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“The key to living well in a high tech world is to spend much less time using technology.” – Professor Cal Newport
Remember the time without the internet on your mobile device and without constantly scrolling through social media? What you used to do without it in your leisure time? Getting nostalgic here? Yeah, I miss that time too!
After decluttering my home and my calendar, there was one thing that held me back from living more efficient, productive, and content – my smartphone. Specifically, what was in it that persistently kept distracting me. So, I decided to take a deeper look into its reasons to gain more screen time freedom and learned that digital minimalism is the solution.
The beauty side of technology
One of technology’s prestige creations is, without a doubt, the smartphone. It has changed our lives for the better so rapidly in unimaginable ways. It’s one of human’s most versatile tool that enables us to connect, communicate, navigate, research, work, share personal and business data, photograph, play, entertain, create and much more. Amazing functions available at our fingertips and all the time.
But where did we go wrong?
All those benefits have simultaneously developed huge downsides. With constantly-improving internet speed and spreading social media platforms, smartphone addiction has grown to a significant health and development issue. At the start of 2020, more than 4.5 billion people are using the internet – that is around 57% of the world population. While this has its tremendous upsides, it becomes a problem if you use it to procrastinate, numb out, or run from problems. Plus, overusing and misusing our infinite access to the outrage of convenient functions can get dangerous. Today our smartphones enslave us and diminish the quality of our lives.
As a consequence, depression rates, concentration problems, and anxiety have increased staggeringly. Every day millions of us grant our smartphones a bit more control over our lives and our attention span is lower than ever.
What went wrong? When did Steve Job’s original vision of combining a phone and an iPod to a phenomenal smartphone that solves problems shift to a device that we look at all the time?
Professor Cal Newport, Author of Digital Minimalism, links the problem to the years between 2010 and 2012 when social media was specifically re-engineered to induce people to look at their screen more often. He says, companies fight for your attention using intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval. This is the reason why you can’t stop checking your phone. A new addiction was born and has relentlessly made its way to the most vulnerable age group.
To me, it was pretty alarming when I realized that I spent more time looking at my phone than into my wife’s eyes. Scrolling through social media feeds back and forth, what a waste of time! I knew I had to change my habits. After all, I want to be a good example for my future kids. So I challenged myself by drastically reducing my smartphone usage for 30 days.
Getting rid of my bad phone habits
✖ Checking my phone first thing after waking up.
✖ Checking it during all meals.
✖ Taking it everywhere, even to the toilet and the bathroom.
✖ Checking it every 10 to 15 minutes, with or without hearing any notification sound.
✖ Getting anxious and hastily reaching for the phone whenever I heard a notification sound.
✖ Googling something but ending up scrolling through the Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Whatsapp, or Pinterest feed.
✖ Checking it while having a face-to-face conversation.
✖ Checking it while waiting for someone or something.
✖ Checking it while watching TV, listening to a podcast, reading a book, training, or resting on my hammock.
✖ Looking at it while walking.
✖ Worst of all: checking it while driving.
✖ The last thing I’d see before sleeping was, you guessed it, my iPhone.
➜ If you can relate to any of this, consider it a necessity for significant change! But not just a simple digital detox because this implies that you can go back to your old habits once the detoxing is over. Let’s aim for a long-term solution! Ask yourself what you can declutter and how you can use technology wisely for you to help get a better perspective of which technologies you really require.
According to the built-in screen time capturer on my iPhone, I used to look at it 2:32h per day with an average time of 1:30h on social media alone. My overall social media time including my other devices (laptop, desktop, Apple TV) would be at least 2:30 hours, almost 18 hours a week in total. As a minimalist, I decided to reduce this once and for all. Time for digital decluttering! So, here are some really simple tricks that helped me reduce my screen time.
5 things I changed to escape my smartphone addiction
First, I thought of switching to a simpler phone but I wanted to challenge myself. After all, constantly staring on the meaningless glow of my screen is just another habit. And luckily habits can be changed. I aimed to reduce my social media usage on my mobile phone from 1:30 hours to 15 minutes a day. I tried the following steps:
1. Reducing the apps
Push notifications were the number one distractors, so turning them off seemed to be the most obvious first step. But as I did not trust myself on checking my phone without them anyway, I deleted all apps that constantly distracted me, amongst them Facebook and Instagram. I kept the most basic ones and those I needed for work. But most importantly the ones, that I really needed and that added value to my daily life. If I had the urge to browse through social media, I used my laptop. As there’s less fun in doing that, it kept my usage there low as well.
2. Timing the usage
Secondly, I reduced my private phone usage to a maximum of 15 minutes a day. 5 minutes in the morning, 5 in the afternoon, and 5 in the evening. Those were the times I checked the morning news, the weather, emails, and Messenger and Whatsapp messages. Honestly, this method required incredible self-control. But it freed up over one hour a day. One additional hour of freedom every single day! So it was worth it.
3. Logging off
My third trick: Logging off from the internet when I did not need it. Meaning I just logged on within the time windows I set up mentioned in point two. So I would only get notifications within 15 minutes a day. That alone tricked my brain not to use my phone as much as usual since I needed to do an additional step to reconnect.
