How I’m Reclaiming My Life From My Phone

Do you ever find yourself walking down a busy sidewalk while typing messages on your phone? Do you ever use your phone while crossing the street?

I used to do both of these things. Over the past couple years, I’ve been thinking a lot about my phone usage, and how I spend too much time staring at its screen. I realized that I need to rein in my phone usage and reclaim my life.

While I began thinking about how to do this, I came across several others sharing helpful ideas about the same thing. This quick 3 minute TED Talk by Renny Gleeson about our behaviors around phone usage is a great place to start. I believed I had mastered all these techniques. Then, I began to realize how antisocial, and possibly dangerous, they could be.


Next, I came across the Note To Self podcast. They had just started their Bored & Brilliant challenge to help people refocus their attention to spark creativity. I wanted to refocus and have more creativity, so I started to listen.

While I recommend checking out their entire audio challenge series, some of the prescriptions they laid out didn’t exactly fit my situation, so I made some adjustments and created custom challenges for myself.

I want to share the steps I have used to be more mindful of my phone usage, and in essence, begin to reclaim my life from my phone. Below are the seven steps I have taken so far. This is a continued work in progress, so I do not consider this list complete. I intend to add more steps as the needs arise.

So on with it…

Step 1: Don’t use the phone while in motion 🚦

Once, I  nearly got creamed by a mac truck while walking across the street and staring at my phone. Needless to say, I learned I should keep my phone in my pocket while walking. I realized that my phone can wait until I arrive at wherever I’m going. Nine times out of ten, I’m going to a bus stop, my office, or to meet a friend. Everything on my phone can wait until I get there, and then, I can use it uninterrupted while I wait for my bus or my friend.

Step 2: Turn the vibrate function off 📳

This sounds like a small hack, but it had a huge effect on me. I keep my phone on silent most of the day because I’m usually in a classroom. With my phone in my pocket, I would always get sensations like my phone was vibrating. Turning the vibrate off eliminates the annoying buzz. I love that I can put my phone on table tops, and it doesn’t buzz every time I get a notification.

Step 3: Set email to fetch 🐾

My phone used to chime every time I received an email. This would inevitably call my attention away from whatever I was doing. By setting my email to fetch, I decide when my phone checks for new emails. So, I only receive emails when I’m ready to pay attention to them.

Step 4: Tighten up notifications 📵

I’m very OCD with my phone. I will often pick up my phone to do something, and if I see a notification on my lock screen, it will lure me into clicking on it. Then, I can’t remember why I picked up my phone in the first place. This became very frustrating, so I went into my notifications and began turning off things I didn’t need. On apps that I use regularly, I don’t need to see notifications because I’m going to open the app and see them anyway. I also don’t need to see breaking news all the time. Turning off certain notifications helped me streamline my phone usage. This keeps me on task.

Step 5: Only choice email accounts 📩

I have several email accounts that I use for different purposes. I have a work email address. I have a few personal email addresses, and I have an email address for my volunteer organization. Having various accounts helps me prioritize important emails. I need to check certain accounts often, while other I can check once a day. I began routing all my social media emails, newsletters, & political action calls to a certain email address. These messages don’t need to be on my phone, so I eliminated them from my mobile. I now only check that email address when I’m sitting in front of a computer. Same with my work email. It’s not on my phone, so I only check it when I’m ready to respond.

Step 6: Delete the Facebook app ✅

Deleting Facebook was the hardest step for me, but it’s also been the most rewarding. I used to scroll through Facebook posts on every break. If I was eating lunch, I was checking Facebook. If I was standing in a line, I was checking Facebook. No longer. I deleted the app from my phone, so now, I still check Facebook, but I only do it when I’m sitting in front of a computer.

Step 7: Stick with it 💪

It’s taken me years to get this far. I have not yet mastered the use of my phone, and it will always be a work in progress. As designers and marketers continue to harness our phones to call for our attention, it will never be easy to set the phone aside and concentrate on other things. I feel I have to try to resist. I don’t want that pocket-sized screen to have control over me.

These are the steps I have taken so far. I still have further to go. As I continue working to keep my attention focused on the things that are important to me, I realize my mobile device has its place. I hope someday we are able to learn how to balance our phone usage with better practices and maybe even better design to help us along the way.

Check out this enlightening TED Talk by Tristan Harris about the addictive nature of checking our phones. Maybe we need designers to begin helping us cope with these impulses to stare at our pocket screens.

Do you struggle with your phone management? How do you cope with your mobile device constantly calling for your attention? Please share your ideas in the comments below.


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