Besides obviously being your phone, the modern smartphone is now your camera, alarm clock, music player, movie player, GPS navigator, journal, stopwatch and a lot more. This convergence of devices has led to the smartphone becoming one of the center points of our daily lives. It is there with us every waking hour as we talk to friends and family, play games, take photos, or browse the web. It is one heck of a blessing, but only if you use it in a balanced manner.
There is an insidious side to the modern smartphone. One that takes your focus off the more important things in life — spending quality time with loved ones, being productive at work, and daydreaming to name a few. With dozens of apps and games asking for your attention, things can get overwhelming rather quickly.
The situation reminds me of this comic –
It is uncannily true to life, isn’t it?
I bought my first smartphone in 2010. It was a Galaxy S II — then the most powerful Android smartphone with a 4.3” HD display, a dual-core processor, and a whopping 1 GB of RAM. I absolutely loved it. For the first couple of years, my smartphone remained a useful utility as it allowed me to follow my passion for photography, stay organized, and be more independent.
More recently, however, as I graduated and entered professional life, my smartphone began taking over my life. My iPhone 7 would bombard me every minute with emails, chat notifications, Facebook notifications, weather updates, popular locations near me, online store flash sales, and so much more. My phone would keep buzzing all the time, so I rarely had enough time to concentrate for more than 5-10 minutes at a stretch. Moreover, this built a habit where I would check my phone every 5-10 minutes anyway for new updates.
As a result of this smartphone addiction, I:
- Lost the ability to remain focused on one task for extended periods of time. This negatively affected my productivity at work, and even my ability to hold extended conversations with friends and family!
- Became increasingly anxious all the time. I would keep glancing at my phone, expecting it to buzz or light up. At times I would keep my phone on at all times as I worked!
Sometime in 2016, I realized enough was enough. I was handling multiple projects at once so I needed my focus and sense of calm back.
Here’s how I fought against my smartphone addiction
The apps you use on your smartphone are explicitly designed to ensure you keep using them. Whether it is Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, all of these apps keep finding ways for you to keep coming back.
Facebook is particularly good at this. When you sign up, you are asked to add a bunch of friends, ‘like’ pages of interest, and join groups of like-minded people. Status updates, photos and videos from these sources are then shown in a never-ending News Feed. Any interaction you make with these updates subscribes you to comments and additional updates on said updates. When you close the Facebook app, you’re quickly invited back with enticing push notifications and then the cycle continues.
To put a stop to it all, you need to take just a few quick actions:
- Do a quick audit of all installed apps. I used to have nearly hundred apps installed on my phone. There were video games, countless social media apps, and dozens of “utility” apps that I thought would come in handy some day. These apps, however, were doing more harm than good. When I asked myself “is this app really adding any value to my life?” I quickly cut it down to less than fifty. Take a moment to do the same, and uninstall unnecessary apps.
- Uninstall Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and similar social media apps. Such applications are the #1 reason why you remain addicted to your smartphone. They’re exceptionally well-designed, and fast, so you can effortlessly open them up and keep scrolling. Deleting the apps doesn’t mean you can’t use the services — just use their less functional websites instead. Because their websites are slower, and not as easy to use, you’ll find yourself using them less and less over time.
- Disable all but the most critical push notifications. I do not have notifications enabled for any app except for phone calls, and critical office emails/texts. Zilch. Nada. The reality is every other notification you get is simply not important enough to take your immediate attention. You can get to them whenever you open your phone next which, if you’re addicted like I was, will be every 10-20 minutes anyway. People will soon realize they need to call you if there is a genuinely urgent matter.
- Turn on Do Not Disturb mode. Most smartphones now come with a “quiet mode” or “Do not disturb” mode (iOS) which silences all notifications except for phone calls and texts from select contacts. If you can’t bring yourself to turning off push notifications, at least practice keeping this mode on at work, and 2-3 hours before you go to bed.
- Special Facebook tip: Facebook is the biggest potential waste of time in social media today, yet it is such a useful tool that you cannot get rid of it altogether. To strike a good balance, I recommend aggressively unfollowing people and pages which post useless updates. Doing so has really made Facebook useful for me, while reducing the noise that is associated with it. This applies just as well to people you follow on other social media, as well as your subscriptions in news apps.
Just these five tips have made a measurable improvement in my life (as tracked by RescueTime for desktop and Android, and Moment for iOS). I spend less time fumbling my phone, and more time making progress at work, reading books, and just spending quality time with my family at dinner.
While I continue to spend several hours every day on my phone, it is on my own terms on productive apps like Pocket, and Blinkist. I’m no longer dictated by Facebook, Instagram or countless apps that want me using them so they can make money with ads.
I’ve shared how I fought my smartphone addiction. It would be great if you can share how you did the same so I can improve further.
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