Oh, smart phones. Such a convenience for information, inspiration, and (more importantly than ever) connection, but also such a time sucker if you’re not careful. I honestly could get a little red in the face if I confess how much time I waste scrolling on my phone. I’ve learned that if I’m not very careful and intentional, I can easily fall into scrolling habits that hold me back from spending my time doing things I actually need, or even want, to do.
Of course, there are times that I really enjoy scrolling through Instagram and feel inspired and spurred on in life, but I can also quickly fall into thinking about the life I want to live more than I actually do it. So for the last couple years, I’ve experimented with a few different ways to set boundaries for myself in order to “break up with my phone” and live more intentionally. After a few recent habit changes, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the methods I’ve tried, and found freedom in. Because while I’m not the wagering kind, I’d be willing to bet that I’m not the only one who is dissatisfied with her phone usage.
I think a key thing to consider is that it all comes down to balance, and just like in every area of life, that balance is going to look a little different for each of us. How I fit these habits into my life is likely different than how you need to set boundaries for yourself. So I encourage you to take a look through the suggestions, and experiment with them to figure out what works for YOU.
And I believe an important place to start in figuring that out is to identify where you struggle with your phone use – that way you can better determine what methods might address your specific needs. This is where an assessment of your usage can be really helpful. Either the Digital Wellbeing feature for Android users like me, or the Screentime feature for iPhone users, can be really helpful in revealing your habits. You might just be surprised to see how much time you spend on your phone, or on specific apps. I know how easy it is for me to think that a quick scroll to catch up on Instagram only lasts about 5 minutes, but when I see that my average use in a day is anywhere between 1-3 hours, I get a little uncomfortable. Too often I feel like I don’t have enough time in the day. Too often I get upset with myself for not getting more done. Too often I think of all the projects I’ve dreamed of working on for years, that I never find the time to touch. And seeing this data helps shed some light on why. So I encourage you to take a peek at your own stats to see if, and where, you might need to set some boundaries.
So without further ado, if you happen to find that sitting on the couch scrolling doesn’t fit the picture of how you want to live your life, then here are 8 methods for detaching from your phone and establishing better usage habits.
1. Limit Notifications
This is a method that I’ve been pretty strict on ever since receiving my first smart phone back in college. I pretty much turn off all notifications on my phone with the exception of texts and phone calls. Having regular notifications from countless apps can not only interrupt your day, but it can also add stress if you let them pile up and build your attachment to your phone through that instant gratification. So, to eliminate that, I turn off the notifications for an app as soon it’s downloaded onto my phone.
There are a select few apps that I allow a form of notifications to come in, but I still keep stricter boundaries with them than probably most would. For example, I used to get notifications for email, but a few months ago I switched it to where only a notification dot shows up on the app on my home screen, so rather than getting push notifications for each email, I can check my inbox when I choose to, or when I have the time to. Another example is Facebook messenger. My most common form of messages in it are in group chat format. And while they’re convenient, group chats tend to escalate my stress level quickly, so I decided that the messages can show up on my phone, but I have no sound to go with them so I don’t hear a constant dinging.
By limiting notifications, I don’t feel the tug to pick up my phone every time I receive some sort of engagement on any kind of app. I simplify the noise in my life, and in doing so I can have more control in how I spend my time engaging with my phone, rather than having constant interruptions or something else controlling my attention.
2. Use a Fit Bit or Smart Watch as a Way to Detach
When I first got a FitBit a couple years ago, I was nervous that the ability to receive text and call notifications on my wrist would cause me to become more attached to my phone, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the opposite. Because I could receive notifications on my watch, I could more easily leave my phone somewhere and not feel like I needed to carry it with me around the house in case someone randomly messaged me. If I do get a text, I can check my wrist to determine if it’s something I need to, or want to, respond to right away, or if it can wait, all without even touching my phone. This is definitely one that you have to know yourself with though. If you find that getting the notifications on your wrist leads to more attachment, then this may not be the method for you. Also, if you don’t already have a watch that links to your phone, I’m not pushing you to spend more money to get one just for this purpose, but if you do already have one or decide to get one, it could be a benefit.
3. No Phone Before Jesus
I implemented this boundary quite awhile back for multiple reasons. One, I wanted to keep my priorities straight, especially at the start of my day. Two, how much time I spent scrolling on my phone before I even got out of bed in the mornings was quickly getting out of hand. And three, I would sometimes find that what I consumed before I got out of bed set the temperature for my day. The biggest example I have of this would be in checking my Timehop and being reminded of a memory or feeling I have about something or someone that left me unsettled. If that’s what I saw first thing in my day, it had the potential to start my day in a funk. So with all of these in mind, I typically don’t allow myself to check any form of social media before I have my quiet time in the morning and center myself with Jesus. That is a much better, more fulfilling way to set the temperature for my day. Regardless of if spending time with Jesus is a priority for you in the morning or not, figure out what things you want to help set the temperature for your day, and remind yourself to do those things BEFORE you allow yourself to scroll.
