How to Break Your Smartphone Addiction (Without Giving Up Your Device)

When was the last time you intentionally left your smartphone at home? You probably don’t remember; I certainly don’t.

If you’re anything like the average American, you check your phone once every 12 minutes (or about 80 times a day), both for work and play. Don’t know the answer to a question? Google it. Got a work email after hours? Answer it now so you don’t have to worry about it tomorrow morning. Bored on the train? Play a game or watch a YouTube video. Want to know where your friends are? Pull up social media and find out.

We’ve become so used to having the world’s knowledge at our fingertips that we feel lost when we’re not using our mobile devices.

A while ago, I downloaded the Moment app to track my phone usage. On the first full day I used it, I had checked my phone 73 separate times for a total of 2 hours and 21 minutes of use, most of which occurred before and after I left the office. That’s 141 minutes glued to my phone; 141 minutes that I could have been reading a book, working on a craft, or going for a walk. But instead, I was distracted by emails, Instagram posts and black holes of random “related articles.” It’s a habit, and like any other habit, it can be unlearned and eventually broken.

While I am making a conscious effort to use my phone less and be more present and aware of my surroundings, I admit that sometimes I need a little help. Here are a few tricks that have helped me cut down on the impulse to constantly pick up my phone.

Turn off all email and social media notifications. 

I’m one of those people who needs to look at a notification as soon as it pops up. I need to know what was texted, emailed, retweeted, or liked. And that was a huge factor in how often I checked my phone.

For the last year or so, I’ve intentionally turned off notifications on email and social media. It sounds crazy, I know. But I make a point to check these apps a few times each throughout the day so I don’t miss anything. And you know what? It doesn’t take me that long to catch up. It’s rare that something is so important that it can’t wait until I have a few minutes here or there to look at it.

If something is truly urgent, my boss, coworkers, and freelance clients all have my phone number — they can call or text me, and I’ll know it’s something that requires my immediate attention.

Can’t bear to turn off email notifications altogether? Apps like BoomerangSaneBox and Inbox Pause help you filter and regulate your inbox better by controlling when messages come in.

Take advantage of airplane/do not disturb mode. 

Mobile devices allow you to set them to “airplane mode,” which blocks all incoming and outgoing data. If you don’t use this setting in everyday life (i.e. when you’re not on an airplane), you’re missing a valuable opportunity to enjoy a short stretch of notification-free time.

On occasions when you want to truly be present — family dinner, date night, the kids’ soccer game — just switch airplane mode on and put up a digital barrier. This is also useful when you’re trying to sleep and don’t want to be woken up by any random texts or emails you may get in the middle of the night.

Leave your phone in another room or face down.

Want a really easy way to stop obsessing over your notifications? Just don’t look at your screen.

When I work from home, I try to leave my phone on my nightstand or in my kitchen, away from my desk so I don’t get distracted throughout the workday. If I know I’m expecting a call, I’ll have it next to me, but facing down so I don’t see the screen light up with any other notifications that may come through.

Keeping your phone face down is a really good habit to get into when you’re with other people, too. You don’t want to be that rude friend who keeps texting other people when you’re trying to catch up over coffee, or that distracted person in a meeting who’s clearly not paying attention.

Acknowledge your “boredom” phone use. 

When there’s a legitimate reason to check your phone — an important email or text from a good friend, for instance — and it won’t interrupt something else that requires your full attention (especially driving!), go ahead, open up that notification. But it’s the times when you check your phone out of boredom, simply to scroll through Instagram photos and tweets or stalk a high school acquaintance’s Facebook profile, that really detract from living in the moment.

If you feel yourself itching to light up that home screen when there’s no notification waiting for you, take a minute and ask yourself why you want to check your phone. And if there’s no good reason, don’t do it. Find something else to do for a few minutes — fold laundry, pick up a magazine, clean out your fridge, etc. If you can learn to be comfortable with periods of mental silence, without a digital distraction, you might just break that compulsive need to look at your phone.

Image credit: Negative Space/