The statistics are quite overwhelming:
- The typical cell phone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times every day. 2,617 times!
- Most people, on average, spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones each day.
- Half of all phone pickups happen within 3 minutes of a previous one.
And the impact of this usage is staggering:
- Reducing the quality of conversations.
- Adversely impacting short-term memory and problem solving.
- Negatively affecting our sleep patterns.
- Resulting in more negativity, distress, and less emotional recovery in young children.
- Increasing obesity.
- And the positive correlation between smartphone addiction and depression is alarming.
You would think, given the statistics and what we know to be true about cell phone usage, it would be easy to put down and walk away. But I can attest the struggle is real.
As a parent of two who makes his living online in this modern world, I know full-well the addictive nature of mobile devices and how great the internal battle is to harness the benefits of our smartphones without falling prey to its intentionally addictive design.
Nor do I miss the ironic fact that many of you are reading this very article on your phone.
Phones are good and helpful… you are able to read this article right now because of it. But we know all too well they also have the potential to become a negative presence in our life if we allow them.
So how do we keep cell phone usage in proper alignment with our lives? What are some tools or ideas to help us cut down on our cell phone usage?
Here is a list of seven I have used myself or learned from others:
7 Proven Ways to Break Your Cell Phone Habit
1. Set aside one day/week.
This is, by far, the most common approach I see among people who have taken intentional steps to curb their cell phone habit nowadays. But I credit Tammy Strobel for being the first person I heard talk about it—almost ten years ago. Choose one day each week (usually a Saturday and Sunday) and set your phone aside. That’s it, make a habit of it.
2. Use a 30-Day Experiment to reset your usage.
For me personally, this has been the most helpful way to break my cell phone habit. My cell phone use, when not intentionally limited, tends to take over more and more of my free time. It happens unintentionally and quietly—I don’t even seem to notice it happening.
Seven years ago, I gave up my smartphone for Lent and used it only for calling and texting (no other apps allowed—even maps and photos). It was a 40-day period of reset that helped me align my usage with more important pursuits in life. Since that first experiment, I have used the 30-day reset two additional times—each with great success.
3. Use apps to bolster self-control.
There are apps for almost every problem in life. In fact, there are even some wonderful apps built to help us limit our time on our devices. Here are some of my favorites:
Space. Set goals and track your daily progress to manage your habits.
Forest. ($1.99) Stay focused, be present. Forest is a beautifully designed app that brings gamification to productivity and results in real trees being planted based on your personal phone use habits.
Moment. Through short, daily exercises, Moment helps you use your phone in a healthy way.
Flipd. Lock away distracting apps for complete focus.
Screentime. Set daily usage limits on your phone or specific apps.
4. Don’t charge your phone near your bed.
Want to know the best way to keep your kids off their phones too much? Don’t allow them to charge their phones in their bedroom.
Want to know a great way to keep yourself off your phone? Don’t charge it in your bedroom.
Many of the negative effects of overuse (poor sleep, hindered communication and intimacy) can be eliminated by keeping your cell phone out of your bedroom. As with many of the items on this list, this is a principle I’ve found personally helpful.
5. Put your phone away when you walk in the door.
Christopher Mims writes a weekly technology column for The Wall Street Journal—a job that certainly requires the use of tech on a consistent basis. His simple and proven way to keep life in healthy balance with his cell phone is to put it in a kitchen cabinet at the end of the workday. In his words, “The more you physically remove the phone, the more you can build a habit of having some ability to ignore it when it’s on your person.”
When you finish your day of work, put your phone in a drawer or cabinet. This is a helpful practice for all people, but I think it is especially important if you have kids or a spouse at home in need of our undivided attention.
6. Change your phone settings.
Among the most often suggested ideas for reducing cell phone usage, you find tips and tricks by simply changing the settings on your phone.
The most common suggested ideas:
- Turn off notifications
- Set screen to black-and-white
- Remove distraction-based apps from your home screen
- Set a longer passcode
- Use airplane mode
- Turn on do not disturb
In my opinion, turning off notifications is something everyone should do regardless of how habitual their cell phone use is. Just because someone in the world wants to text you, email you, or tag you in a post on Facebook doesn’t mean they deserve your attention. My cell phone screen is not currently set to grayscale, but I have found that setting helpful in the past.
7. Put a hairband around your phone.
In one of the most thoughtful personal stories I’ve ever read on how to overcome cell phone addiction, Brad Soroka recommends placing a hairband around your cell phone. When placed in the middle of the phone, the hairband allows users to answer phone calls easily, but makes other uses of the phone more difficult (including simple texting).
In his words, “Every time you want to use your phone, this brings about a mindfulness exercise and makes you ask ‘what is my intention?’ If you really want to use the phone, set your intention for why, and remove the hair band.”
The hairband trick is not about making your phone impossible to use. The practice is about bringing greater mindfulness to each specific use of it… as opposed to mindlessly unlocking your phone every 3 minutes.
When used as a collection of tools to improve my work, health, parenting, and life, cell phones are wonderful and bring countless benefits. But when used mindlessly and unintentionally, they become a distraction from the things in life that matter most—in addition to the negative effects listed above.
Learning how to use our smartphones effectively may be one of the most important life skills any of us can learn.