How I Broke Up With My Phone and Why You Should Too

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

Work for two minutes. Check phone. Work a bit. Check phone. Try to get back into work, but you’re interrupted by a  ping from your cell phone. It’s just a notification to tell you a new episode of your favorite podcast has been released, but now that you’re holding your phone it seems like a great time to check Instagram. Just for a minute. You sit up fifteen minutes later wondering where the time went. You try to get back into work, but your focus is totally shattered…

I think its safe to say that most people with a smartphone know what I’m talking about. Even if you’re better about paying attention to your work than I am (or you have a boss hanging over your shoulder), you probably still feel the pull to check your phone more frequently than you really need to.

I, of course, feel I have a good reason for my phone addiction. I came by it honestly chatting to my future husband on Facebook for three years. But over the years it became harder and harder to separate my interest in messages from Nic and all the other notifications, beeps, and updates Facebook and its friends had to offer.

While I could sort of ignore the phone issue when Nic and I were apart, now that we live together it’s starkly apparent. We both still check our phones a little obsessively. We’re together, but we’re still looking for that dopamine-buzz of excitement we were trained to expect from the app. Don’t get me wrong, we find each other very interesting, but there’s something about the phone itself which still has a hold on us.

Losing the Flow State

I began to be sure this was a problem some time ago when I thought about my working patterns and compared how I work now versus what it was like before I got my hands on a shiny iPhone.

I remember being able to work long stretches of time and it wasn’t uncommon for me to be able to produce 6,000 words in a sitting for the sheer joy of it. Recently, I noticed how more and more distracted I’ve become, how frequently I take a break from my work to pointlessly check my phone. And how every time I do that it takes me longer and longer to get back into the flow of whatever I’ve been working on.

For all that I’ve managed to write a respectable number of words and produce some work that I’m very pleased with, I can count on one hand the times I feel I’ve been really in that “flow state” of consciousness where we do our best work. It’s something I remember from long ago rather than being something I’ve experienced a lot recently.

Maybe you’ve never heard of “the Flow State” before, but I’m quite sure you’ve experienced it. Catherine Price who wrote How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life describes it as “the feeling you get when you’re completely and totally engaged in an experience….When you’re in flow, you’re so present in the moment that you feel as if you’re outside of time.” Anyone who has ever started an important and engaging project only to look up hours later and wonder where the time has gone knows what I’m talking about.

But notice the key elements there? You have to be focused to be in flow. You can’t be focused while checking your phone every two minutes. For me, my phone had become more rewarding than my work

Flow: the feeling you get when you’re completely and totally engaged in an experience….When you’re in flow, you’re so present in the moment that you feel as if you’re outside of time.

Losing More than Creativity

Other concerning symptoms included: the feeling that I didn’t have time to read books, clean my house,* talk to my husband, or exercise regularly. All things I actually think are terribly important to the quality of my life.

*Let’s not get into whether my messy house is because of my phone or a reflection of my actual housekeeping abilities, Okay? Right now, we’re blaming the phone.

To be fair, it’s true. I didn’t have time for those things…

…because I was losing about five hours a day staring at my phone.

I hated it. We only have so much time given us in this life and I want to spend mine creating and experiencing the world, not scrolling mindlessly through other peoples’ news feeds.

The Breakup

I tried a lot of things to change my habits on my own. I tried putting my phone in a drawer on the other side of the house. I tried silencing it, but then I only checked it more in case a notification had come through while I was ignoring it. I even tried a whole variety of blockers and trackers that claimed they would motivate you to quit your smartphone. But it usually wasn’t long before I found myself unblocking them so I could use the navigation feature or some other utility and just never the blocks back on. This always resulted in loads of guilt and distress. Why couldn’t I just make myself give it up and go back to being a productive creative?

Find it here.

Ironically, I first read about the book How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back your Life on Instagram. I don’t remember who’s feed it was in, but only that it flashed by and caught my attention. I read the description of the book and was interested in how the author seemed to understand what I was feeling. Quitting cold turkey hadn’t worked for me and she knew the reasons why.

Price’s book uses mindfulness techniques and a slow progression (30-days of baby steps) to help you gently detach from your phone and reevaluate how you want to be spending your time. She’s not saying to never use your phone again, just suggesting you take a break like you might from a potentially toxic relationship. I enjoyed thinking of it as a “cleanse.”

While I can’t claim my life is totally different, I’m a new person, and I never touch my phone except to make important phone calls, I have cut way, WAY down on my unnecessary phone time. More importantly, I’ve gained a few more hours back into each day and that has made a huge difference in how motivated I feel about my work and how happy I am with my life.

I’ve even taken to cleaning my kitchen now and then.

*takes a bow*

Take Away Tips

To sum up, A lot of what the author talks about is how much money and energy advertisers and phone designers put into making sure we spend as much time as possible on our phones. If you ever wondered why Instagram and Facebook are free to use, its because you’re not actually the user, you’re the product being sold. Advertisers paid good money for your time and information, now the only way they are going to turn a profit is to make sure you look at their ads as frequently and for as long as possible. Eeeep.

While her book is full of helpful advice and interesting information about the brain hacking that goes into making sure you stay hooked on your apps, these were the things that I found most immediately helpful for breaking my own cycle of smartphone use:

  1. Install a time tracker like Moment so you can see how much time you’re really spending on your phone.
  2. Remove your pretty phone wallpaper (remember, the goal is to make it less fun to look at).
  3. Put your phone in greyscale. You’ll notice the colors in the world around you a little more. It’s nice when your phone isn’t the prettiest thing in your environment.
  4. Turn off notifications for everything except phone calls and text messages, and maybe reminders and calendar updates. Don’t let your phone interrupt you more than necessary.
  5. Delete some or all of the social media off your phone. You can still check it on your computer.
  6. Reorganize your apps so a beneficial few are on the first page and all the ones that might tempt you to overuse them are hidden away in files at the end.
  7. Schedule your free time. It may sound counterintuitive, but to form better phone habits you don’t only need to stop using your phone so much, but also have good things to fill the time you would otherwise have spent on your phone. What hobbies did you used to have time for that you don’t now?

While I know you might initially be resistant to an idea like removing the social media from your phone, it doesn’t have to be forever. Even if you aren’t ready to spring for the book, I suggest you try some of the tips and see if they make a difference in your phone use and give you a little more time back in your day.

If you’ve never tried a social media or phone cleanse, I challenge you to try it now and see if your life is better for it.

Tell me in the comments, are you addicted to your smartphone? What would you do with that extra time if you had it back? Do you have any great tips for staying focused?


One Reply to “How I Broke Up With My Phone and Why You Should Too”

  1. I chose to never put apps or FB or even my email on my phone. Reading this made me glad for my decision. Of course much of the insight regarding distraction from internet prowling can still be applied to my sitting down to my computer. Fortunately the computer is stationary, so if I go out to the garden, or take a walk or get involved in the kitchen, there won’t be any external prompting coming to me. I could still monitor my own promptings better though!

    I am excited for you that you have recognized the dilemma of being over connected. This was a generous and well written essay that surely should help other pilgrims who wander in and identify for themselves how much the many “as if” experiences cost us in significant realms of living.

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