Am I addicted to my phone? I am not a clinical psychologist or medical doctor but I know unhealthy behavior when I see it and it’s time to take stock of what your phone is doing to you. Is it helping or hindering your productivity? What about relationships? Does it impact your mood and mental health? I asked myself recently, “are phones the new cigarette?” Sleep disturbance, anxiety, stress, and, to a lesser extent, depression, are all associated with problematic cell-phone use. (1)
I asked myself this question and I have been monitoring my own use and have found that a lot of my time spent on my phone is a huge waste of energy. Would you be surprised to find out that the average person picks up their phone over 60 times a day? I couldn’t believe it!
Now, I realize some people have to use their phone for work or school. But, what about when you don’t? If anyone out there is concerned about their phone habits or ready to cut the cord (at least a little) to free up some “in real life” time for themselves, here are some steps to take:
- Track your usage. Even if it’s just for one day, count the number of times you pick it up. When you do pick it up, track what you are doing: texting, email, social media, taking yet another picture, working on Candy Crush (is that still a thing?). You have to figure out what you’re doing on your phone before you can address it.
- Once you figure out why you are grabbing your phone so much, ask yourself if it’s necessary. Do I need to check my email 7 times in one hour or would I be better checking it at a desk computer once every 4 hours? Could I produce better work if I was focusing my attention on the email rather than dividing my time on my phone while I am at lunch with a friend.
- Review the applications on your phone. Do you really need them? If some of them are always causing you to go to your phone for reasons that really aren’t productive, or leave you feeling bad – remove them! Yes. I said remove them. It might scare you at first, but you will be glad you did.
- Turn off notifications. One of the reasons we can’t get anything done is because we are constantly interrupted and shifting gears. Often times, these interruptions are coming in the form of an alert or message that is not pressing. Before you know it, you’re looking at a useless coupon code from an advertiser who interrupted something much more important. Keep only those notifications that are absolutely vital.
- Create a unique ringer for important people. For example, if you are a parent, keep your children’s school on a ring-tone that is obvious. We could all narrow down those “must take this call” to a handful of people. If we assign a unique ringtone, we will know if it’s them. If it’s not, they can probably wait and we can ignore it for the time being.
- Out of sight, out of sound. During class, I make my students put their phones where they can’t see or hear them. The urge to respond to a “ping” is just too great. It’s a hit to the brain and they just can’t resist looking. If we can’t see or hear it, we can’t be tempted. Not everyone may be able to do this, but somehow we managed to do this before cell phones so I’m pretty sure most of us can do this now.
- Get a regular alarm clock. If your phone is within arm’s reach, you will use it – before bed, before you get out of bed….you see where I’m going. Find a docking station in another room for the night and leave it there. Don’t keep it near where you sleep. Use an old fashioned alarm clock to wake you up.
- Read printed books. I love to read and thought it was great to have the kindle app on my phone….until it wasn’t. It was a gateway for other wasted time on my phone.
- Re-evaluate your picture taking. Do you really need that picture, or the other 1,876 on your camera roll? Maybe some of them, but probably not all of them. It’s okay to go a day without taking a picture.
- “Secure in transit”. My daughter gets so annoyed with me but I make her secure her phone in a bag or pocket when she is going from point A to point B. This includes walking or the car. You need to have your head up and be aware of your surroundings when you are moving around. Staring out the window and letting your mind wander is a powerful thing. If you don’t believe me, read the book “Bored and Brilliant”. It’s where I picked up most of these tips.
- Educate yourself on what phones (and electronics in general) are doing to your health. You can start with the resources below. Consider taking a “Digital Detox” if you are able.
- Gutiérrez, José De-Sola, et al. “Cell-Phone Addiction: A Review.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol. 7, 2016, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00175.
NPR Screen Addiction in Teens