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8 Ways to Spend Less Time on Your Phone (That Actually Works)

How I managed to kill my addiction

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I remember getting my first smartphone back in 2011. At first, it was a source of liberation and excitement.

I could play Angry Birds and use the internet from my phone! With that, a lot of new possibilities opened up.

But over the years, it eventually became a big burden. Instead of bringing fun and convenience, it made me miserable.

I became addicted to the endless stimulation of having the internet at my fingertips. I started chasing easy pleasure at the expense of everything. 

It got to a point where I had no other choice but to change course in life.

Continually chasing easy pleasure through social media, notifications, porn, movies, Netflix, and so on had made me so miserable that it seemed more painful to continue than to accept my situation and gradually begin a path to a better life.

For the past few years, I have been trying to figure out how to get the benefits of technology without the disadvantages. In the process, I have transformed my life.

I still use social media, but most days, I spend less than 30 minutes there. I simply answer messages and check Instagram and Facebook once or twice a day to see if anything has happened in my friends’ lives. That’s it.

The internet is a fantastic resource if we use it in a focused and conscious way and avoid falling into endless distractions. 

Learning new things or finding information have never been easier, but there is also endless potential for distraction and overstimulation.

Here are some strategies I used that helped me on my journey:

  1. What impairs your focus the most?

Write down the things you believe impair your focus the most and stimulate you the most without any big benefits. Which digital activities or offline ones, for that matter, can you avoid that only cause harm in your life? 

Some activities online only steal time and energy. Identifying these ones and being conscious about them is an important first step. For a lot of people, TikTok has this impact on their lives. For others, it is YouTube. Reflect on what you get lost in.

2. Last week’s screen time.

How much time did you spend on your smartphone last week? You can find this out by going to your smartphone’s settings and checking your screen time.

Write this number down. Then, try to think through how much time you spent on your computer or tablet as well. Add the two numbers together. That should give you the total amount of time online outside work. This number is probably higher than what you want it to be. But it is useful to see it as it is. We are typically not willing to change before we see our situation from a place of objectivity.

3. Turn off as many notifications as possible.

When I check my phone, the screen is almost always blank. The reason is that I turned off everything except urgent alerts. You don’t need your apps to tell you to check them. I also turned off vibrate for most things. The higher the number of notifications you get, the more difficult it will be to avoid checking your phone. It is as simple as that.

The brain is promised a reward every time you receive a notification. And your brain will look for ways to experience the reward it has been promised. The result is that you can’t help yourself and end up checking your phone every 10 minutes.

So, I recommend turning off notifications on everything that is not necessary. For instance, you can turn off notifications on everything except phone calls and messages and check social media when you schedule a time for it. Doing things on our schedule is generally better than someone else’s.

One of the biggest misconceptions of the last decade is that we need notifications, and we need to be made aware someone sent us an email at 05.46 in the morning before getting to work. We really don’t in most cases.

4. Buy an alarm clock and put your phone in a different room while sleeping.

Doing this can make a huge difference. It is extremely common to be on the phone before going to bed and reach for it straight after waking up. Putting your phone in a different room ensures you won’t be tempted to scroll through social media or watch videos while lying in bed. You will have to be there with your thoughts, a book, or your partner. You might even end up falling asleep a lot earlier than usual, as well! This was very helpful for me, and it made me pick up reading.

5. Simplify your digital life.

Remove all the apps you don’t need from your phone. Do you really need ten different social apps? What about YouTube and Netflix? Do you really need those on the phone? 

If you really want to relax with a movie or something entertaining, isn’t it better to do that from home with a bigger screen and do it properly? The less we rely on the phone for our daily tasks, the better. The problem is not checking the good restaurants you want to go to. It is the mindless scrolling we do afterward.

6. Sup blockers

You can block certain websites from your phone and computer. This might seem a bit extreme, but it can be a great way to minimize time spent on activities you want to avoid. Some extensions can also remove suggestions from YouTube, for instance.

7. Decide how you will be reachable.

Ryan Holiday, the famous author, limits himself to three ways to contact him: email, texts, and phone calls. These are all he needs for business inquiries, friends, and family. Due to the sheer volume of requests he gets, he has to be conscious of this as a busy author, entrepreneur, and family man. But there is a lesson in this for everyone.

Unless you limit yourself to how people can reach you, you might end up having email, texts, phone calls, Instagram DMs, WhatsApp, Telegram, TikTok, Snapchat, Tinder, BeReal, Messenger, Slack, and God knows what else.

If you feel the need to check a huge number of apps several times a day, you will be overwhelmed, distracted, and miserable. There is simply no way to keep up with it all without being in a frantic blur of distractions, leaving you unable to focus deeply and get into the flow of your work and personal life. And if you don’t check all the apps, you might feel bad that you answered someone late or missed out on something. Trying to limit how many social apps you have can be very helpful.

8. Find your long-term replacement activities.

For me, reading and writing have been my primary replacement activities. It was in the stillness of disconnecting from social media, YouTube, and other distractions that I found the time and energy to write and read a lot of books.

Finding your long-term replacement activities is immensely important. What do you want to spend more time on going forward? You may have a passion for playing the guitar and want to take your skill to the next level. Or perhaps you want to start a business but feel like you don’t have the time. Whatever it is, reflect on what you want to do and which activities you can find more time for when you reduce your passive scrolling.

Preferably, try to find something meaningful long-term to replace the time with, but anything off-screen will do in the beginning. If you reduce your passive screen time by 10 hours a week, you need something to fill the time with.

Here are some examples of easy-to-practice replacement activities:

  • Daily meditation

  • Physical exercise

  • Go for a walk

  • Write/journalling

  • Stretching

  • Playing a musical instrument

  • Doing online courses or studying

  • Spending more time with friends and family

  • Playing chess, board games, or doing a puzzle

  • Do volunteering work

  • Begin working as a freelancer or find a different side hustle

Having some good offline habits will make it a lot easier to find balance.

Final thoughts

The more you check social media and emails and refresh your browser to see what’s new, the harder it will be do get anything done. Or even feel good.

If we aren’t conscious about how we interact with screens, we will lose control.

When your level of stimulation is lower in your daily life, you will suddenly find yourself enjoying and taking up simpler activities like reading, trying to start a business, enjoying nature, and so on. At least, that is what happened to me.

You will find peace and strength in the stillness of disconnecting from the frantic blur online. It is required in the fast-paced world we live in.

Want to stop wasting time online and protect your attention? Download my free 5-Day Digital Detox Challenge and get more energy and focus!

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