It’s no secret that millions, if not billions of people, use phones (and tablets and laptops) too much these days. Short of throwing out your smartphone and buying a flip phone (which I did last year for two weeks!) there’s seemingly not much that can be done to limit phone use. I felt unsatisfied, stuck between two bad options: flip phone or 3+ hours a day of phone usage. So, over the past 6 months, I used the following seven methods to easily and effectively cut down phone usage.
7. Setting Limits Using Parental Controls
One of the first things I started out doing when I wanted to reduce my phone usage. You can actually set daily limits for apps! Read this for Apple devices and this for Android devices. These guides will help teach you how to set up limits for devices. I currently do not use these, as I don’t have any apps on my phone, but before I decided to delete everything I certainly had these limits enabled.
The caveat with these is as easy as they are to set up, they are easy to remove. Maybe this works for you, and I’m sure it works for a lot of people, but unfortunately it didn’t do the job for me.
6. Uninstall Apps and use Safari
Deleting the Amazon app, the Instagram app, and the Facebook app just to use all three in safari seems kind of silly. After all, what difference will it make?
Well, the developers at these companies are very expensive to hire and train. UC Berkeley computer scientists make, on average, around $110,000 per year out of college. Great for the new grad, tough for the company. Since this is a limited resource, companies will often dedicate a team to work on the desktop website, and the mobile application. Not often are there dedicated teams specifically for the mobile web, which is what you are using if you use Safari.
All that just to say that most apps, when used through Safari, are different. There’s no infinite scrolling, ads are less common, features are often limited/nonexistant, and the experience in general is simpler.
This was great, especially considering the goal of reducing phone usage. I found myself using certain platforms less on a web browser than I did with the app. I would still check Instagram often, but the amount of time I spent on the apps decreased.
5. Set Content Filters
Content filters are another set of filters, very similar to app limits. This resource by Apple, and this by Microsoft help guide you to setting these filters. Great for keeping kids from the unsavory parts of the internet, I personally use content filters on my laptop to disable social media and pretty much anything else that I don’t want to use.
These are also easy to disable, but I can set a password, which requires at least a moment to pause and reconsider before disabling the filtering.
Greyscale is a defense concept I learned about after discovering corporations use color to influence the mood of users. Colors are commonly associated with emotions, and while everything on screen is not really there, your mind is actively influenced by color each time you look at a screen.
User Interface and User Design Engineers regularly manipulate colors associated with driving more revenue, interaction, and preferred user behavior. To defend against this, head to this wikihow article to learn how to turn your entire screen into black-and-white.
I did this during finals week last semester. It certainly cut the joy out of watching flashy, colorful content on youtube and social media. There’s typically nothing critical that cannot be seen without color, and it’s very easy to re-enable when looking at photos or designing images for a blog.
3. Delete Your Accounts
Ultimately, wherever you log in to check social media, entertainment, or pretty much anything online it will be personalized. Amazon, for example, knows you so well that 35% of their sales revenue comes from recommendations. Google, TikTok, Facebook, etc. all use advanced engineering techniques to tailor-make your internet experience as uniquely addicting as possible.
“Are Google Search Results the Same for Everyone?” The simple answers is no. Google search results are different on different computers. There are many factors that affect the Google search results you see.
This was the critical issue I was having with my internet usage. Everything I logged into was designed to be perfect for keeping me online. By deleting your account, social media websites become the generic globs that are full of uninteresting and useless content.
Deleting accounts also serves as a reminder to stay away. There’s no re-downloading everything, and there’s no going back. After deleting multiple key accounts, I feel much more free.
2. Disable Non-Core Features
Ultimately, unless you have super strong, perpetually-unwavering self-control, you will begin to increase your phone usage again. Remember, extremely educated mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists go to work each and every day to keep you on your phone buying things and watching ads. With this in mind, I recommend deleting everything from your phone excluding texts, camera, phone, and maps. Everything else, from Safari to Mail (deleting mail?? have you lost your mind?? No I have not. I check it once per day in the morning on my laptop, not the 25 times you do) is OPTIONAL. You really, truly don’t need these apps.
1. Keep Devices Out Of The Bedroom
It’s sweet, it’s simple. This is probably my favorite. I keep my phone out of the bedroom every night, and instead wake up by an old fashioned alarm clock. Not only does this help me eliminate bedtime phone usage, which is linked not only to reduced sleep quality, leaving hundreds of millions to wake up saying “damn. I’m exhausted” instead of, you know, awake in the morning. Keeping the phone out of the bedroom prevents morning time usage, which is actually where most of my phone time used to go. If you’re falling asleep using your phone, and the first thing you do before brushing your teeth is check up on social media, you may want to reconsider your choices.
Ultimately, it took all of these PLUS deleting my social media accounts to get my screen time down to a level I’m happy with. It’s been worth it. Like I said in a previous article, I’ve been spending much more time pursuing things I want: cooking, working out, bike rides, reading, spending time with those I care about. Sure, some may disagree and call this all unnecessary but this has been my experience. I recommend you give it a try, you can read more about the benefits of my phone-reduced experience here.
None of these things will permanently block you from phone usage. I mean, you probably saw this article posted on my Instagram story, right? The reason why I go through such effort to limit my phone and laptop isn’t to completely permanently cut myself off from the digital world, but to significantly boil down all the wasted time to a few critical minutes. That way, I can spend almost all of my time outside in the world or inside being creative/actually relaxing/learning something.
It’s not so much about completely disconnecting, but setting healthy boundaries. Sometimes, in the case of deleting snapchat and deleting all shopping apps from my phone, hard lines must be drawn. Other times, occasionally downloading Instagram to post on my story or see a cousin get engaged is alright. I’m down to around 15-30 minutes of social media per MONTH with my newly found system, and that to me is ok.