Boss Lady

How changing my phone changed my life


I used to be a smart phone addict. It was my clutch for any situation where (god forbid) I might be bored. I would pull out my smart phone when standing in line for a coffee. I would pull it out when having dinner with my husband or a friend and they left for a few minutes to go to the toilet. It would be the first thing I would check when I woke up in the morning and when I would go to bed at night. I would even check emails or scroll through Instagram when I brushed my teeth.

I was like this for many years. Thousands and thousands of hours were sunk into scrolling through my Instagram and Facebook feeds. Hours that I will never, ever be able to get back.

Even more hours were spent checking my emails incessantly. Who knows what piece of exciting or interesting news awaited me in my inbox?

On my way to work every day, I would occasionally glance up and look at my fellow travellers on the train. Every one of them too was on their phone. Failing to engage with the outside world and instead, being hunched over this tiny little device, reading, scrolling, or texting.

If you are like the average smart phone user, you are on your phone for about four hours per day. While some smart phone use can be helpful in not getting lost, answering phone calls, and booking things like cars and appointments, other uses are pretty much time wasters. For example, research collated by MediaKix suggests that around half of our phone time – nearly two hours – is spent on the top five social media platforms (Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter).

Over the course of the year translates to 30 full days – that is, one whole month – spent watching, reading and clicking on things that probably are not significantly improving your life. In fact, it might actually be having the opposite effect. A review of studies published about cell phone addiction suggests heavy usage is associated with a tonne of unfortunate things, such as lower self-image and self-esteem, neuroticism, not to mention higher levels of anxiety and stress and poor sleep.

To deal with my own smart phone addiction, three things have made the biggest impact.

1. Reserve your home screen for functional apps.

If Facebook, Instagram and Candy Crush litter your home screen, you are going to have to use a lot of willpower in keeping a healthy relationship with your phone. For me, when I did a clean-up of my home screen and replaced addictive apps with productive ones, my behaviour changed literally overnight.

My home screen now has only functional apps, such as Google Maps, Uber, Calculator, and MindBody. Apps that I previously found addictive or used purely for entertainment are now either deleted or relegated to folders that are hidden from my home screen.

2. Go grayscale.

Smart phone applications are generally very bright and exciting, not dissimilar to slot machines in Las Vegas. To help make your phone less enticing, switch your phone to grayscale. You can check out this amusing video from The Atlantic about how to make it happen. As senior editor James Hamblin says, “Instagram, when everything is in grayscale, looks pretty awful”.

I found that when I went grayscale, using my smart phone became about as fun as using a calculator.

3. Invest in a light phone

If the temptation is all too much, you might want to invest in one of these gadgets. The Light Phone was originally launched in 2015 via a Kickstarter campaign and raised over $400,000. In 2018, the Light Phone 2 raised $1,719,714 on Indigogo.

The Light Phone is a purely functional phone (remember those?). It is black and white and allows you to make and receive calls, along with a few other pieces of basic functionality. So if you are struggling with a smart phone addiction, getting hold of a Light Phone is like going cold turkey.

While breaking any addiction is hard, conquering your smart phone addiction will result in gaining several more hours back to every single day – and what is a better pay off than the gift of time?

About Dr Amantha Imber

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful innovators. Sign up to be part of Amantha’s Year of Better, a quest to become more productive, creative, happier, and an all-round better person through a year's worth of experiments.

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