3 changes to make on your phone that are guaranteed to reduce your screen time

Photo by Absalom Robinson

If you got a chance to read my last blog post, you’ll know that I deleted Instagram and have not engaged with the app on my smartphone for over a month. It’s been glorious! But it’s no secret that Instagram isn’t the only thing on your phone that could cause you to get distracted and really make you cringe when you get your daily average screen time report notification each week.

Everyone with a smartphone can relate to the fact that being on your phone too much is one of those things that you hate yourself for doing, but you just can’t seem to stop doing. You know you’ve got things to do in the real world that don’t involve your phone, and yet you find yourself scrolling and toggling between apps. You may have even heard of such things as text neck, where craning your neck to look at your phone for hours at a time is wreaking havoc on your spine, and still not be convinced enough to put the phone down.

Screen time has become a huge issue for many people. In the United States, average daily screen time in every state is well over 2 hours. In New York, where I live, average screen time per day is 206 minutes. That’s about 3.4 hours. I revealed in my last post that my average screen time was 4 hours before I had enough. Yikes.

There are so many articles out there that tell us to simply stop using our phones so much and if we do that our screen time is going to be reduced. But we all know if it was that easy, no one would have text neck. I don’t know about you, but most of the scrolling I do on my phone is the result of picking my phone up to check the time, the weather, or to have a quick glance at my inbox. I then get sucked in by what I now call a smartphone no-no: notifications!

No one scrolls for hours with intention. What we need are solutions that keep us from picking up our phones all the time and keep us from getting derailed by notifications. Here, I share three simple changes you can make to the settings on your smartphone that will reduce your screen time.

1. Disable push notifications

Man, notifications are just plain dangerous. No, I’m not being dramatic. I used to have all of my notifications enabled on my iPhone and would receive them in every way possible: banners, sounds, and badges on my home screen. At first, it was fine. My phone would ping and light up all the time and I would actually feel cool. I always had my phone around and I would constantly be distracted by it when studying in school.

But then around 2 years ago, it started to drive me absolutely insane. I would get so anxious while trying to complete tasks in the real world because my attention would constantly be broken. Try reading a book with your phone next to you and keeping your focus on the book with all kinds of pings, pongs, and lights going off. It made me anxious and frustrated. And the crazy part is that it didn’t even occur to me that I could just disable push notifications.

Do yourself a favor and go to the settings in your phone and disable push notifications. For me, it was important to disable all types of push notifications for all apps on my phone. If I need to check my text messages or email, I could just open those apps when I was curious. In my opinion, the most important type of notification to disable is banners, the one’s that pop up at the top of the screen and let you know you have a new text or email while you’re doing something else on your phone.

Disabling notifications is a sure way to not get led down the distraction rabbit hole. It’s easy to let one distraction lead to another distraction when you’re constantly being pinged and notified that things are happening in other apps that you should look at right away. So you go to the other apps and look but then remember you need to go back to the app you were originally looking at and finish what you started. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need that kind of stress in my life!

2. Use Do Not Disturb like it’s your job

This one is actually huge. There have been countless times when I was just about to doze off to sleep and my phone lit up or my ringtone pulled me out of what was going to be undisturbed slumber. There are few things more aggravating than having your sleep disturbed by a tweet or the group text that you hate being in but can’t figure out how to remove yourself from.

Most smartphones have a Do Not Disturb setting where you can stop receiving notifications on your home screen for a specified period of time. I have an iPhone and what’s really great about it is the Bedtime app. If you don’t know about this, it’ll change your life. Essentially, you set your bedtime and waking time. Not only do you get reminded of your bedtime and alarmed at your waking time, your iPhone goes into Do Not Disturb mode automatically for that whole period of time between your sleep and waking times.

Now don’t worry, there are failsafes in cases of emergency. For instance, if someone calls you three times in a row, iPhone will push those calls past the Do Not Disturb barrier and let you know (given your phone is not on silent).

Do Not Disturb is a great tool to limit distractions and screen time. You can decide to open your phone and check for messages, calls, or emails, but it’s on your terms and on your time. Gone are the days when Twitter gets to decide when you look at your phone!

3. Keep your phone on silent (or at least vibrate)

If you cannot leave your phone on Do Not Disturb, leaving your phone on silent or vibrate is a great alternative. I usually do both because I’m just a special kind of person. But both work really effectively on their own.

Keeping your phone on silent or vibrate decreases the chances that your attention is going to be broken because it’s likely you won’t hear the distractions coming to get you to suck you into the smartphone vortex. I usually just keep my phone on silent all the time. Sometimes this works against me because I miss “important” calls but luckily there’s such thing as caller ID, voicemails, and the ability to call people back.

Being able to do this requires a mindset shift. It’s important to let go of the notion that we must be accessible and available to our friends, family, and colleagues at all times and that we must answer calls, messages, and emails right after receiving them. While there are messages and calls that will require immediate attention that we must drop what we’re doing for, most of what comes through on our phones does not and often leads to scrolling and toggling between apps, increasing average daily screen time.

Check your phone when you want to. If you’re in the middle of an important project or activity, keeping your phone on silent will lessen the chances of you getting distracted and breaking your focus.

But Melina, what about those apps that limit app usage and restrict screen time?

I purposely did not mention those because they’re only as effective as you make them. Oftentimes, these apps have the option to bypass the block with a simple tap. So, you’ll be happily using Instagram or browsing the internet and then BAM: the app will do it’s job and block you after the time limit you’ve set. That’s great and all but usually you’ll be in the middle of watching a super important YouTube video so you just bypass without much thought and continue watching that video.

The problem with this is your brain. If you’re constantly bypassing screen time restricters, your brain will memorize the steps to take and eventually you’ll be bypassing without even realizing it. No bueno. The important thing to do here is to begin to change your relationship with your phone.

Having systems in place to keep you from being distracted all the time and picking up your phone in the first place is what’s going to keep you from being on your phone for prolonged periods of time. Eliminating notifications and checking apps only when you choose to/remember will ensure your time isn’t being hijacked by that tiny computer. Oftentimes, just leaving your phone in another room or telling yourself not to use it won’t actually work after three days.

Your dreams are bigger than the distractions on your phone and you deserve the uninterrupted time to chase them!

If you’ve read this far, it means you’re really curious about reducing your smartphone daily average screen time. Taking these steps has helped me to drastically reduce the amount of time I use my phone. My hope is that they’ll also help you. Let me know if there are other tips and tricks you have up your sleeve for combatting the smartphone addiction!

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