Can’t put your phone away? Try these tips

Photo by  Youssef Sarhan

Something that's been on my mind lately is the need to reclaim my time. I realized just how much time I spend brainlessly scrolling through social media, or simply being “on my phone.”

This is an expression we throw around all the time. But what does it actually mean? I know that for me, only half the time spent on my phone is actually justifiable and productive.

Smartphones are meant to save time, but in reality, they can actually be huge time-wasters. And most of us are probably also aware that this is not where the problems stop.

The growing number of articles describing the damage caused by smartphones is sobering. Studies have shown that phones can weaken our focus and decrease our intelligence.

A recent headline from The Globe and Mail is particularly provocative: Your smartphone📱is making you👈 stupid, antisocial 🙅 and unhealthy 😷. So why can't you put it down❔⁉️ The article is a bit of an uncomfortable read because it hits so close to home.

Our society is addicted to a lot of things, but smartphones seem to be one of the most prevalent issues. Why? Because we can literally carry them around everywhere, and the content on them is tailored to capture our attention.

Smartphone addictions can damage our health, relationships and creativity. From a practical standpoint alone, it’s worth taking a good hard look at our habits and evaluating how to change them.

More than that, God tells us that we are not to be slaves to anything in this world. In order to serve him, we need to make sure that we’re not being mastered by something else. (2 Peter 2:19; 1 John 2:15-17).

We will only be fulfilled and happy if we devote ourselves to living the way we were intended to live. Unfortunately, we let a lot of things get in the way of that; the amount of time we spend glued to our screens is just one example.

Many of us check our phones over a hundred times a day—feeling anxious or at a loss if they’re broken or the battery is dead. We’re available to our friends, colleagues and bosses from the minute we wake up to the minute we fall asleep. When do we get a break?

And the problem is, it’s getting harder and harder to unplug because we are—quite simply—addicted to our phones.

A couple weeks ago, I tried not checking my phone for the first hour after I got up every day. It was so hard that at first, I almost couldn’t do it. I kept having to distract myself to conquer the urge to check it—and it wasn’t like I was expecting any important messages.

The good news is, it’s getting easier now. The sad part is, that initial goal feels kind of pathetic. The fact that I had to make it only one hour because I knew that was a reasonable first step shows just how addicting smartphones can be.

Cutting down on phone time sounds good in theory, but we’re all busy, and we all have people expecting to hear from us. Our Western society functions on a 24/7 availability cycle.

How do you realistically reduce your usage, while still meeting certain expectations? What if your job or school situation is highly demanding?

Well, step back for a second and ask yourself if the expectations placed on you—or that you place on yourself—are truly realistic. You have the ability to order your time. You can control what power the demands placed on you have, and change your expectations for yourself.

Can you truly be expected to respond to everything within a couple hours? Contrary to how many of us live, it is actually okay to go off the grid on weekends or to disappear for an evening.

We all have lives outside of our responsibilities, and the world keeps going, even if we don’t always answer our phones right away.

No matter how busy you are, you can still choose to do this. Perhaps start by clearly defining your work day. Inform those who need to know, and then commit to abiding by those hours whenever possible.

The more demanding your job is, the more important it is to be mindful of how you use your phone outside of work. Don’t squander those precious hours with unnecessary screen time.

At the beginning of January, I compiled a list of rules for myself to help overcome this addiction. I also came up with a few other ways to rely on my phone less. I know I’m not alone in struggling with this, so I decided to share them with you.

Your own rules will probably be different from mine, but these ideas may help give you a starting point. Try to challenge yourself, but don’t create unrealistic expectations right off the bat. Start small, so that you can take the first step in the right direction and then faithfully continue on.

Rules for cutting down on smartphone usage:

  1. Don’t check your phone for the first hour after getting up. Exceptions: if you’re leaving the house within that first hour and need to communicate with someone specifically or check the weather, etc. The key is, have a goal in mind, don’t just check your phone for the sake of checking it.
  2. Leave your phone in a different location from where you are working during the day—or in a separate room altogether if that is possible.
  3. Only check your phone twice during the morning and twice during the afternoon.
  4. Don’t check email after 5 p.m. The work day is over. Act like it!
  5. Turn off your phone an hour before you go to sleep, whatever time that is. If you use your phone as an alarm you can put it in airplane mode at night to disconnect.
  6. Check social media apps once per day, for no more than five minutes each.
  7. No being on your phone while watching TV.
  8. No social media at all one day of the week.

A few bonus tips:

  • Try deleting your most time-consuming apps. The more the better. If you make your phone boring, you’ll have less to do on it.
  • Or, try turning off notifications for some of those apps, so you only see them when you want to, rather than getting inundated with everything.
  • Try writing notes down on paper instead of on your phone.
  • Tell your classmates, coworkers, friends or anyone else who might need to get a hold of you that you are only available within a certain time-frame. That way, they'll know when they can best get a hold of you.
  • When you go out, evaluate whether or not you actually need your phone with you. For example, if you’re going for a walk or visiting a friend down the street, do you really need it?

This may seem difficult, but I truly believe it's worth it. By limiting our phone usage, we're opening ourselves up for greater, more creative uses of our time. Practices of slowing down, meditating on Scripture, being aware of our surroundings and appreciating nature come far more easily when our minds aren't distracted or busy. 

It's not just a matter of looking away; think about what you can now look towards.