Our smartphones amuse us when we’re bored, offer instant answers to our questions about the world, help us find our way when we’re lost, and connect us to lifesaving services in an emergency. But they also interrupt us constantly, shortening our attention spans and disrupting our focus. They distract us from being fully present in the moment and prevent us from interacting with the people in front of our faces. They make it harder to fall asleep, cause stress, and keep us from being alone with our thoughts.
Would the great thinkers of the past have puzzled out life’s most important questions if they’d had temptations like Candy Crush and Facebook in their pockets? Maybe not. And while texting and social media connect us to others, they also distract us from the much deeper connections we should making in person. The pattern of constant distraction may even be rewiring our brains. Here are some ways to become less dependent on your phone and reconnect with yourself and others.
There’s an App for That
Image via Flickr by kennymatic
Not surprisingly, there are apps to help you reduce your dependence on your phone. Depending on your needs, you can choose Offtime to block specific distractions like Facebook or games during certain hours, or Moment to put an overall limit on your daily usage. Another choice is Breakfree, an app that tracks the number of times you unlock your phone and logs your usage to challenge you to reduce your “addiction score.” Other apps will shut your phone down completely for a preset period of time, set app-by-app limits, or simply nag you all day by asking you if you’re on task.
Create Phone-Free Space in Your Day
Ideally, your day should include some time spent alone with your own thoughts, some periods of extended focus for reading or working, and some undivided face-to-face time with other humans. Commuting is a great time to turn your phone off and be alone with your thoughts. The dinner hour is ideal for giving your family, spouse, or friends your undivided attention. Schedule regular phone-free appointments with yourself for reading, working, or journalism.
Learn That It’s Okay To Be Inaccessible
There was a time, before the cell phone or even the answering machine, when people were simply not available unless they were near the phone in their home or office — and if they were eating dinner or up to their elbows in a project, they might not answer it even then. The world still turned, business got done, and emergencies could be attended to by the police, an ambulance, or the AAA Auto Club. In fact, if you’re not a paramedic or a firefighter, you are probably not the first person anyone should contact in a true emergency, and returning calls and messages within a few hours is perfectly adequate.
Get A Real Alarm Clock
When your phone is by your bed, it’s a temptation. If you don’t fall asleep within a few short minutes, you can easily grab your phone and use it to play a game, read a book, or check messages. Experts have found that the lit screen disrupts your sleep patterns, so every time you look at the screen, you are delaying sleep even more. It’s a vicious cycle.
The best solution is to put a real alarm clock next to your bed and get in the habit of putting your cell phone away an hour before bedtime. Turn it off and set it on its charger in the part of the house farthest from your bed.
First, back up your contacts and any data that’s vital to your job. Then learn how to reset your iPhone to factory settings. That will eliminate all your games, past conversations, and distracting apps so you can start over to rebuild your phone’s app environment into a more productive space.
The best strategy is to decide exactly what role you want your phone to have in your life and then make your phone work for you, instead of the other way around.