtime—waiting for the elevator, waiting for the subway, waiting in line at Whole Foods. I made the conscious effort to stop doing this.
It’s a difficult pattern to break. What do you supposed to do instead? The first few times I tried this, it was agony. It’s hard not to give in and take a sneak look at your phone. It’s helpful to have your phone well away from you hand when you feel the check in urge. Have it your bag, leave it on your desk, or leave it behind altogether.
2. Limit social media apps
It’s not realistic to say we’re going to quit social media altogether. There are meaningful ways to successfully cut back. I started by deleting social media apps off my iPhone.
I use Facebook and Twitter on my laptop now. The extra steps it takes to find my laptop, open up a browser and log in to Facebook forces me to have a deliberate need to use it. I dedicate an amount of time and I have a specific purpose when I use Facebook (to see what my family have been up to back in Australia).
This approach doesn’t work well for Instagram. Instagram is a different beast altogether. It’s perfectly built for mindless surfing in moments of downtime. What’s helped me cut back on Instagram is to put #1 above and I put a timer so the app cuts out after you’ve used it for 15 minutes each day.
3. Turn reducing screen time into a game
Every Sunday my iPhone gives me a readout of my screen time for the week. Before I started putting in effort to reduce my screen time, I used to regularly clock 3+ hours of screen time a day. Depending on how intense my work week is, I now average less an hour hour a day.
I turned it into a game. How low could I go? If my screen time was up for a particular week, what caused it? Did I use my phone a lot for sending work emails? Did I post to Instagram? It made me start to question whether I needed my phone with me every single moment. I started leaving my phone in my bag or on my desk. The urgency we feel to have our phones constantly with us is exaggerated.
4. Observe the 10-minute rule
If you’re compelled to reach for your phone, stop. Wait 10 minutes and see if the compulsion is still there.
If it is, then you’ve probably got a good reason to check it. That extra delay gives you just enough time to be distracted by something else instead. After the 10 minutes are up I’ll guarantee you probably won’t feel the strong need to pull out your phone.
The startling thing implementing these kinds of strategies is—you notice how much everyone else constantly looks at their phones. Don’t be surprised if you’re the only one with your head up in the elevator or you’re the person on the subway not staring at a phone. It’s satisfying to get to a place where the magnetic pull you have to your phone has been loosened, even just a little. In doing so you’re freeing up headspace to think about and do other (probably more important) things.