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

by Henrik Edberg


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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{ 33 comments }

Ben Holt March 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Good techniques! I’ve been doing each of those, plus two more, and it makes a big, big difference. The other techniques I have?

1) I try to avoid texting and other instant messaging services with people who are significant in my life. If my wife or a good friend texts me, I’m likely to call them back. This lets me focus my attention on them for a few minutes, then I can get back to what I’m doing without distraction or guilt.

2) I have a “dumb” phone for calls and texts and an iPod Touch for all the other smartphone functionality. This lets me segregate a bit more, creating another small obstacle. If I want to take a break from email, Twitter, and Facebook, I leave my iPod behind. Vice versa if I want to avoid calls and texts.

Regardless of your personal way of handling this, the important point is to be the master of your gadgets, and not the other way around!

Erik D. Kennedy March 24, 2012 at 5:46 am

Personally, I keep a dumbphone precisely because I don’t want to be tempted with facebook and e-mail non-stop. As each of my friends got smartphones, they went from COMPLAINING about those who never paid attention in conversations to BEING those who never paid attention in conversations.

Here’s a few tricks to deal with not have a smartphone:

1.) Put your e-mail address in your address book– and then whenever you remember something to do or look up later, just text it to your e-mail

2.) When you need directions, ask a person (bold, I know)

3.) If you really need to see something online immediately, ask someone you’re with to use their smartphone

That has worked astoundingly well for me. I work at a large tech company that gave out smartphones to all employees, so I’m a bit in the minority with my opinions… Follow with caution ;)

Henrik Edberg March 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm

That’s some good additional tips from the both of you, thank you for adding them! :)

kay March 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm

i found this article interesting i think the people who are most likely to get addicted are the ones who have nothing going on in there life for whatever reason if it be for health reasons , unemployment , or redundancy. Its a big problem which isnt being addressed properly these medias are becoming more common in the workplace as a way of communicating and transporting documented information. Its worrying especially when you consider that stress is a number one killer in the workplace.

Henrik Edberg March 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Thank you for the kind words and for adding your thoughtful comment!

the Self Help Hipster March 22, 2012 at 8:16 pm

This is a really good article. I love my phone, iPad and laptop, but I hate re-opening Twitter&my mailbox twelve times a day and browsing 9gag just because I can. The barrier and bunch tips are awesome, and shut it off and live your life are even better. Thanks for this!

Henrik Edberg March 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Thank you very much, glad you found the article helpful!

Kathleen D. Tresemer March 22, 2012 at 9:21 pm

We all need a reminder that technology is not LIFE! Thanks for telling us to get out and live once in awhile.

Henrik Edberg March 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm

You’re very welcome!

Lucy March 22, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I can sooo relate to what you’re saying. great tips. I will try to implement them into my daily life ASAP. I compltely agree when you said that sometimes our phones can or may seem to replace spending actual time with people.

Henrik Edberg March 26, 2012 at 2:11 pm

That’s great to hear, I hope they will help you as much as they have helped me.

kiapop March 23, 2012 at 1:37 am

Excellent post dear friend:) the ironic thing is I’m musing my smart phone to read this post:)
I absolutely agree that smart phones are very helpful but most certainly are stressful and can become addictive. Sometimes I just take out the battery to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet. . I think a great practice would be to switch it off before bed or even earlier. Thank you kindly for providing us with tips. Kind regards, kay

Henrik Edberg March 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Thanks! :) Good tip about sometimes taking out the battery, that habit could bring quite bit of daily peace into one’s life.

Elle March 23, 2012 at 2:48 am

very true.

Julie March 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Thanks so much for an insightful post and tools we can use daily. Blessings to you!

