Smartphones have transformed how we interact with our world. We use them for our emails, sending texts, connect via WhatsApp and messenger, take pictures, watch movies, play games, listen to podcasts or our favourite music, play with our various apps, check in on our social media channels and even make the occasional phone call.
How much time do you think you spend interacting with your phone each day?
I didn’t think I spent much time at all. Except I was aware how I’d fallen into the bad habit of picking it up to check my emails, voice messages and the latest news at any time I stopped focusing on the task I had at hand.
When my iPhone Screen Time Function started telling me my average daily screen time was over three hours, I didn’t believe it. Surely not and why did I feel so guilty?
That three hours a day equates to 21 hours a week, 90 hours a month, one thousand, and ninety-five hours a year or 45 days of my life that I won’t get back. Eeek.
Oh, the irony of being a lifestyle physician clearly out of alignment with her wise words extolling others to place boundaries around tech use.
But let’s put one thing straight. Smartphone overuse is a maladaptive habit rather than an addiction in the true sense. Which means you can change your behaviour using the awareness of what’s happening and taking back control with conscious thought.
It was time to take a dose of my own medicine.
Alas alack, it proved harder than I thought.
There was a time getting up in the morning meant getting out of bed, into the shower, getting dressed, having brekkie and out of the door for work. Somehow, I had fallen into the habit of checking the time on my phone after waking up, which then triggered a quick email scan and the latest world news before getting out of bed. It was taking me 20 minutes longer to get ready for my day, and I knew why.
In a world of distraction, it’s so easy to justify that, “one quick check” after all, you’re filling in time between sips of coffee, trips to the loo, waiting for the train, waiting for the lift or waiting for a friend. It’s as if we don’t feel safe to be alone with ourselves, even for a moment.
What’s interesting is as our digital obsession has grown, so too has our yearning for a little detox with a multitude of companies offering digital detox holiday packages. Having recently returned from a week’s holiday where there was no Internet or mobile coverage, I came home feeling lighter, less stressed or anxious. O.K. that was partly the effect of the holiday too, but it had felt so good not to be at the beck and call of that darn phone.
It’s time to set boundaries.
If your phone usage is annoying or frustrating you, if you worry you’ve become too dependent on it but you can’t live without it, or it’s interfering with your sleep, it’s time to do something about it.
Roy Morgan reports how Australians spend about 21.9 billion hours a year online and that in some instances that users are spending more time on the internet than at work. Research from RescueTime reports the average use of smartphones is 3 hours 15 mins/day with the top users going for 4 and a half hours. This was one time it felt reassuring to know I was “average.”
It’s also reported that “on average” we check our smartphone 58 times a day, with thirty of those being between 9 am and 5 pm.
The good news is, by being more conscious about when and how often I pick up the phone, my average daily use has currently dropped to thirty-eight minutes. Let’s see if I can maintain this!
Tips to better manage your human-phone interface
The habits we create and repeat habitually are the trickiest to change.
If you’re struggling with your phone usage, please cut yourself some slack. You’re dealing with a craving that each time you give in to, rewards your brain with a nice dopamine boost that further drives you to repeat that behaviour.
It’s how we’re wired.
Meaning it’s going to take persistence and tenacity on your part to get the better of this habit – but you can! Try some of the following suggestions to help you.
- Re-acquaint yourself with the location of the off and silent button and practice using it every day.
- Work with your phone turned to silent when deep focus is required and keep it out of sight.
- Turn it off or to silent when in a meeting, social catch up or at mealtimes, and again out of line of sight.
- Choose to go phone-free for a specified amount of time each day.
- Elect NOT to take your phone with you, if you know you don’t need to be contacted such as when going to the gym.
- Turn off all push notifications.
- Adopt a mindful approach. Each time you’re tempted to pick up and check your phone ask yourself “Do I really need to do this or am I succumbing to my craving?”
- Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock. Use an alarm clock (and one without a blue digital display) or keep the phone outside the bedroom, though still close by, such as in the bathroom or wardrobe to hear the alarm when it goes off.
- Buy a camera instead of using your smartphone.
- Practise getting from A to B with your own internal GPS rather than Google maps.
- Record a message advising the times when you won’t be answering your phone.
- Record a message advising you don’t pick up voice mail and to send a text or email instead that will be replied to later.
Don’t be dictated to by your smartphone. It’s time to take back control and reclaim your precious time to spend on what matters. If you’ve worked out a way to manage your smartphone use, so it’s not driving you crazy please share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.