This intervention is going to help exercise your rational brain. It recognizes that there are lots of amazing things about tech and that it’s not realistic or possible to live without it, even if we wanted to. What we can do is dampen its impact on us down to a manageable level.
I’m asking you to pick three of these to start off with. See if you can work your way up from there.
Have a non-tech lunch hour: Turn your phone off and put it in a drawer. Enjoy your lunch without it.
Declare email bankruptcy: This is a great idea I heard from the author Tim Ferris. If you’ve reached a critical mass of unreplied emails, declare bankruptcy on them. Trash the lot and start again.
Schedule a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) hour: Give yourself one hour (or two daily half-hours) to look at social media so it doesn’t become the default thing you do whenever you’re not doing something else.
Batch your emails: Find a set daily time to look at them. Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. can work well, because we’re often in a circadian lull at this time, and doing more mindless tasks makes sense. Add an automatic response to your email, telling people that you read messages only between these times.
Intermittent fasting for your phone: You might be aware of diets like the 5:2, in which people restrict their calorie intake for two days and eat normally for five. I recommend the 4:1 diet for phones. Put your device in aeroplane mode (or ‘airplane mode’, if you have an iPhone) for one hour for every four that you’re awake.
Mute Facebook messenger groups and WhatsApp groups that are causing you stress: Muting these groups will allow you still to use those services, but without getting stressed. Leaving a WhatsApp or FB messenger group will alert all other users that ‘you have left’ the group, which may attract hostility or further stress.
Turn off automatic syncing and notifications: Many of your phone apps, such as email, will automatically ‘sync’, so every time you pick up your phone to make a call you will also see how many new emails have come through; other apps, such as Facebook or Instagram, will send you a notification every time that someone ‘likes’ or comments on your latest post. Tech companies are like biscuit companies that fill their treats with sugar in order to make them moreish. You can fight back by making sure your phone isn’t constantly pinging for your attention.
Open dedicated email accounts: Create a friends-and-family-only email address and turn your work one off during antisocial hours. You can also open a dedicated ‘spam’ address that you give when ordering products online or checking into hotels so that your email accounts don’t overflow.
Put your phone completely out of sight in social situations: Don’t underestimate the power of its distracting lure. A recent study showed that its mere presence, even if you put it on ‘silent’ or turn it face down, will reduce our cognitive ability.
Take notes and keep a diary on paper: Studies suggest that when we take notes in a book rather than on a device we have a much deeper connection with and clearer understanding of it. Why not treat yourself to some new stationery?
If you have an iPhone, switch on ‘greyscale’ – it turns your screen colours to black and white, which makes your phone a lot less desirable. The first time I did it, the amount of times I looked at my phone over the next few days was dramatically reduced. When I feel that my phone usage is starting to climb, I flip it into greyscale mode for a few days.
Take the news app off your phone: Try to consume less ‘news’. I did this a few years ago and it has transformed my stress levels. If you infuse your brain with images of war and the worst of humanity, your brain will start to think that is the norm, even if it isn’t. This will heighten your anxieties and stress you out. Choose to consume the news when, and if, you want to.
Track your usage: Until you track how much time you spend on your phone, you probably have no idea at all how much of your time is taken up with scrolling. My cousin recently used an app called Moment. Some days he thought he hadn’t really been on his phone all day, and the app told him he’d been on it for a solid three hours. He’d touched his phone about every seventeen minutes. The average user of that particular app spends 23 per cent of their waking lives on their phone!
Challenge a friend or partner to see who can use their phone the least: Track your usage on the Moment app to see who wins. This is surprisingly motivating. A friend of mine, Emily, does this with her partner. When she is tempted to pick up her phone in the evening she will often resist because she wants to ‘beat’ her partner. If motivation doesn’t work, ‘gamifying’ the situation can be remarkably effective! Buy an old-school CD or record player: Two years ago, when I really started to become aware of how addicted I was becoming to my phone, I bought a CD player with no wi-fi connectivity at all, despite the shocked shop attendant trying to talk me round. This has been life-changing for me. I turn my phone off, choose one of my favourite CDs and kick back for an hour or so, oblivious to what’s happening on social media or in the wider world. If you’re too young to own any CDs, you can buy a non-internet iPod on eBay for as little as £15. If you absolutely have to use your phone, try at least to put it in aeroplane mode.
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