Dear Lifehacker, Ever since I got a smartphone, I'm using it constantly. It dings, I respond. It entertains me in the car, in the shower, and even when I'm actually with other people. I feel like I'm extremely connected with technology and disconnected from reality. What can I do to use my phone without acting like an addict? Sincerely, Plugged Out
About three years ago I had a reputation for wearing my iPod headphones like jewellery. If not in my ears, they were draped around my neck for the next opportunity to plug in and listen to something. I chose this rather than actually interacting with people when at the supermarket or out in public without friends. I'd also check my phone whenever I felt like it, letting beeps and buzzes dictate interruptions in conversations, activities and thought.
Outline Your Smartphone Usage Rules
When I realised this was a problem, I put together a bunch of rules about how, when and where I use my phone. Doing this helped me a lot, and it might help you too. Here's what my list looks like:
- No phone usage at social events unless you really need to call someone, you're looking up information as a group activity (e.g. who was that actor in that movie or how do we get to the restaurant?), you're sharing something on the phone with the people you're with, or you're responding to an expected event (for instance, your meter is running out and a timer went off).
- No answering calls or text messages on a date unless you're expecting an emergency call or the calls will not stop coming.
- You can only use the phone at stoplights, and only to check directions or change music.
- No smartphone usage during short-term interactions (such as at the check-out at the supermarket).
I don't always follow these rules to perfection, but I remind myself of them if a relevant situation is coming up, and that helps me adhere to them most of the time.
When you're making your list of rules, you need to consider your goals. Why do you want to stop using your phone all the time? When is using your phone the most problematic? When does constant phone use upset people, or at least seem to upset people? Answering these questions should help you formulate a list that works for you. When you've got your list, just recite them in your mind before you go into any relevant situation. This may seem kind of silly, but it helps remind you of your goals. Putting the rules in your mind ahead of time will bring them right back to the forefront of your thoughts if you try to break them.
Set Custom Alert Profiles for Fewer Distractions
Another great way to turn off your phone is to have a mode you can set that will turn off all alerts. This way you won't be tempted to play with your phone. I just set my phone's vibrate mode to go completely silent unless an alarm goes off, because that's the easiest route — I just have to flick a switch. You can always create custom alert profiles on your phone and switch them manually.
Having multiple profiles may actually work better in some cases as you may want to be informed about some things and not others. This is a really great way to customise what's going to distract you and what won't. If your smartphone supports customisable vibration patterns, you can set those to help you better identify your alerts. If you are in a situation where you're waiting for something important, you'll know what to ignore and what to check.
Lock Your Phone with a Long, Difficult Password
Passwords are meant to keep other people out of your phone, but if you find that you're breaking your rules too often and need a little extra help, then a password can do the trick. I never needed this, but I hate entering even a short password on my phone, so I decided that if I ever needed to keep myself out I'd just set a long one. Come up with a password you can actually remember that takes a while to type. Make it 20 characters long and include numbers and symbols. Entering it will take a while and you'll get frustrated. That frustration should keep you off your phone and train you to just ignore it unless you really do need to use it.
Don't Expect Immediate Change
Finally, don't expect things to change overnight. Even though being addicted to using a phone is kind of a silly first-world problem, it's an issue many smartphone owners have. The devices are entertaining and they have alert systems that train us to instantly respond. Because there's no real education on the proper use of these things, we just do what the devices tell us to do and don't think too much about the consequences. Even if you didn't have a mild-to-extreme smartphone addiction, the right goal is to train yourself to use your mobile responsibly and as the tool it is. It's primary purpose is to connect you with people, so you never want to forget to do that when people are around you.
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