Improve your relationship with your smartphone

Photo by Shane on Unsplash

Improve your relationship with your smartphone

How I decreased my daily screen time by 80% using mindfulness and app limits.

The Problem

Modern technology is both a blessing and a curse.

Smartphones allow us to talk to our friends. It gives us directions to places. Gives us access to a wealth of information through the internet. Entertains us with games, media, and memes. It has transformed human culture in many ways for the better.

The problem is we can become addicted to it.

Our need for pleasure from entertainment is endless and our phones enable that.

The global average daily smartphone usage is 3 hours. I was averaging 6.5 hours daily. This is not including the use of desktop screens, which we often use for work, which would be 7 hours on average.

While screen time as a metric tells us how long we use our smartphones, it doesn't tell us how well we use them.

It boils down to how we feel using our phones.

I felt like a hamster in the wheel. I felt like the rat in the experiment, addicted to the button that dispersed dopamine.

My relationship with my phone needed to change. It wasn't healthy. Sleep, concentration, and personal relationships--these all suffered for me. Smartphones and all the modern benefits it gives us are not going away. I had to learn how to live with it.

I implemented a simple solution to cut down my screen time from 6 hours to less than 2 hours daily.

Embrace Limits

Social Media is often the culprit for smartphone addiction, among many other problems. It's designed to keep us scrolling and consuming, forever. On the other side of the coin, it helps us stay connected with things that we value.

Instead of deleting it, I limited my usage.

I allocated 1.5 hours to all non-essential apps every day.

Non-essential apps are apps that I do not use for work. This is a personal thing. What I define as essential will be different from yours.

These are my essential apps:

  • Phone
  • Calendar
  • Music & Podcast
  • Notes
  • Reminders
  • Messaging
  • Maps & Navigation
  • Ride-Sharing
  • Timers and Clocks
  • Camera
  • Fitness & Health

Essential apps do not count towards my daily 1.5-hour limit.

The choice to limit it to 1.5 hours is also personal. For me, that's an 80% decrease. For you that could be less or more. The idea is to cut down.

You can use your phone put to put limits in place.

For iOS users, there is Screen Time which allows you to set App Limits. Limit all non-essential apps. Add your Essential Apps into Always Allowed so they don't count towards your daily limit.

For Android Users, check out Digital Wellbeing, a similar app made by Google. I haven't personally tested it.

Preventing Circumventions

Yeah, I hear Captain Obvious in the back saying, "... but we can bypass the app limits."

I would say that you should control yourself. But let's be real, in the early stages of curbing addiction, we don't have discipline. (At least, I didn't in my stage of addiction).

What helped me was to leverage a trusted third party.

My iPhone's Screen Time Passcode, the passcode that allows me to circumvent the app limits, was the lock and key to my system.

I entrusted my screen time passcode to my partner, someone who will keep me accountable. You may give this to a parent or a close friend.

This prevented me from circumventing the limits I put in place.

(I presume there is a similar system for Digital Wellbeing but I haven't tested it).

The Results

After implementing this system, I averaged around 2 hours of daily screen time. The other 0.5 hours of screen time is from using non-essential apps.

My sleep improved because I no longer used a screen to help me sleep. (Lights from screens are bad for sleep--suppresses melatonin among other things). This improvement alone brings many benefits.

I am more present and connected with the real world. I no longer escaped into the digital world when boredom came. I opted for healthier habits like reading, stretching, walking, etc.

My concentration and focus increased. I'm able to read for hours, and code without distraction. I seek out information intentionally.

My creativity and urge to create things increased as well. I was a consumer, but now I have the opportunity to think and create.

Remember, Be Mindful

Like with most things, it's not really the things that cause our downfall rather it's ourselves.

The key takeaway is to always check in with yourself when you use technology.

How do you feel when you use it? Does it elevate your life or does it downgrade it? Do you have an unhealthy dependence on your phone or are you intentional with it? Do you need it to function or can you go without it?

Down the road, you may not need a Screen Time or a Digital Wellbeing app to help you. That's the goal.

The zen or the minimalist approach to curbing smartphone addiction is to be mindful.

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