How To Be On Your Phone Less
Have you ever thought about your relationship with your phone? How many times a day you check your phone? How many hours a day you look at your phone? Have you ever found yourself mindlessly scrolling only to wonder what you were even looking for in the first place? Because I have, and I think about this a lot.
In January of this year, I hit a breaking point, physically, mentally, and emotionally. There were a lot of factors at play (my first year of motherhood, a dog dying of cancer, a global pandemic to name a few) but as I thought about what was triggering me, I realized how much being on my phone played a part. When I looked at my phone usage statistics I was pretty sad. My average daily screen time was 6.5 hours.
It’s hard to find consistent research because the numbers are generally all over the place, but here are a few statistics about phone usage. According to an article from Inc., we tap, swipe, and click on our phones an average of 2,617 times per day. One study found that people spend an average of 9 years looking at the screen of their mobile device (this was assuming the age of a user to obtain a smartphone is 10 years and uses it on average 3.07 hours daily).
I realize life has changed so much since I was a kid, but I think about this topic a lot, especially as the mother of a toddler. Cell phones and screen time weren’t even a thought growing up because they didn’t really exist. I didn’t have my first cell phone until my senior year of high school and it was for emergencies only. I think about the impact all of this time on phones has on our mental health, productivity and relationships, and especially on young children and teens. Honestly and sadly, there are probably so many of us with phone addictions and the best thing you can do to combat this is start to set some boundaries.
That’s not to say it’s all bad. There are wonderful things to be gained from the communities we find online and the conveniences and connectivity we can achieve with our phones. Particularly over the last year and a half when so many of us were isolated and alone, our phones helped us stay connected with our friends and family. At the same time, once I took certain steps to be on my phone less I realized just how I much I needed it. So if this is something you’ve thought about or are looking to try, here are some of my best tips for how to be on your phone less.
How To Be On Your Phone Less
Turn off push notifications.
This was one of the first things I did and it makes a huge difference. I had already done this for most apps, but somehow there were some sneaky apps like Apple News that were still popping up notifications, and I would inevitably reach for my phone. Turning off push notifications helps to reduce looking at your phone unnecessarily. Every time we see a text message notification it distracts us from what we are doing and we feel this intense need to see it right away. By turning off these notifications you can avoid this impending feeling. Android phones and iPhones now have easy unlocking features using thumb prints and face recognition that make unlocking your phone easier than ever. This can lead to more phone usage without even thinking about it!
No phone in the morning.
I made a rule that I can’t check my phone for the first hour I’m awake. And I can officially say it’s a MUCH better way to start my day. I didn’t realize just how much looking at my phone first thing in the morning was setting the tone for my day. Whether it was checking the news, checking the weather, scrolling Instagram, or reading email, it was totally unnecessary to do the second I woke up. Now I start my morning with a routine, usually coffee, breakfast, and occasionally a workout, before I check my phone. Try investing in an old fashioned alarm clock instead of using your phone as an alarm, so you aren’t tempted to sneak a peek at your phone first thing.
No phone before bed.
Similar to my above rule, I try to skip looking at my phone once I get in bed. I noticed it was really affecting my ability to fall asleep and my quality of sleep. I also started putting my phone in the drawer of my bedside table. It keeps me from reaching for my phone if I wake up in the middle of the night.
Take a walk.
Going for a walk is one of my favorite things to do especially when I need a reset or mental health break this is also beneficial for your digital wellbeing. Over the winter we did two walks a day, no matter the weather, sans phones. It was really nice and a great way to connect with nature regularly.
Set time limits for apps.
Admittedly I’ve only done this for Instagram, but it’s the app I spend the most time on. I set a daily limit of one hour for the app (through my iPhone settings). When I first started doing it I was shocked at how quickly an hour went by. Addicting apps, especially social media apps can suck you in and you completely lose track of how much time you have spent on them. Being on social media and IG in particular is a pretty significant part of my job, and honestly this has been challenging. Even if I don’t always stick to the time limit I like being aware of how much time I’m spending on it. It makes me much more mindful of how I spend my time on there.
