How often do you open your smartphone and suddenly find yourself having lost 30 minutes or perhaps hours of your day?
It's all too easy to get lost in our screens as we tap from app to app and scroll through social feeds. In our hyper-connected world, cutting out tech altogether is unrealistic unless you're ready to drop off the grid and move to a log cabin in the wilderness. What you can do is try consuming tech mindfully.
Whether you think you're spending too much time on social media, feel like you're becoming too attached to your smartphone, or you're suffering from a more serious tech addiction, we could all stand to be a little less wired. Here are some tips to wean yourself off compulsive smartphone and social media habits, and how to regain control over how you consume technology.
1 Change Notification Settings
Are your push notifications still set to defaults? Are you getting a deluge of emails, messages, and alerts from Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Slack, and dozens of other apps? Cut out the noise.
Go into notification settings on all your devices—smartphones, tablets, desktops and laptops—and turn everything off that's not essential. Notifications appearing as red dots next to your app icons are visual cues begging you to check them. One good rule is to turn off all notifications except for direct messages and mentions, meaning the ones coming from real people.
The Center for Humane Technology says the "colorful icons give our brains shiny rewards every time we unlock." Setting your phone to grayscale is a way to train your mind to check your phone less. On iOS devices, go to Settings > General > Accessibility and scroll down to Accessibility Shortcut. If you check the Color Filters option, it unlocks a feature allowing you to triple-tap the home button to turn grayscale on and off. On Android, the process may vary, but check under Settings > About phone.
3 Stop Using Your Phone As An Alarm Clock
Don't keep your smartphone within reach at night. Rather than charging it on your nightstand, your phone should charge further away from your bed or ideally be left in another room entirely so you're not tempted to pick it up if you wake up in the middle of the night. The best way to do that is to get a separate alarm clock so your wake-up isn't tied to your device.
Other good tips include not using smartphones for the last hour before bed and using apps like f.lux or Night Shift on iOS devices to reduce blue light stimulating your mind before sleep. But the best remedy for tech-related sleep issues is to keep your smartphone as far away at night as possible.
4 Set Social Boundaries
One key thing missing from the way many of us use technology is etiquette. When is it appropriate to have your smartphone out and when is it considered rude? If you're having a face-to-face conversation with someone, resisting the urge to pull out a device is the first step toward cutting out an unhealthy or rude behavior. One good rule is not to have devices on the table during meals, whether that's in a restaurant or at home. Especially if there are kids at the table who don't have their own devices yet, it's a bad precedent to set if you're scrolling through Instagram in one hand, eating with the other, and barely pretending to listen to the conversation.
5 Switch to a Utility-First Layout
What are the first apps on your home screen? Do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or Reddit come up in your first few rows of apps? First off, put all your social apps in a folder and banish it to the furthest reaches of your smartphone; the last of the home screens. If you want to check them, your mind will have to work for it.
Instead, turn your smartphone back into a tool. Put the utility apps on your home screen: the camera, calendar, maps, notes, ride-hailing apps, weather, etc. For everything else—games, social apps, and even messaging apps if they’re not essential—your mind should have to put in a conscious effort to open them.
6 Launch Apps By Typing
Modern smartphone interfaces are designed as intuitively as possible so you can use them without having to think about it. It's easy to tap into an app and start scrolling without even considering whether you opened it for a reason. Even that small change in behavioral architecture lets you pause for a moment and think about whether you're opening the app for a reason.
On iOS, swipe down from the home screen to open the search bar and type for the app you want. Another good tip is to turn off Siri Suggestions by going to Siri & Search from the Settings menu and toggling off the two options. On Android you can use the Search Box on your home screen.
7 Cut Out Distractions
There are a number of apps out there designed to help you focus and cut out digital distractions. Thrive puts a user into Thrive Mode to block all apps, notifications, calls, and texts except for "VIPs" you've designated. Meditation apps like Calm and Headspace are designed to help you de-stress and focus your mind. Freedom temporarily blocks apps and websites for set periods of time. You can motivate yourself with gamification, too. Forest plants virtual seeds that grow into trees the longer you stay off your phone.
Extensions can also help you use sites like Facebook and YouTube in more targeted ways. Distraction Free YouTube removes recommended videos from sidebars to keep you from getting sucked in. News Feed Eradicator blurs out Facebook posts for users who want to use the app only as a utility for things like events and groups. The Facebook Demetricator extension hides like, comment, and share numbers to keep you from fixating on feedback and rewards cycles.
8 Monitor Your App Usage
Tech and social media use can often create a sense of dissociation in how much time you’ve spent looking at a screen. Monitoring your usage from app to app is a great way to identify behaviors you want to change. Apps like Moment for iOS and RescueTime for Mac and Windows help you break down exactly how much time you're spending on apps and devices. Thrive also has an app control panel to monitor your usage and set goals for how much you use specific apps.
9 Create Your Own Stopping Cues
One of the reasons modern app and social media experiences suck you in is because there aren't built-in mechanisms that tell you to stop, like the end of a book chapter. We live in a digital world of endlessly scrolling feeds. In the streaming era, even the end of a TV episode doesn't mean much anymore when Netflix starts the next one five seconds later.
If you're concerned with how much time you're spending on your smartphone, social media, streaming video, or using your devices in general, sometimes it takes more than willpower to stop. If you only want to spend half an hour on Instagram or want to cap yourself at two Netflix episodes, schedule that time. Allot specific windows of your life for the online activities you care about. When that window is up, put the devices down. Another way to create stopping cues is to set an alarm for when it's time to stop, and put your clock or phone across the room so you have to get up to turn it off.
10 Delete the Apps
If all else fails, you can always take the nuclear option and delete some social apps from your phone. Especially for social networks like Facebook, you can still log in from the web if there’s something you really need to check without having the urge to tap open the app at a moment's notice and get lost in your News Feed. You control your tech. Don't let it control you.