Smartphones often get a bad rap because we access them constantly and appear completely reliant on them. But it's not the smartphone itself that's a problem. It's how you use it.
Title photo remixed with Jasmes Bowe
We've talked about this issue before. Last week we featured a guest post about moving back to a dumbphone, we've tackled smartphone addiction, and discussed with the stupidest things we all do with smartphones. But let's be realistic: most of us aren't about to give up our iPhone, Android, Windows Phone or BlackBerry. We simply need to use them better.
Better Notifications And Alerts
A few different schools of thought exist around smartphone notifications. One extreme holds that notifications are evil and should be turned off completely whenever possible. Enthusiasts point out that smarter notification systems make them a useful adjunct to your life. Where you stand largely depends on what you need from your phone (or what your workplace needs from you).
Personally, I fall into the "no notifications" camp. I don't have notifications on my phone for anything but phone calls and text messages. If you can't get hold of me during the long hours I spend in front of the computer, you're not going to get hold of me -- unless you call or send a text message. This works well for me; I'm in front of a computer for most of the day, so weekends and evenings are my time to do the exact opposite.
For people who can't ditch notifications entirely, a smarter notification system is a necessity. One way to create that is to use Pushover and IFTTT to regulate when and how you receive messages. Another is the iPhone's built-in Do Not Disturb feature. If email is your problem, using the Priority Inbox in Gmail ensures you'll only be pinged with email that really matters.
Most of us use too many notifications. If you're checking Facebook every 30 minutes, do you need notifications for it on as well? Probably not. Turn off the non-essentials and use your smartphone more productively.
Delete Time-Wasting Junk Apps
Everyone at Lifehacker suffers from some degree of app addiction. We download and try new stuff constantly, and because of that, our phones get filled with all sorts of useless junk. We've talked about beating your app addiction before by starting from scratch and building up with just what you need. Delete everything, and add what you actually use as you need it. You might be surprised by how infrequently you access the majority of your apps.
Instead of checking Facebook or Twitter or playing a game of Temple Run when you're bored, delete those apps and do something else. The "out of sight, out of mind philosophy" works brilliantly on your smartphone. Speaking as someone who plays a lot of iOS games, I evventually had to delete all of them from my iPhone and relegate them to an iPad because I found myself obsessively thinking about high scores whenever I had a little down time. Once I deleted them, I never really thought about it again. I also employed the verb system for app organisation, which meant that when I clicked on Twitter I had to go into the "Distract" folder.
Your phone is incredibly useful without multiple apps: it can still connect you to the internet, take photos and tell you where you are. Getting rid of the apps that waste your time or make you anxious makes it even more useful.
Don't Use Your Smartphone When You Don't Have To
We rely on our smartphones for many tasks. If you feel like you're growing uncomfortably attached to it, then it might be time to start weaning yourself away. I started feeling like that, which is why I decided to rely on my own memory instead of technology for a month. Since then, I've gone back to using my phone for some tasks (such as keeping notes), but I've stopped reaching for my phone every time I need to remember something.
The same applies to GPS. While it's obviously an incredibly useful service, it can stop you actually learning your area and absorbing your surroundings. We've walked through the process of weaning yourself off GPS before and it's a worthwhile experiment, even if you only try it for a couple of days.
Smartphone over-use is a curse of modern life, but the fact our phones are smart doesn't mean we have to be stupid. Part of what makes smartphones "smart" is that we can tailor them to fit our needs. Use your phone; don't let it use you.