Use “Do Not Disturb”
This feature is for iPhone users (there may be a similar option for Android). In your settings you can use Do Not Disturb, to silence calls, alerts, and notifications that you get while your device is locked. This will turn off all notifications so you can focus on your work, family, friends or sleep. You can also schedule Do Not Disturb for specific timeframes and allow calls from certain people. You will end up spending less time on your phone without distractions or disruptions.
Delete unused apps.
One more way to get rid of unnecessary distractions on your phone. Go through and delete any apps on your phone you’re not using or don’t need. I was pretty surprised how many I had on my phone that I didn’t even realize where there.
Try a new hobby.
I realized how little time I was spending on doing things just for fun. Once you start spending less time on your phone you will notice you have so much more free time to spend doing whatever you please. I started playing tennis again and it’s so nice to go out and do something fun without my phone. It’s amazing what it does for my mind and body. The time you spend on your phone can be used in a much more productive and healthy way.
Don’t take out the phone at dinner.
I’m not just talking about dinner at home but eating out too. I know many of us use our phones for pictures so I understand that, but otherwise, leave your phone in your bag (or at home). When I’m out to dinner I do not take out my phone. It’s my time to enjoy my meal and the people I’m spending time with, so I make a conscious effort not to check my phone.
Craig and I are perpetual re-arrangers. It’s such an easy, fun and free way to change up your home decor without having to buy anything new. Put the phone away, turn up a fun playlist and try switching up your space. You might be surprised at how much changing a few things can make it feel totally different.
Leave the phone at home.
What better way to get a break from your phone than to just leave it at home. One thing I try to do when I am without my phone is take in everything around me. I become more aware of my surroundings and think about what I might notice without the distraction of my phone.
Have you done anything like this? what did you notice? Do you have other tips to share? I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic in the comments. It’s something I’ve talked About a lot with family and friends, and I’m always curious how others feel about it too.
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So many amazing suggestions and definitely things I hadn’t thought about. I started to “break up” with my phone when I saw how much it was interfering with my parenting. I was looking at my children over my phone and i hated it. Now, I’ve started keeping my phone plugged in during the day, instead of plugged in at night on my nightstand, and the sound on, so it’s like having a hard wired phone that I hear ring or ding for calls and texts. Also, I only allow myself to check social media at certain times during the day, and half the time, at that point, I don’t want to look at them. I’ve seen a very significant decrease in my social media usage. Thank you for this post. I think it is so important for us to be more present in our lives.
I totally agree. Motherhood made me so aware of my phone usage. It’s interesting because limiting my usage of social media also tends to make me want to use it less. A tricky thing to navigate when it’s part of my job but also makes me glad I’m aware of it.
I use the ‘sleep mode’ on my phone which puts my phone on ‘do not disturb’ every night. I schedule it starting at 8pm but after looking at my average screen time, I might make it earlier. I’ve found that I don’t sleep as well when I look at my phone before bed so I like to read instead. Makes a huge difference! I need to figure out something for the mornings because reaching for my phone is the first thing I do before I’m ready to get out of bed and make coffee. My husband and I notice a huge difference when we go for a walk together rather than just sit out on the back deck; even though we have great conversations either way, we often need to remind one another to get off of our phones when we’re on the back deck. I am going to try your suggestion of setting time limits on apps. I want to see my weekly screen time number go down! Thanks for all of these suggestions!
I like the idea to put sleep mode on at night, that’s so smart I am definitely going to try that thanks for the suggestion.
I leave my phone in the kitchen at night and rolling over in the morning is the BEST way to wake up. And since I have to walk Pork 5x a day, I never bring my phone. It’s really nice alone time with no distractions. I need to make more of a habit to leave the phone in the kitchen for hours during the day. With text on my computer (and social) I really don’t need it next to me to check all the time.
an indigo day
That’s a great idea. I used to leave my phone in another room and I don’t really know why I stopped but I should start that again.
