Most of us work for our phones these days. We may think we’re in charge, but the way we twitch and glance at our notifications all day long betrays that thought. The average adult checks their phone 150 times a day. Millennials check theirs even more, clocking in at more than 157 times a day.
This is insanity. And I speak from experience. I know what it’s like to work for my phone and sift through an endless stream of notifications. But I don’t anymore.
I’m certainly not perfect, but I’ve come a long way in knowing how to make my phone work for me instead of the other way around. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years.
Turn off notifications except for calls, texts and calendar
Every app comes with its own set of notifications. But these aren’t really “notifications” — they’re interruptions. They call your attention away from what you’re doing and ask you to refocus it on whatever the interruption wants to make you aware of, whether it’s a retweet, a like on Instagram, or a new email.
Of course, app makers want you to be addicted to their products, as do the makers of the phones, so these interruptions are left on by default. Many people simply leave them on or allow them each time they install an app without thinking about it. We really shouldn’t do that.
What we give our attention to is what we end up giving our lives to. Giving our attention over to something is how we invest ourselves in this world. So what we give our attention to matters. A lot.
The best way to make your phone work for you is to turn off all notifications except for those that are essential. For me, those essentials are phone calls and texts (for family and friends to reach me), my calendar app (to keep my schedule on track), and Wunderlist (my to-do app which also houses my daily reminders). Your list might be different, but it certainly shouldn’t include Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or other social apps (an exception would be if social media is part of your job).
I’m an iPhone user, so I have a couple of different ways of handling notifications. For most of the apps on my phone and iPad I don’t get any notifications, and I don’t allow the red badges with the notifications count either. They’re like little lighthouses beckoning me to them each time I see the number go up, and almost without fail what’s on the other end isn’t important or worth my immediate attention.
Exceptions to this rule are email, texts, and Wunderlist because I see these as giving me valuable information. I’ve toyed around with not having them at all, and I found myself checking my email more because I was wondering if something was there I didn’t know about. (Like I said, I’m not perfect.)
Setup Do Not Disturb mode (iOS users)
I’m sure Android has a similar feature, but I’m not familiar with it. On iOS devices there is a Do Not Disturb mode that’s fantastic for taking control of your phone. It’s a simple swipe up from the bottom of the screen in the Control Panel, and it allows you to turn off all notifications except those you allow while the mode is activated. It’s the icon that looks like a crescent moon (you know, the one that was on that one day that you couldn’t figure out why your notifications weren’t working).
This is great for times when you need to get something done without being distracted, but it’s even better when you set it up to enter into Do Not Disturb mode at certain times. My iPhone and iPad automatically switch into Do Not Disturb mode from 10:00 p.m. – 7:00 a.m. every day. The only things that come through are phone calls from those on my favorites list, or phone calls that come in more than three times (in case of emergencies). I don’t have to remember to do anything; it just happens.
No one needs to be in touch with me (and I don’t need to be in touch with my phone) past 10:00 p.m. And keeping it on through 7:00 a.m. gives me space to do my daily Bible reading and prayer without the risk of being distracted.
There are several things you can do with this mode, so go into Settings > Do Not Disturb (just under Notifications and Control Panel) and take a look around to see what works best for you.
Delete apps you don’t use
Seriously, just delete them. You don’t need all those apps. You know I’m right.
Every one of them demands your attention in some way, so stop giving your attention to things that don’t matter. Digital clutter is just as stressful as physical clutter. Cleaning your screens up is just as necessary as cleaning your room up. (You do clean your room, right?)
Create phone free zones and times
Chick-Fil-A does this great thing where they’ll give you a simple box and all you do is put your phone in it for the entirety of the meal. If you can do it, you can redeem it for a free ice cream. It’s kinda hokey, but hey, it works. The same thing can be done in your home, except the reward is actually being present for your life and family.
My wife and I have a cabinet where we park our phones when we’re home, especially if the kids are awake. This keeps the phones out of reach and out of sight, which makes you much less likely to check it. I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to check it if it’s sitting out where I can see it. Find a drawer like that in your home, or make a box for them, or get them one of these silly beds.
Once you have a place for it, set aside certain times where you park your phone there. For us this is usually meal times, certain nights my wife and I have set aside to reconnect and talk, and when friends or family come over. It’s a simple way to give your attention to who matters most, which is whoever is right in front of you.
Buy a dumb phone
This is more drastic, but it’s something I’ve done in the past. Before switching phone services, I would sometimes pop my SIM card into an old brick ZTE phone I bought for $11 on eBay. All it would do is text and make phone calls. If I found myself too glued to my phone or if I sensed it was making me work for it, I would just put it in a drawer for a day or two and use the dumb phone.
Honestly, that was so much harder than it sounds. But it really is quite freeing not to have access to all the world’s information in your pocket sometimes. If you have T-Mobile or AT&T, this might be a good option for you.
Other companies have seen the need for something like this, namely The Light Phone. This will be an interesting space to pay attention to in the years ahead as we try and find ways to control our tech use.
Just keep trying stuff
I don’t have all of this figured out. In fact, I know a lot of people who have much healthier relationships with their phones than I do. But I’m determined not to work for my phone, so I just keep trying stuff. You should do the same.
Again, what we give our attention to really is what we end up giving our lives to. Let’s give it to stuff that matters.