4. Hiding the phone
My phone used to be with me where ever I went, mostly in my pocket or on a table in front of me. So I kept it out of reach whenever I was working or busy with other activities. And I left it at home whenever I didn’t need it. The funny thing was, that occasionally I was tapping on my pocket reaching for it and feeling dull and sometimes helpless after realizing that that it was not with me. But that habit soon faded away.
5. Keeping it out of the bedroom
As I mostly wake up before 7 in the morning without an alarm clock, I was comfortable enough to keep my phone out of the bedroom. I stopped being online before going to bed and either read a book or just went to sleep right away. Before, I had so much trouble falling asleep. And the chance of ending up on Facebook or Instagram was high when the phone was near. My head used to be very active whenever I closed my eyes, but now, I’m gone within minutes. Secondly, waking up without having the urge to look on the phone right away felt incredibly positive. I felt much more in control of the day than usual. Get a normal alarm clock, if you need one in your bedroom.
Results after a month-long social media sabbatical
✔ Less overall screen time by over 1 hour a day
✔ Falling asleep faster, deeper and longer sleep, and waking up refreshed
✔ Increased calmness, less itch to constantly check the phone, significant stress-reduction, more down time for the brain, more headspace
✔ Less distractions, less procrastination, higher focus and productivity
✔ More fun working
✔ Less energy drain, increase in motivation
✔ Less exposure to ads and distraction by useless social media feeds
✔ More contentment, no more comparing with others, no more fear of missing out (FOMO)
✔ Less Amazon purchases, more money
✔ More time for real activities in the real world
✔ Better social life and stronger personal relationships after promoting real conversations (phone calls, meet-ups instead of texting)
✔ Less eye strain, better body posture (my eyes and back will thank me later)
➜ For those highly addictive to their phone, try switching to a normal phone without smart functions, or no phone at all. Do your online activities on your desktop instead. This will make a huge difference.
➜ Remember: Those hacks are simple but not easy. They will challenge your will power but also reward you for your commitment and free up hundreds of hours of your attention – and your life!
With all those benefits, I have no intention of going back to my old habits. Feel free to try those simple steps as well.
20 interesting facts about screen time you need to know
1. The worldwide average amount of time per day spent using the internet on any device is 6 hours 40 minutes per day (total time on the internet), with the Philippines, Brazil, and Colombia on the lead.
2. We are on screen for longer than we are asleep (total screen time on all devices). The average person spends 8 hours and 41 mins on electronic devices, which is about 20 minutes more than the average night’s sleep.
3. The worldwide average time spent using the mobile internet is 3 hours 14 minutes per day, that’s a full day per week.
4. As of January 2020, the total number of active social media users has reached 3,8 billion, of which 3,75 billion (=99%) access social media via mobile phones.
5. People spend an average of 2 hours and 23 minutes on social media every day.
6. Some teenagers spend up to 9 hours every day on social media!
7. The typical smartphone users check their smartphones every 12 minutes. Young people below the age of 21 check their phone every 8.6 minutes.
8. The smartphone is the last thing most people look at before going to bed at night.
9. The average smartphone user will tap, swipe, click their smartphone 2,617 times a day while the top 10% do this about 5,427 times a day.
10. Young people who gave up their smartphones performed worse on mental tasks and felt physiological symptoms, like increased heart rate and blood pressure. They also felt a sense of loss or lessening, of their extended self – their phones.
11. In 2017, Instagram was rated as the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health.
12. 47% of adults miss out on sleep due to internet usage.
13. A study has shown that as mobile phone use increases, so does anxiety and depression.
14. 66% of UK smartphone users reported suffering from ‘nomophobia’, the fear of losing or being without their phones at any given time, obsessively checking to make sure they have their phone with them, and constantly worrying about losing it somewhere.
15. As our tech habits deny our brains important time-off, our ability for deep-thinking and maintained focus is reducing.
16. Staying off all social media for a week has been shown in a study to increase happiness.
17. Social media copies gambling methods ‘to create psychological cravings by exposing us to constant dopamine hits.
18. The average adult consumes five times more information every day than their counterpart 50 years ago.
19. There are over 1.6 million car accidents worldwide every year linked to mobile usage (texting, twitting, etc.)
20. Since the existence of smartphones, human average attention spans have declined significantly (= 8sec) and are now lower than that of a goldfish (9sec).
Without self-control, one can easily get enslaved by the functions of a smartphone. But our tools are just as good or bad as we use them. So let’s use them more mindfully! That’s the only long-term solution. Focusing on the most meaningful things in life is simple but not easy. It takes intention and practice. However, it can be trained with a few hacks that can easily give you back a remarkable amount time and freedom. I have suggested a set of practices to help you sustain a digital minimalist lifestyle. So, encourage you to reduce your non-value-adding activities on your phone and to enjoy the beautiful world around you!
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World – Cal Newport
Digitaler Minimalismus: Besser Leben mit weniger Technologie – Cal Newport
How to Break Up with Your Phone – Catherine Price
How to Configure Your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You
Deliciously Ella – Do we need a Digital Detox? with Tanya Goodin