A Radical Guide to Spending Less Time on Your Phone
When I used these strategies, I finally took back my life
It’s there: in your pocket. On the desk. In the cup holder of the car.
You want to use it. Just grab it and alleviate the boredom or discomfort. Might as well check the headlines instead of struggling to type words on a blank screen. And why stay in this tense argument with your spouse when you can see what’s new on Instagram? “Hey, sorry buddy, I can’t play dinosaurs right now — I have to answer this email.”
That’s what our phones have become. An instant escape, and a constant burden. I remember when I got my first BlackBerry. It was an exciting and surprisingly moving moment. Not because of the technology, but because of what it meant: Someone at my job thought I was important enough to need one of these.
Over the years, though, that pride has worn off. My phone, once a source of liberation — I could check my email without having to go home, which meant I could spend more time out doing things — eventually became a weight that tied me down. Instead of making me better at my job, it started preventing what Cal Newport calls “deep work” — focused, dedicated, creative time. Instead of helping me have fun, it was making me miserable.
So recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use it less. About how to get the benefits from the technology without all the downsides.
If that’s what you’re looking for, too, these strategies might help you. Some of them are easy. Others are tougher, and you’ll probably think some of them are nuts. Maybe they are. But they work.
Turn off all alerts
My lock screen is almost always blank. It’s not because nothing is happening or nobody needs me. It’s because I went into the general settings on my phone and turned off all alerts by default, with the exception of texts and alarms for literal emergencies. (In Texas, we have flash floods and tornadoes.) Even once I unlock my phone, I don’t see any red circles showing me how many messages or notifications I have. I don’t need Strava to tell me I need to check Strava. I definitely don’t allow anything to make noise or buzz me. (I turned off vibrate for texts as well.) No alerts…