Most of us know we spend far too much time on our phones. But advice on dialling it back tends not to recognise that our phones have become intrinsic to our work, and that actually yes, you do have to reply to that email after dinner. So here’s a digital detox that’s realistic – that stomps out the scrolling reflex, while still letting you get s*** done.
1. Carry a really, really good book or magazine.
Whenever you feel the urge to check your phone – on your commute, in a waiting room – do a bit of actual reading first, instead. The New Yorker is light and folds up easily, and it’s stuffed with excellent journalism on subjects as varied as streetwear, the Mueller investigation, and Metallica. Plus, you get to be the guy on the bus reading The New Yorker. For the novel-inclined, try Ling Ma’s blindingly great new satire Severance. It’s about a virus that spreads via consumerism, slowly killing off most of America. Funny as all get-out and light on gore – Ma’s much more interested in autopsying society than she is in bodycounts. (Oh, also, no-one’s phone works anymore).
2. Invest in a watch.
Or dig up your old G-Shock and strap in. Training yourself to look somewhere else when you need to know the time means you’re not dragging out your phone and seeing notifications that could have waited. And that means not getting sucked into half an hour of mindless scrolling.
3. Go grayscale.
This basically means turning your screen black and white, ie boring. As Duncan Greive wrote for The Spinoff: “I did this because I hate my phone. I mean, I love it – use it all day for a million things and get itchy when I’m away from it for too long. But I hate what it’s made me, the unthinking action induced.” Indeed. Check out his excellent piece for a how-to that’s accessible even for the extremely non-tech-savvy.
4. Get an alarm clock.
Otherwise the very first action you take in the morning is picking up your phone to swipe the alarm off. And from there it’s natural that you’d check Twitter and Instagram, maybe fire off a Slack message or seven. No. Enough. Let your poor old brain wake up a bit, maybe even have a coffee and a shower, before slamming it into smartphone mode.
5. Curate your notifications.
An obvious one, but worth reassessing if it’s been a while. What are the types of messages that have you checking your phone 87,000 times a day, even if you’ve not heard a ping? Right. Make those loud and proud so you know you won’t miss them landing. Then mute everything else (yes, that means social media). Go through your inbox and unsubscribe to all the promotional junk you still get sent from when you did that trial at the gym three years ago. Bail out of the breaking news alerts that only piss you off. And breathe out. You’re now a lean, mean, non-phone-checking machine.