4. Set Your Phone Across the Room (or in Another Room) at Night
For similar reasons to what I mentioned in number 3, I very recently started the practice of leaving my phone on my dresser while I sleep at night, instead of next to my bedside. In doing so, I’m much less tempted to roll back over when my alarm goes off and scroll for a few minutes to “let myself wake up” – yes that’s an actual argument I’ve made to myself in my head. Anyone else do that? I also started doing this to prevent me from hitting snooze once or twice each morning, which I have had a tendency of doing for as long as I can remember. This is definitely a habit I am going to continue using for now, because in all actuality, I have no reason to keep my phone right beside me while I’m sleeping. And it’s allowed me to wake up more peacefully by taking a minute to “come to” and then rise out of bed to get going. Thankfully my husband usually wakes up before me, or at the same time as me, so if I let my alarm go on for a minute or two it doesn’t bother him, so keep that in mind if you want to give this one a try.
5. Use Your Phone’s Settings to Set Actual Boundaries
Like I mentioned before, depending on what kind of phone you have, these exact settings may differ, but whether you use Digital Wellbeing or Screentime, you should not only be able to see your usage, but also manage your usage. Since Google released Digital Wellbeing, I’ve tried out a few different settings. I use Wind Down to turn my phone to grayscale at 10pm (through 7am) as a cue to get off of it if I’m still scrolling at that time. I’ve also used Focus Mode on my Scroll Free Days (see #6) to hold me accountable to staying off of distracting apps by blocking them for a certain day or time period. At this point I haven’t used the Timer setting to limit how much time I allow myself on an app in a day, but that’s a possible option too. Using any of these boundaries is helpful in adding a little bit more accountability to my choices in how much time I’m using my phone. And while it’s easy to bypass the settings by selecting “turn off for now” or “take a break” to give yourself five more minutes, it at least puts more responsibility on you to choose whether or not you’re going to stick to your boundaries, rather than lackadaisically continuing on.
6. Delete or Hide Apps
To take my Focus Mode an extra step further, sometimes it’s helpful to hide those same time wasting apps from the main screen of my phone to make them all the more inconvenient to click on. Or, if I need to get even more drastic (like I’ll explain in #8) I’ve even deleted those apps off of my phone for periods of time to remove the temptation altogether. This method used to sound a little extreme to me, but when I finally gave it a try, it was pretty effective. And in all actuality, it takes less than a minute to re-download those apps and log back in. You typically don’t lose anything in doing so.
7. Scroll Free Days
In the last year, I’ve often made a monthly goal that I would have one scroll free day a week. I say “scroll free” instead of “phone free” because I still respond to texts or talk on the phone – mindless scrolling is my main concern. I either have a set day each week (I used to do it on Mondays), or I would pick a day based on what was going on in the day (i.e. a day where I needed to be focused and productive, or a day where I really needed some Sabbath and a break from constant connection), to utilize the Focus Mode setting and block my most time sucking apps. In my case, that’s primarily Instagram, but also Timehop, Pinterest, and Sudoku (note: I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone – I just access it via my internet app so I add another layer of inconvenience to it – but if I’m blocking those other apps, I hold myself accountable to staying off of Facebook as well). By giving myself an entire day’s break from those time suckers, I have a greater chunk of time to focus my attention on other things and ensure that I’ll be productive elsewhere.
8. Scroll Free Weekends/Weeks
When I know I’m needing a bit more of a drastic detox, I need a bit longer of a time out. I’ve done 1, maybe 2, scroll free weeks where I actually delete some of those time sucking apps off of my phone (or just hide them from my main screen so they are out of sight) to stay off of them for an extended period of time. Most recently, I did this over a 3 day weekend at the start of April – mainly because I noticed that my phone consumption was getting a bit excessive and I needed a time out. The freedom I found from doing this led me to practice this every weekend since because it led to greater satisfaction in how I spent my time. The key in any scroll free day, weekend, week, or any period of time, is being sure to replace the time you spend on your phone with activities that are purposeful or bring you joy. It’s no help if I just replace that time with binging more Survivor on Hulu (which admittedly does still happen sometimes). So I have been very intentional about using the excess time to tackle a project. Sometimes that means doing something I’ve been needing to get done out of necessity, but often I’ve been trying to take that time to do something I WANT to get done in an attempt to better indulge my time. This has been an incredibly freeing practice and one that I think everyone should try, simply to see what they learn from it.
And there you have it! 8 methods for detaching from, and having better boundaries with, your phone. Now I wish I could say that any of these are a cure all for overconsumption, but the truth is, it’s a constant teeter-tauter for me. Sometimes I can stick with the “high” I get from detaching, and carry on good & healthy habits for awhile. Other times, it’s all too easy to fall back into old habits, even when I “know better.” But rather than beat myself up over it, I am better able to determine when I need to put some stricter boundaries in place and I pull out one or two (or more) of these methods from my toolbox to get myself back on track again. Intentional living never happens on accident. So sometimes when we fall off track of the ways we want to be living, we need a reset. And that’s ok. In fact, I think that’s good.
So how about you friends? Do you use any intentional methods to set boundaries for yourself with your phone? If so, what do you do? Or, do you feel like maybe you need to give one of these methods a try? Let’s chat about it in the comments below!
Until next time,