Our mobile phones are, without a doubt, the most time-consuming items in our home. With Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and countless other addicting apps, it can be extremely distracting to have your phone within arm’s reach. If you are focusing on a project or in the middle of a conversation and your phone lights up, you will immediately lose your train of thought and feel compelled to respond to whoever it is that is sending a message.
According to a remarkable study by The Journal of the Association of Consumer Research, if your phone is within eyesight, it will reduce your ability to focus — even if it is turned off.
Researchers refer to this as “brain drain.”
So, let’s dive in on how to combat this and be more productive in 2020:
To begin, let’s do a quick test. If you have an iPhone, go to your settings and select ‘Battery.’ Scroll to where it says, ‘Screen On.’ That’s the amount of time you spent on your phone today. More than you thought, right?
Here’s how to combat this issue:
1. Delete the Most Addicting Apps
Go back to the battery life section on your phone and look at the top three apps that you spend the most time on. Are they helpful apps that are boosting productivity? (Apps that help with meditating, budgeting, etc.). Or are they “junk apps” that waste time such as Instagram or Facebook?
If the apps you spend the most time on are decreasing your productivity, take them off your phone during the workday. You can then redownload them at the end of the day or, to take it a step further, wait until the weekend.
Deleting the app off your phone won’t remove your account on these sites altogether, it will just decrease your chances of aimlessly scrolling on the internet for extended periods of time each day.
If you find that you delete the app and then redownload it halfway through the workday (don’t worry, I have done this too), then I advise temporarily deactivating the social media accounts you are most addicted to. This involves logging into Facebook, Instagram, etc., and selecting the ‘temporarily disable account’ option under settings. Again, your account will not be deleted — it will simply disable it so that users can’t send you messages, etc.
This eliminates the feeling of missing out since users will not be able to engage with your content when your account is deactivated. At the end of the workday, when your tasks are complete, redownloading/reactivating social media sites can offer something to look forward to.
Alternatively, you may find that you don’t really miss the apps as much as you thought you might, and not feel compelled to put them back on your phone at all. That’s what happened to me when I took Facebook off my phone, and I haven’t redownloaded the app in several months.
2. Clean Up Your Phone’s Home Screen
Think of your home’s phone screen as a desk space. If your desk is constantly littered with food, magazines, games, and other distracting items, it probably won’t be a very productive place to work, right? Your phone’s home screen should be thought of in the same way. Clean up the home page by eliminating distracting apps (social media, news apps, WhatsApp, etc.) and add apps that will help you focus during the workday. On the second and third pages of your phone, organize your apps into folders which can be thought of as the “drawers” in your “desk.” I have 16 folders on my phone labeled banking, travel, productivity, miscellaneous, etc.
To the left, I have included a screenshot of what my phone’s home screen looks like.
3. Put the Phone in Another Room
If you already have separation anxiety just from reading this headline, I will preface this by saying I am only asking you to do this for one hour at a time.
Set your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ so that it will only ring when a phone call comes in and will not alert you when text messages or other notifications come through. If you work in an office, swap phones with a coworker who is also trying to boost their productivity. If someone needs to get in touch with you and it is an emergency, they will call.
Next, set a timer on your phone or computer for one hour, which is when you can check your phone. In doing so, you are giving yourself solid, hour-long chunks of productive time throughout the day, coupled with 5 to 10-minute intervals used to respond to texts or other notifications. You most likely will not miss anything in an hour. Try to spread this out day by day, giving yourself hour-long chunks of productive time on day one, 1.5-hour periods on day two, two-hour-long periods on day three, and so on and so forth.
If you are self-employed and use social media to market your company, I recommend using Buffer to organize your social media posts each week. Buffer’s platform allows users to organize all social media content for the week and will then post on the user’s behalf. This minimizes the time you will need to spend on Facebook, Twitter, etc. If you want to respond back to comments, messages, etc., use those 5 to 10-minute intervals mentioned above to do so.
Quick Site Note
In addition to eliminating phone use while working, I strongly advise putting your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ while enjoying a meal with friends or family — whether that is at home or at a restaurant. Leaving your phone on the table while eating is not only distracting to you, but it is a rude way of shutting out those at the dinner table with you.
4. Use a Goal Tracker
I recommend using a site called Confetti, which helps track both positive and negative habits and build achievable goals. After setting up an account, log the amount of time you would like to spend on your phone each day (say, one hour versus two hours), and use the site as an accountability partner. The site will show your improvement percentage week over week, offering visual data behind your goals.
5. Use Helpful Apps that Reduce Phone Use
If you must have your phone on you during the day to answer calls/texts from clients/coworkers, etc., I recommend downloading any of the following apps, which block various apps during specified periods of time:
1. Offtime (iOS, Android)
This app blocks distracting apps such as Facebook and Instagram and filters communications. You can choose certain modes to ensure you have access to the content you need but aren’t distracted by addicting apps.
2. Moment (iOS)
Moment allows you to set daily limits when using certain apps and notifies you if you exceed them. There is also an option to have the app “force” you off your phone by flooding your screen with alerts when you try to extend your screen time.
3. BreakFree (iOS, Android)
BreakFree breaks down your phone time into an “addiction score” by showing you how often you unlock your phone screen and use the phone each day. As a New Year’s resolution, it could be great to challenge yourself to only one or two hours of screen time per day. This system will help you set and monitor those goals.
4. AppDetox (Android)
If you find yourself spending the bulk of your time on one particular app, AppDetox helps you set specific parameters on an app-by-app basis. If you break one of your own rules, the app reminds you to put your phone down.
6. Ditch the Phone Altogether
I recognize that this is a bit extreme and may sound terrifying to some, but it’s actually far more liberating than one may think. If you work remotely and tend to work from a coworking space or coffee shop close to home, or if your office is close by, I strongly advise leaving your phone at home. Again, I only recommend this method if you work within a few minutes from home so that you can run back and grab it if needed. This approach may pose a challenge to those who use their phones to speak with clients, coworkers, or managers during the day, but if you explain to clients/coworkers that you need to focus and are going “phone free” for a few hours, I am confident they will be incredibly supportive. Provide an alternative method for them to contact you, preferably via email or on your office phone as opposed to Facebook Messenger or some other social media platform, as checking a social site from your computer can pose a major distraction as well. If you have young children and need your phone on you in the event of an emergency, I recommend downloading one of the apps detailed in section #5 of this article to help curb app use.
I advise reading the book How to Break Up with Your Phone. Written by science journalist Catherine Price, this book offers a 30-day step-by-step guide on how to reduce phone addiction and bolster productivity.
If you have other recommendations that have helped when trying to stay off your phone, I would love to hear about them! Please feel free to send any tips in the comments section below or send me an email.
My name is Amanda Sapio and I am a freelance copywriter with 8+ years of writing/editing experience.