- Studies have shown that spending too much time on your phone is bad for your focus and mental health.
- As 2018 kicks off, there are some easy ways to build better digital habits.
- Try turning off notifications, kicking your phone out of your bedroom and even turning on grayscale.
I spend way too much time on my phone, and you probably do too.
"Most people check their phone every 15 minutes or less, even if they have no alerts or notifications," Larry Rosen, psychology professor and author of The Distracted Mind, tells CNBC. "We've built up this layer of anxiety surrounding our use of technology, that if we don't check in as often as we think we should, we're missing out."
Rosen's research has shown that besides increasing anxiousness, the compulsion to check notifications and feeds interferes with people's ability to focus.
Besides the wasted time, there's also the psychological grind that comes from spending too much time on your phone. Several studies have shown social media can be bad for your mental health, and Facebook admitted last year that passive use of its social network can leave people in negative moods. Researchers are still trying to figure out what long-term effects channeling so much time and energy into our devices will cause.
Some large investors are even pressing Apple to develop new tools to help users curb their phone addictions, saying that a feeling of dependency is bad for the company's long-term health.
Fortunately, you don't have to wait for Apple -- you can simply become more deliberate about how you use your phone. If you're craving more concrete steps to tone down your usage than simply, "I'll go on Facebook less," or "I won't check Snapchat during work," here are some simple tips to help reprogram your behavior:
Keep yourself on a schedule
The most basic step that Rosen suggests for weaning yourself off your phone is literally setting alarms specifying how often you can check it. Start with every 15 minutes, then move to every half hour, every 45 minutes, or every hour. When your alarm sounds, spend one minute going through any and all notifications and then reset the timer.
To reduce response-anxiety and hold yourself accountable, Rosen suggests telling close friends or family that you may not be responding to their messages as quickly as you used to.
Turn off as many push notifications as possible
You don't have to be interrupted by every "like" that your latest Instagram picture receives or with the message that your favorite podcast just released a new episode.
An incredibly simple way to cut down on distractions is to turn off push notifications for as many apps as you can. Just head to Settings > Notifications to control your preferences. Personally, I only left notifications on for email, chat app messages, my calendars, and utility apps such as Lyft or GetAround, which only activate when I'm using them.
Take distracting apps off your home screen
"A lot of [phone usage] is unconscious behavior," according to Rosen. "You shift from Facebook to Instagram, to checking the weather, to texts."
But if you have to specifically seek out an app to use it, you'll cut down on the "accidental" time-sucks that happen when you just start tapping around on your phone.
Keep the apps that you want to encourage yourself to use — like those for reading or learning a new language — front and center, but banish anything that you want to limit your time with to folders on your second page of apps (or if you have an Android phone, off the screen entirely).
To go a step further, you could even delete certain apps such as Facebook or Twitter entirely and relegate your usage to your smartphone's web browser.
Kick your device out of bed
Don't let your phone be the last thing you see at night and the first thing you check in the morning. By using a regular alarm clock and charging your phone out of reach, you won't be tempted to start your day by getting vortexed into an avalanche of messages and updates.
If you have a smart speaker, put it to use
One of the most valuable things about smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo or Google's Home products is that they help you live a more screen-free life.
Since I got one, I've stopped turning on music or podcasts on my phone and will try to answer all basic questions via voice. Generally, using my smart speaker for as many things as possible has kept my smartphone out of my hands for longer periods.
Try turning on your phone's grayscale
One of the most jarring ways to curb the time you spend on your smartphone is to make its screen much less desirable to look at.
Time Well Spent, a nonprofit focused on changing our relationships to technology, recommends switching your phone to grayscale to remove the "shiny rewards" that colorful icons give you every time you unlock.
I found this trick incredibly effective for keeping me off apps such as Facebook and Instagram, though I did end up turning it off several times when I needed to use Maps or take photos.
You can turn on grayscale by digging around in the "Accessibility" category of your phone's settings. On an iPhone, find "Display Accommodations" and then turn on "Color Filters." On a Samsung device, find "Vision" and then scroll down to "Grayscale."
Want to judge your progress?
Consider installing an app that tracks your smartphone habits, like QualityTime or Moment, so that you can set a specific usage goal and see how well you stick to it.
Since cutting down on my phone usage is one of my own resolutions, here's what my home screen looked like before versus how it looks now: