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How to Not Let Your Smartphone Take Over Your Attention and Life


Image by Cia de Foto (license).

.“Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention.”
Jim Rohn

“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.”
Olin Miller

A couple of months ago I got my first smart phone, a couple of years after most people up here in Sweden.

It is actually kind of awesome, especially when you have had an old Nokia for about half a decade.

With my new smartphone can check the news or any website at any time of the day, read books, play fun games like Where’s My Water? and Flick Golf and listen to Spotify. And I’ll have an awesome guide with loads of pictures, info and a map for when mushroom hunting season begins here in the summer/early fall.

But in the first few weeks of using it I also noticed that I felt more stressed. I started to procrastinate more by playing games on the phone or by doing random internet browsing. My attention span got chopped up into smaller pieces. I checked the phone too much while spending time with others and I started to feel addicted to doing something on the phone many times a day.

So something had to change. Here’s what I did – and a few general tips – to reduce the phone usage, minimize the negative effects and still enjoy the capabilities of this new tool. These tips can also be used if you are for example having similar problems with your computer.

Create small obstacles.

This is very simple and a boundary I have written about many times when it for example comes to eating healthier.

I set up a small obstacles to using the phone. When I sleep it is not in the bedroom with me but in drawer beneath the desk in my workspace. When I work during the day or hang out at home during the evening I keep the phone in the bedroom.

By putting up small obstacles like these I make sure that the phone is not by my side all the time and the procrastination by phone has dropped to about zero. And if someone calls or sends me a text message I will still hear it most of the time.

So if you can, prevent the easy access and what that tends to result in and put the phone somewhere where you can’t see it or where you have to get up and take a whole bunch of steps to get it.

Shut it off at a certain time each day.

I personally don’t use this for my phone but if you get a lot of calls every day then shutting it off at a certain time at the end of the workday and getting back to people tomorrow can prevent a lot of stress and inner negativity.

This is what I have noticed when using this tactic for my computer where I am writing this right now. I shut it off at seven o clock in the evening at the latest – but usually earlier that that – and it stays off until the next morning. By doing all my work on this computer and using our other computer for watching a movie for instance I draw a boundary that helps me to stick to my work schedule for about 95% of the time.

This has helped me to not become overworked and to decrease stress.

Bunch checking.

Instead of checking your Facebook, Twitter, email and other social media whenever you feel like it during the day and becoming hooked on that try bunching the checking. Try to just check all those accounts and inboxes once a day in one combined session at the end of your workday.

Or if you just use Facebook etc. for your personal life then limit it to one check a day or to checking it once just after lunch and once in the evening.

The less you check it and the later in the day you check it, the less you feel addicted to it. That has been my experience at least.

Get a life.

Of course, nowadays much of life is in the phone. We can check what friends and colleagues are up to and keep in touch and discuss things on the phone.

But the phone can also become a sort of replacement where it becomes easy to spend time instead of going out and having other experiences and being there fully. Stuff like being out in nature, playing sports or playing in a band, working towards your biggest goal, having uninterrupted conversations or a fun night out.

Simply by filling your life with a bit more fun or exciting activities, people face to face and the things you want out of life you won’t have time or as many reasons to use the phone that much anymore.

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  • Elizabeth Ann Stewart March 30, 2012, 12:33 am

    Having a smart phone can be really awesome and I’m really glad I have mine. It has honestly been more of a help than a harm. At first I was really attached to it and wasted time on it, but the longer I have had it the less time I waste on it. I do quick checks, FB status updates, etc… but it never hinders my daily life.

    I think the reason it doesn’t hinder my productivity is that I picked my apps carefully. There were online games that I would play and keep coming back to day after day that I consciously deleted because they weren’t contributing to my life. Other apps, like Audible and Pandora, have become a staple of my drive home.

  • Tajalli Rahman March 31, 2012, 6:38 am

    Your article relates to this reading we did in my Rhetoric class earlier in the semester called “Disconnected Urbanism” by Paul Goldberger. The one thing that made an imprint on my mind was when he writes “When you walk along the street and talk on a cell phone, you are not on the street sharing the communal experience of urban life. You are in some other place—someplace at the other end of your phone conversation. You are there, but you are not there.” Technology is useful to a certain point but then after it crosses that point it becomes a source of annoyance to not only the people around the user but also to the user himself. It hinders him from appreciating and relaxing on vacations if he is getting phone calls from work, when the whole purpose of the vacation was to take a break from it all. I think your blog article should be read by everyone so they can come to a realization how bad this over usage of technology has gotten and so that they can hopefully gain some self control.

  • Andrew Liongosari April 3, 2012, 12:11 pm

    This is mostly a good guide.
    But I’ve also noticed, sometimes I use my smartphone to work on my blog instead of my computer, and thus it increases my productivity, especially for shorter time periods and times when I am away from my computer. I agree, though. There’s a certain limit to the usage of our phones before it takes over our attention, and I’m trying my absolute best not to exceed it.

  • Astro Gremlin April 6, 2012, 6:00 am

    Henrik, like you, I had the same Nokia for years before I broke down and joined the 21st century. I feared the smartphone. I love games. Too much. So I simply don’t download them. I have only texted once, in reply. I do notice that some of the gizmos do help me stay organized. But I want to stay in the real world, at least when I’m not at a real, full-sized keyboard. Then, well, here I am again in virtual reality. :)

  • Fadi April 10, 2012, 1:32 pm

    Nobody is able to shut off his or her phone at certain times during the day – you need to know what’s going on around you – especially if you’re running a business or a part of a business. Even if you’re not, then you need to contact your friends and your friends need to contact you!

  • Virg. April 18, 2012, 8:22 pm

    I love your ideas! Here is a clip that I found really interesting. I wanted to share it with you all.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnwNGNOv19A&feature=related