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5 Surprising (and Painless!) Ways to Cut Back on Screen Time

By Jennifer Thomas | January 7, 2020 | Rally Health

We’ve all done it. We pick up our phones to check just one thing and then 30 minutes later we lift our heads from a Facebook-email-Wikipedia spiral and wonder where the time went. 

We spend a lot of time on our smartphones. Perhaps your phone recently began alerting you to the amount of time you spend looking at it. Were you surprised? In the first quarter of 2018, American adults spent three hours and 48 minutes a day on digital media (computers, tablets and smartphones). And of that time, 62% was on a smartphone, browsing through apps or on the web. 

But spending less time on smartphones doesn’t mean setting impossible-to-keep restrictions on your phone use, says Catherine Price, author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” A good goal is to be very intentional about how you’re using your phone, she says. Meaning, before falling into a photo-swiping Instagram blackhole, stop to ask yourself questions like: Why did I pick up my phone? Do I really want to use my phone? Do I need to do this now?

With that in mind, here are five (surprisingly painless) ways to spend less time on your smartphone:

1. Use a Visual Cue

One of Price’s favorite tips to be more mindful about your phone use is to put a rubber band or hair tie around your phone. That’s an instant physical reminder every time you pick it up. “It feels different. It makes you stop for a second and realize what you’re doing,” she says. Then it’s time to ask: What do I need my phone for? That’s useful because we pick up our phones an average of 52 times a day, according to Deloitte’s 2018 Mobile Consumer Survey

Another way to slow yourself down, and give yourself time to process what you’re doing, is to bury your most addicting apps inside multiple folders on your phone, says Larry Rosen, PhD, a research psychologist who focuses on phone behavior. So instead of having immediate access to Candy Crush or Facebook, you have to click through a Russian nesting doll’s worth of folders. Think of it as the tech version of freezing your credit card in ice. If you really want to use it, you’re going to have to do some work to get there.

2. Make It a Landline

“Turn your cellphone into a landline,” Price says. That means setting up one charging spot (not your bedroom) and plugging in your phone at that same spot as soon as you walk in the door. This way, you have to go to the phone instead of bringing it with you wherever you go, Price says. She recommends choosing a spot that’s a little out of the way and a little uncomfortable. Her charging station is in a hall closet, not a place she wants to spend a lot of time. If you’re worried about missing an important call or text, turn the ringer up. You can even set up a specific ring and text tone for important contacts like your spouse, kids, your work, or close family members so you know when someone important is calling or texting. 

3. Turn Off Notifications

Our phones are designed to get our attention. They beep, they send us messages, they “constantly have something new and exciting waiting for us,” says Price. Turn off the siren song, aka push notifications, that come through when you get a new email or someone you know posts a new photo on social media. “Push notifications create this false sense of urgency,” Rosen says. “There are very few things you need to know right that minute.” Price recommends turning off all your notifications, even email, with the exception of calls, texts, and calendar alerts.

4Get an Analog Alarm Clock

Smartphones are bad news in a bedroom. The blue light from these devices can throw off your circadian rhythms and make it hard to fall asleep. One study found that participants who used their smartphone more around bedtime had poorer sleep quality. So don’t keep your phone in your bedroom overnight, Price says, which might mean investing in a standalone alarm clock. “If you use your phone as an alarm clock, that means it’s the first thing you touch in the morning,” Price says. “Don’t let your phone set the tone for your day.”

5. Set Small, Specific Goals

“Most people will say, ‘I want to spend less time on my phone.’ That’s too vague,” Price says. “A good goal is, ‘I want to stop looking at my phone during meal times and be more present.’ Or ‘I want to stop reading my emails before bed and read a book instead.’” 

A phone-free mealtime is a good place to start. If you’re used to scrolling through email or checking the latest on Twitter while you eat, you might want to start small, Rosen says. Try going phone-free for 10 minutes during a meal and add five minutes every day until you’re not using the phone for the entire meal. Mornings and before bedtime are also good times to cut back on cell phone use, Price says. She suggests filling that time with something else—meditating first thing in the morning or reading a book in bed at night.

Don’t forget to have some self-forgiveness, Price says. Smartphones are built to get your attention. So if you’re not meeting your smartphone goals, Price recommends resetting and trying again the next day.

Jennifer Thomas
Rally Health

Articles on Rally Health’s website are provided for informational purposes only, as a free resource for the public. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Rally Health does not accept solicitations or compensation from any parties mentioned in the articles, and the articles are not an endorsement of any providers, experts, websites, tools, or financial consultants, services, and organizations.