Do you hear your phone buzz and feel a little jolt of stress? Do you find yourself picking up your phone to check the time and then, whoops, go down a wormhole of “checking in” to social media and boom, 20 minutes have gone by?
It’s not a coincidence—smartphones are designed to be addictive, the same way that the floor of a Las Vegas casino–or a Chuck E. Cheese or Dave N Busters, which are, let’s face it, starter casinos–are.
The truth is, smart phones are a mini slot machine of dings, flashing lights, and a constant potential of delivering either reward (fun text from a friend!) or disappointment (news headline notifications).
So let’s give ourselves a leg up, and get one over on the house, by snuffing out some of that whiz-bang appeal.
Let’s make our phones less casino floor and more like a doctor’s office waiting room–rather boring, but serviceable–so that we don’t spend an inordinate amount of time there.
Step 1: Go on a notifications-killing spree.
You might not realize just how many apps are sending you notifications until you go into your settings and choose notifications. There you can see every app on your phone and see whether each app is enabled to send you notifications. Go in there and ruthlessly turn off everything that doesn’t actually make your life easier.
Even if there’s a notification that you’d like to keep, like, say, from a social media account, I vote for turning off all sounds, so that you don’t get a nervous system jolt just because somebody liked your Instagram post. I also vote for even turning off as many text notifications as possible, because even without a bunch of buzzing noises, there’s still a lot of stress that comes from picking up your phone after being away from it for a while and seeing a home screen full of notifications.
You can also go into your text message app and turn off notifications from your chattiest contacts, or from the group texts that can blow up your phone periodically.
Turning off notifications makes a huge difference because anything that gets you to just look at your phone is likely to turn in to a 20-minute diversion into checking stuff that you really don’t need to check.
While you’re in there, consider if you really need those apps on your phone in the first place. Could you just check Facebook and Twitter on your computer, and delete them from your phone? I bet you could. I got rid of Facebook messenger, which has been great.
Step 2: Make your phone more visually boring.
Part of what makes your phone so attractive are the bright shiny colors. A huge step is to change your phone’s visual settings so that everything is in black, white or gray instead of the vibrant colors that are the standard setting. In the regular mode, your phone is like a pack of skittles–so many different colors, so shiny, so tantalizing. Once you switch to grayscale, it’s like watching a re-run of a black and white TV show… borrrrring.
The only hitch here is that it’s a multi-step process for both iPhones and Androids. Coincidence? I think not.
The way you switch to grayscale is:
- iPhone: Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations> check Color Filters on > and tap on Grayscale
- Android: Settings > Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls > Wind Down > Grayscale
Step 3: Find a place to hide that sucker!
Reaching for the phone or cracking your computer to check your email has become almost unconscious. You see it, you don’t even think before you turn it on.
If you keep your phone somewhere where you CAN’T see it, you’ll interrupt the automaticness of it. Some ways to do this are to designate a drawer where phones go–maybe one in your desk for when you’re working, and one in the kitchen for everyone to put their phones in during dinner or family time. You might have to find drawers that are farther away though, because I bet even just looking at the drawer could remind you that your phone is in there and then, PHONE.
There’s science behind this. A 2017 study in The Journal of the Association of Consumer Research found that the mere presence of your phone — even if it’s powered off, and even if you’re actively and successfully ignoring it — “reduces available cognitive capacity,” or what the study’s authors call “brain drain.”
If you see your phone, you just can’t completely stop thinking about it. So hide it. And out of sight, at least partly out of mind.
I hope that taking these steps help you find a lot more equanimity in the presence of your phone. Remember, you’re going for doctor’s office waiting room–perfectly fine, but not all that jazzy. Because just like a waiting room, you really don’t want to be spending any more time on your phone than you truly need to. At least not on a multiple times a day basis.