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9 Steps to Making Your Smartphone Your Tool… Not the Other Way Around

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

If you’re the loser and your cellphone is the winner (cuz that’s where I was), here’s a winning playbook to get back in control. FYI: These steps start with becoming more aware and then moving into action.

1) Consider yourself warned: Smartphone operating systems and app developers have said they’re on a “race to the bottom of your brainstem.” Meaning: their products are not merely designed to help you or make your life easier, they’re also designed specifically to get you addicted, to keep you attached to your device, with your eyes glued on their channels and advertisements, as they continue to sell YOU. Make no mistake. Your addiction and attention are the products being sold.

2) Get real about your use: Be totally honest in assessing how bad your phone addiction is. Use iPhone Screen Time, Android’s Dashboard, or get an app to track your use. Learn how many hours you spend on your phone, on what apps, and how often you pick it up. Remember what we’ve all been taught to say to someone with a substance-use problem? The first step is admit you have a problem and to see it clearly.

3) Ask yourself how your phone serves you. Is it a good tool? Does it keep you organized? Does it help you be more productive and efficient? Does it perhaps relax you or bring you ease? Or… does it distract you, waste your time, and make you anxious? My hunch is that it does it both. Your job is to break down which functions are helpful, and which are detrimental. This starts with noticing what triggers you to reach for your phone, and how the phone makes you feel.

4) Set reasonable but strict limits for yourself. Especially look to restrict time on the apps that you know are your most addictive, with lowest value creation – meaning those that truly have zero value other than soothing your impulse to touch your phone. If you know watching YouTube videos helps you relax, great, consciously decide how many minutes per day or hours per week is valuable for you, and set that limit. Who knows? Thirty-six minutes of cat videos might be just what the doctor ordered for you, but an additional 40 minutes is a pure waste. Consciously determine this time/value relationship. And stick to it using screen time limitation programs and apps to control your use.

5) Turn off ALL notifications. Except, of course, those required by familial or work obligations (but look closely and assess/keep those that are true must-haves). What does this mean for you? No banners. No sounds. No little red numbers popping up. Turn them off. All of them. YOU decide when to check for emails, texts, voicemails, Snaps, Instaposts, Tweets, etc. Stop letting your phone pull you into its clutches with the constant prompts from your multiple apps that are always saying, “pick me up, look at me, don’t miss out…”. Know these prompts are all deliberate, not to serve you, but to manipulate you, to keep you tethered to your device. To keep you addicted. (ALSO TURN OFF ALL THESE SAME NOTIFICATIONS ON YOUR COMPUTER, meaning no banners, no noises when emails or texts arrive, no little red circles alerting you to the queue in your inbox.)

6) NEVER allow your phone in your bed. No scrolling before bed or when you wake up. Kick your phone out of the bedroom and reclaim that room for two or three most important things the bedroom is really for. Get yourself an old-school alarm clock. If you won’t, or can’t, then set your phone alarm before you get into bed. If you don’t have any need to receive calls in the middle of the night, use Airplane Mode. Learn how to use Downtimeon your iPhone or Android’s Dashboard, or some app like Wind Down or Shush.

7) Turn phones off in meetings and put them out of view. No ringing, no buzzing no vibrating, and move them out of sight. If leading meetings, require this of everyone in the room. In my company, we use a “phone jail,” which you can see in the photo above.

8) Pay attention to how changes in your smartphone use impact you. At first, you may feel anxious, even uncomfortable. You may notice something feels amiss. You may want to reach for your phone. You may even miss your phone. You may feel edgy and irritable. Alternately, you may feel good right away. But you won’t really know how you are going to feel until you get there, so pay attention. Try looking around the elevator or in line at the store, see all the other humans likely looking at their phones. Or notice your environment. Maybe there is art, or some cool design. Maybe you can look up at the sky. Try daydreaming. You might find it refreshing to let your brain wander around, detached from your device, free to do what the brain is intended to do.

9) READ MORE ABOUT SMARTPHONE ADDICTION. Start by reading The Binge Breaker. Next, get yourself a copy of Catherine Price’s How to Break Up with Your Phone. And, if you want to read my longer blog on this topic, check out Who's the Tool? You or Your Smartphone?


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