Franklin Chen March 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm

This is such a timely post, because I just bought my first smartphone as a result of my 5-year-old dumbphone dying on Tuesday. Since I am observing, starting tonight, the National Day of Unplugging, I wrote a blog post about this amusing coincidence: http://franklinchen.com/blog/2012/03/22/paradox-i-will-observe-the-national-day-of-unplugging-but-just-bought-my-first-smartphone-this-week/

Jahangir March 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Very true, I don’t have any smartphone (have normal mobile phone) but I also try to not use it much because it is not good to use these gadgets a lot. It is harmful for your eyes too.

Noch Noch | be me. be natural. March 26, 2012 at 2:46 pm

argh – there’s one friend, who is ALWAYS on her phone when we have dinner together. i might as well not see her in person
thanks for the tips
Noch Noch

Galen Pearl March 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm

So true. My daughters have smart phones, and it is handy to have all that information at your fingertips, but then they get so anxious if they are away from their phones! I have a cell phone, but it is not a smart one–just a functional one. The computer is more of the type of distraction you describe. I do get stressed sometimes, and I just have to turn it off. I just got back from a weekend at my cabin in the mountains–no cell phone or internet service there. Heaven!

PS–I meant to add that I laughed out loud at your last bit of advice–get a life! That was great.

Lindsay March 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm

This post hit the nail on the head! That said, my favorite tip of yours was “get a life.” I used to be attached at the hip (at the thumb?!) with my iPhone, however after experiencing an evening with a friend who was even MORE obsessed with her smartphone, I realized that I couldn’t call her out on it as I would then be a hypocrite.

Let’s just say my phone habits have changed DRASTICALLY since then. Oh, and I also now have a life outside of “texting-ville.” Three words: so much better!

Tathata March 27, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I have avoided getting a smart phone… and I’m glad I have for the most part. I don’t believe I’d ever want a job that required me to have my e-mail…etc. at my finger tips 24/7, and if I ever need internet access when I’m not near a computer, I just call up a friend or family member who probably is to get the information I need.

Ani March 27, 2012 at 9:03 pm

I have a poem about the technological innovations and their negative effect :) Your post reminded me about it. http://www.lifeprobabilities.com/2008/10/29/sophisticated-miscommunication/

As to me, having worked for almost 3 years in telecom sector I absolutely hate ringing mobiles :)

Erika Awakening March 27, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Thanks for this article, Henrik. Thought-provoking, and I do sometimes “take a break” from my iPhone by leaving it somewhere inaccessible.

That said, there is another approach to this. I actually run a lot of my internet-based business through my iPhone. A lot of my outreach is via Facebook, and the new Facebook app lets me easily update statuses and post links to my websites. I get notifications of new customer payments in my email, and emails from my clients and customers. Basically, I use it as a tool to INCREASE my productivity. (Of course, I don’t play games or any other “time wasters” on my iPhone.)

So for me, the iPhone gives me the freedom to travel to seminars where I’m speaking, go skiing, and whatever else I might like while still staying connected with my business and making money. Just a different perspective on it.

Happy Birthday by the way! :)

Elaine Enlightening March 28, 2012 at 10:23 pm

I love these ideas and I plan to implement them immediately. I thought I was pretty good about not overusing my phone, but when I read your article I realized that I do let it distract me way too much. Thank you.

Anonymous March 28, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Hi Henrik,
I found this article interesting as well. However, unlike some other people, I don’t think the people who are most likely to get addicted are the ones who have nothing going on in there life. Especially, in today’s environment, in my business I know what kind of blessing a smartphone brings. Social Media is another blessing especially if you are in the business of dealing with people, coaching people, motivating them and working with them personally. It is hard to switch off the phone.
I don’t see the phone is the object of the trouble here. It is the mind that is not disciplined enough that indulges with one’s happiness on a daily basis.
Yet, I appreciate the way you handle your priorities by your methods where your phone is not your priority :-) Nice post!

Ruttianna A March 29, 2012 at 12:00 am

This is a great tips,tech taking over precious hours from users is common this days.we have to face it

Richard Channer March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am

Absolutely Brilliant.

Elizabeth Ann Stewart March 30, 2012 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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

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