Our attention is the most valuable things we have. We experience only what we pay attention to. We remember only what we pay attention to. When we decide what to pay attention to in the moment, we are making a broader decision about how we want to spend our lives.
And with that quote, I knew I had to read this book, How To Break Up With Your Phone.
Ok so I didn’t really break up with my iPhone in that I no longer use it or that I went back to a 90’s flip phone (that would be too drastic lol). But I can easily say that after a cooling off period, I now have a much healthier relationship with my phone and subsequently I feel much more balanced than I have in a while. And not coincidentally I have recently decided to say no to any more gifted items and cool it with acquiring more items for review (though I’m finishing up my backlog of reviews still). I wonder if the lessening of my materialistic impulses are related to less social media and marketing exposure? I think so and that’s just one of several benefits I’ve found from being less addicted to my phone.
Another benefit has been a generally better attention span: I can finally sit down again and read a book for prolonged periods of time. I used to be a voracious reader but I haven’t really read anything except magazines lately. And everytime I started a book, I never seemed to finish it. Well now with more time and the retraining of my focus, I’m back to reading (and so get ready for some other reviews of book in the personal growth genre). And I also rekindled my love with my Kindle. I find I’m enjoying TV shows more now as well because I’m no longer multitasking or multi-screening while I watch (currently watching Homecoming on Amazon Prime and it’s getting good though it starts slow!). I also watch less TV because I’m not just letting the shows run on while I stare at my phone.
Anyway these are just a few of the benefits I’ve seen already in the 3 or so weeks I’ve started working on separating from my phone. And I’m hoping that this is just the start.
I highly recommend reading this book if you find yourself spending way more time on your phone than you’d like, if your attention span is not what it used to be, if you look at your phone first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, or if you find yourself feeling antsy when you’re away from your phone for prolonged periods of time (this was me to a T). But for those who just want to know what were some of the tips that made the biggest difference in my iPhone seperation read on:
Tip 1: Ask yourself “What do you want to be paying attention to?”
So of course relating to the quote above, but the important point about this is that you can’t just quit your phone for no reason. If you don’t have a plan of things you want to be spending your time on rather than staring at your phone, your motivation for less phone-time weakens. For example, the next time you find yourself with some time on your hands you might be tempted to go back to your tiny screen so instead have a game plan (like a book) waiting. She recommends writing a list of things you would do if you had more time. For me that includes reading, working out, cooking, spending time with friends and family, volunteer work and crafting.
Tip 2: Monitor your screen time
You need a starting point letting you know how bad is bad. My starting point was 7 hours and 45 min a day of screen time. Eeeek! The new iPhone iOS has Screentime built in now. I was at first resistant to setting it up because I just didn’t want to know (ignorance is bliss, right) lol. But you have to do this because you need to know. For those with androids, the book recommends an app called OFFTIME.
Tip 3: Changing habits by reorganizing your phone
So she recommends deleting social media for awhile but I just couldn’t. Of course I justified it by saying it was a tool both for my blog and for our Airstream business but really I’m just weak and couldn’t do it. But I did move it from out of my menu bar (the one that’s at the bottom of every screen page) and into a folder on my third screen page titled “UR Life=UR attention” (lol a reminder of that quote). And you can see all the other past and potential time suck apps included in that folder:
So now when I want to go to Instagram I have to take a couple more steps to open it up, which is the slight hurdle I need to pause and make sure that I’m going there with intention and not habit. I put my Google Keep app (which is my running checklist and notebook) in the place of where Instagram used to be on my menu bar. And the crazy thing was that for the first couple of days I would mindlessly click that app and then finding myself in Google Keep, and I’d be like “how’d I get here? why did I open this app” It was such a powerful habit that whenever I was bored and or needed a distraction, my thumb just automatically clicked that icon. I did it at least 5 times before my mind finally regained control of my thumb, lol. I also took out email from my menu bar because really I don’t need to be checking it that often. And lastly remove all notifications and badges from your phone—check your apps on your own time and don’t be constantly pulled by what’s mostly unimportant.
Tip 4: Use an app blocker for the apps you use most often
For me that’s Instagram. I was spending almost 10 hours a week on it! So I started by using an app blocker (for iPhones you can use Screentime, for android OFFTIME) and setting my limit at 2 hours for all social media (I know that’s still a lot but baby steps right?). And then gradually decreasing it. I’m currently at 1.5 hours, and most days I’m well within the limit. But days where I converse and message people, I hit that limit and the app tells me when I have only 5 minutes left. It’s a great reminder that you’re trying to limit your time on the app and if you absolutely have to, you can always ignore the limit and keep using the app.
Tip 5: No phone zones
We already had a no phone zone for the dining table but my husband and I decided that we would include the bedroom as a no phone zone as well. So now we charge our phones in the outside hallway. And that means if you need to check email or want to look at something on your phone before bed, you have to get up to do it. That barrier alone is so helpful in making sure we check our phones with intention. Also as the author suggested, I purposely don’t look at my phone until a designated a phone wake-up time. For me, that’s after breakfast (which I now eat with no distractions, I try to eat it mindfully and savoring each bite). Oh and use an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of your phone so you don’t have any excuse to reach for your phone first thing in the morning.
The rest of the book has a ton of great exercises and she also goes into meditation and mindfulness, which I love. But those 5 tips alone have made the biggest difference in my phone usage. I’m down to about 4 hours of cumulative phone time a week (and some of that includes “Other” things like Google Maps) and down to 8 hours of instagram a week. So I’m definitely still a work in progress. And that’s not to say I still don’t have mindless binges through safari or a shopping app, but at least I’m conscious that I’m doing it and choosing to do that over something else.
It’s a slow and steady progress and I hope to get it down to 3 hours a day with 7 hours a week on avg on Instagram. But like I mentioned above, I’m already seeing the results and feel so much better about balance and intentionally living my life. I have yet to put my time towards some of my other goals other than reading, but it’s at least freeing up my time for some of the big changes coming ahead. So maybe this holiday season let’s get ahead of this phone addiction and not let app engineers and advertisers monopolize our attention. Instead let’s give even better quality attention to our family and friends!