This is something I’ve been thinking about lately too, especially as a mom to a 1.5 year old. What kind of behavior am I modeling? And what am I *not* modeling doing? It’s easy to “escape” into my phone when bored, especially now that my kiddo can play a bit more independently. But what would I do without my phone? Something productive, read a book, watch my kid play? What hobbies and books am I missing out on because I think “I’ll just look for a few minutes,” and then 20 minutes pass by? That last one is a lie I tell myself over and over, and so much time gets lost! I’ve started wearing a watch again so that I don’t rely on my phone for the time, and therefore reach for it less. This is becoming kind of a disjointed ramble, but I think I need to ask myself, “what would my mom have done when I was a baby in the 80’s, without a phone?” And do that, more often ?
Hahahah! Yeah, I should ask my Mom that, although she had three kids under 3 in the 80s and was an attorney, soooo…lol.
These kinds of questions plague me as well. I love all of your suggestions, Jess! I read the book 24/6 by Tiffany Shlain last year and it really changed my life! It recommends a “tech Shabbat” where you out away everything digital starting Friday night and ending Saturday night. You could do it any day of the week but I find that an analog Saturday is a really lovely thing. there are also tips for how to carry digital hygiene throughout the week, not during the Shabbat. Highly recommend!!
Love that idea. I actually take Friday-Sunday morning off IG, but for the most part it’s completely off my phone too because I feel like it’s my “off” time. I feel like a new person on Sunday and usually don’t want to look at my phone after my break, ha.
Hi there, I enjoyed this post and am a first time commenter but long time reader.
Between five-six years ago I deleted all social media apart from LinkedIn which I use as a business professional exclusively. This was a life changing move. I hope I may be proof that a reasonably young person (32) can live a rich and fulfilling life without it. I have taken a significantly gentler approach to the use of technology which has been valuable to both myself and those around me.
1. All technology remains in the office. I leave my computer and cell phone (my only tech-items) in the office, whether work or personal, I sit at the table to use my computer or I sit in a nearby chair to use my phone. It imbues a certain amount of dignity and meaning into the use of these devices that I was only able to experience through constant application of this practice.
2. I turn off my phone/computer at designated times each day. Formerly, I slept with my phone next to my bed, used it up until I went to sleep, went on it in the night when I couldn’t sleep and used it immediately upon waking. Now it remains in the office (all day and night) as if it was a landline and I turn it off around 9:00PM when I begin my unwinding routine and I turn it on around 8:00AM when I begin work. I also periodically turn it off in the day to feel totally disconnected, an example would be if we have guests, or a meal, or something lengthy that I would not want to be interrupted.
3. Lastly, I avoid taking my phone places in which I most likely don’t need it. Examples would be anything from a walk, to dinner with friends or the grocery store. When I began this practice at first it seemed impossible, but I learned to communicate to others that I would be inaccessible by phone, or take a paper grocery list, etc and in time it all smoothed out.
Once one creates the habit of disconnecting, it is simple. Friends and family or anyone who sees this normally considers it to be a marvel and is left in bewilderment as to how to implement these types of practices, but if I can do it anyone can.
Thank you for sharing. This so deeply resonates with me! I recently read the book “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport and it has inspired my partner and I to make some BIG changes when it comes to how we interact with our phones, our relationship with social media, how we consume news, and even the intentionality of our overall lifestyle. I had been feeling vaguely sh*tty about my phone habits for a while now, and after catching myself repeatedly feeling a pull to look at my phone *while* playing with my baby girl, I decided I had to make a change. The perspective that the book offers was an absolute game-changer for me.
I’m imperfect and it’s definitely an ongoing process each day after years of using my phone so much, but it feels worth it. Anyway, wanted to share in case the book might be of interest/help to you or your followers!
Excellent book, I agree. Thank for sharing your experience about “feeling a pull” to look at your phone even when engaged with your baby, I relate. I think we all experience this until we can break the habit, I used to pull out my phone – what felt like every few minutes – and do anything on it from checking the weather to email, I didn’t even have any social media accounts! It was really silly once I started to notice what I was doing.
Love this! I actually delete Instagram during the week and only get on on the weekends now. I have found even on weekends I’m looking less because it’s not on my radar 24/7 anymore.
Also my DND goes on at 9 every night. I love that for emergencies people can get through so I stopped stressing about that. I’ve been doing this for a few years now. Such a game changer!!