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How to Get Off Your Phone

As much as we love phones, sometimes we need to learn to cut down when they get in the way of other aspects of life. I was a little late to the party with my first smartphone just before I came to university, meaning my phone addiction hit me during my first and second year. I quickly saw how my life quickly became all on my phone. Fortunately, I learned some ways to cut down my phone usage. 

Why do you want to get off your phone?

Firstly, to get off your phone, it has to come from you. Figure out why you want to get off your phone and where it has a negative impact on life. For example, I found my phonene did not get in the way of socialising or keep me up at night, but it got in the way of my studies. The urge to fiddle with my phone always occurred during lectures or when I was sitting in the library needing to get work done. I also noticed I was slower getting out the door in the mornings from sitting on my phone. Those are the times I wanted to cut down my usage.

Tracking your usage

On my android, I have the app “App Usage” which summarises all my time on my phone and how much of that time is spent on certain apps. “Screen time” for iPhone does a similar job. These apps allow you to get a better idea about where you spend time on your phone and which apps tend to take up most of your time. “App Usage” also allows you to set reminders for when you spend too much time on your phone. 

Delete the apps you spend too much time on (and do it on impulse!)

Apps such as the ones mentioned earlier allow you to see how much time you spend on certain apps. You might be quite surprised where your time goes. In late 2017 I realised I was addicted to the recently released Animal Crossing app and Youtube. Whenever I tried to delete them, I always talked myself out of it, telling myself “all the progress I made on Animal Crossing will go to waste”. I impulsively deleted them on New Years Eve, and to my surprise, I realised I did not miss them very much at all. Occasionally, I went to reach for them out of habit, but when they were not easily accessible, I could not be bothered to get out my laptop or redownload the apps. It made me realise I did not desperately want to use these apps. Delete apps you spend lots of time on and you do not genuinely enjoy using, you'll be surprised how much you don't miss them. 

Helpful Apps

Forest If you have not heard of the Forest app, where have you been? The app “plants trees” based on how much time you spend off your phone. If you set a time you want to spend off your phone, (the longer the time, the bigger the tree), and if stay off your phone for that whole time, a tree will appear in your field! Sadly, if you use your phone before the time is up, you will be given a dead tree, so you will feel the shame of getting on your phone. If little virtual trees do not bring you enough happiness at the end of the day (by the way, they will), you also get coins for spending time off your phone which could be spent on planting a real tree, that’s right, a real tree!

Pros - It is a very positive app that allows you to see your progress. It also rewards you for long periods of time not being on your phone, and real trees!

Cons - If you set it for yourself to be off your phone for 2 hours, you get no reward for being off your phone if you make it half way through, in fact you are punished with a dead tree! Not reassuring when sometimes we do genuinely need to be on our phones sometimes. This could be a pro perhaps if your phone addiction is quite serious.

Hold The Hold app is my personal favourite. You are given points for staying off your phone. Rather than setting a time for you to stay off your phone, you just put yourself “on hold”. For every 20 minutes spent “on hold”, you gain 10 points, and it continues in these 20 minute cycles until you use your phone or stop it yourself. Since you connect yourself to a “community”, usually a university, you can see yourself on a leaderboard for the day, week, or year. This is good if you have a competitive spirit like I do. Final perk, you get prizes for your points. I will admit, they are not great prizes. Usually they are scratch cards from Amazon (a chance to win £50) or Co-Op. But you can buy a football or stationary for charity that goes to Unicef with your points!

Pros - The cycle system means that you are rewarded for spending at least some time off your phone (as long as it’s after a 20 minute cycle) even if you do not spend as much off your phone as you may have intended. I also find the cycle system good because I’ll occasionally pick up my phone, notice I only have 5 minutes to go until my next 20 minute cycle is up, so I’ll stay off a bit longer for the extra points. Usually, I’ll end up getting caught up in my work anyway and spending another 20 minutes or so off my phone!

Cons - The prizes are not great. Also, if you are deep in a phone addiction, you may never get past 20 minutes of time off your phone which is probably not hugely beneficial.

Other Things To Do

Apps are helpful, but it is good to try to get into good habits with your phone.

  1. Keep phone in your bag rather than your pocket, especially when you have lectures. If you are someone who gets tempted by your phone just being on your desk, maybe listening to music on your phone while studying is not a great idea. Give not having music on a go and see what happens.

  2. If you have your phone in bed, consider why you have it. I personally like to fall asleep to background noise, using Netflix or a podcast, and this does not keep me up, but I find actively scrolling through things on my phone keeps me up. Try to keep usage on your phone more “passive”. If you are thinking of completely ditching your phone before bed, put your phone on the other side of the room (or in a different room altogether) and buy an alarm clock. You have no excuse to have your phone right next to your bed then.

  3. Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode or Turn Off Notifications - do this for a set time if you expect people to message you. Remember that nothing cannot wait 20 minutes, and most stuff can wait an hour. Nobody is entitled to a reply to a message from you straight away.

So those are the ways I have cut down my phone usage. Like most ways of cutting bad habits, it is definitely easier said than done. It’s about creating new habits with your phone usage and reminding yourself of why they will benefit you. It’s a lot about your mindset. You cannot cut down phone usage just because others say it’s good for you, it has to be something that you want to do yourself.

- studying Maths & Philosophy at the University of Bristol - likes to write lifestyle articles - regularly involved in Bristol Debating Union - likes to swim - drinks expensive coffee a little too often
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