Work Better: A Christian Primer on Productivity
Get free e-book


How to Free Yourself From Being a Slave to Your Phone

Phones are frustrating. You've got to have one to communicate in the world, but it's all too easy to let it rule your life. We get tired of always being on and connected. It can easily feel like instead of our phone's serving us and making life easier, we are slaves to our phones.

Phones also have a profound affect on our relationships. Studies have found that having a phone out and visible hurts the quality of our personal interactions even when it's sitting on the table not being used

Because cell phones are still relatively new, we are still learning how to use them. These six tips will go a long way toward putting your phone in its proper place.

1. Organize your apps

Disorganization and busyness on your phone contribute to the twin enemies of distraction and frenzy. Yet most of us, even though we look at our phones many times throughout the day, never think about how it is laid out. We just download new apps and let them fall into the next slot. Taking a few minutes to set up your phone in a thoughtful way is an easy way to improve your experience.

Rather than organizing apps alphabetically or by color, I have a simpler system. I put only the apps I use every single day on my home screen. The dock at the bottom gets only my Top 3. All other apps are in folders on the next screen and when I need them I just search by swiping down. This way I never swipe over and dig around for apps because everything I need is available from the home screen. It also helps to have a dark, minimalist background picture to promote focus.

                                                       layout of my phone's two screens

2. Have phone-free places

This one is hard to implement but totally worth it. Choose key areas where the phone is off-limits and take care that it never enters those places.

In particular, never bring your phone into your bedroom. Being on your phone right before bed is stressful, bright, and gets your mind churning. Not what you want for a good night's rest. And getting on your phone when you wake up is a terrible way to start the day, emotionally and in terms of productivity. Leave your charger and phone in the living room or kitchen and keep the bedroom a more peaceful place.

"But I use my phone as my alarm!" Use something else. You can get an old-fashioned one for 6 bucks.

I also recommend getting in the habit of putting your phone in the glovebox as soon as you get in the car. When it's not close by, you are much less likely to do something dangerous like text and drive.

3. Have phone-free times

Setting a boundary gives freedom. When you designate times and places as phone-free zones, it relieves your mind. Just knowing your phone is available contributes to stress, while knowing it's not an option promotes peace of mind and being fully present.

Start with the first hour after waking up and the last hour before going to bed. Then add dinner and family time. Try to make working, watching TV, and especially talking with people phone-free times. Forgive me, I fail often!

Like the previous tip, it's incredible how much accessibility changes the way you use your phone. We're so used to the phone being right there all the time. To help maintain phone-free times, keep your phone out of arm's reach. Making it slightly harder to reach will make it easier to refrain from picking it up, and help with #4...

Just keeping your phone out of arm's reach can keep you from feeling ruled by it.

4. Get used to pausing before you pull your phone out

Ever pull your phone out and then you can't remember why so you just act like you were checking the time and put it back? It's a reflex and not a healthy one. Just pausing and considering if you really need to use your phone now can help reverse this habit. So cultivate a mindfulness about your phone and get used to thinking just for a second before you grab it. You'll find you pull it out much less often.

5. Turn off Notifications

I hate notifications. They are useless. Worse than useless, they are endlessly distracting and annoying. Notifications are making you less productive, and more stressed. Turn them off. You don't need them. So go ahead and click the "Settings" --> "Notifications" and overhaul your existing ones now. Personally, I only receive notifications for text messages and my calendar. And get used to defaulting to "No" when you download something new and it requests to send notifications.

6. Delete your worst offenders

Let's be honest, a handful of apps suck the most time. The best way to deal with the ones where you can't exercise moderation is to just get rid of them altogether.

I've gone pretty extreme. I have no social media apps. Recently, I even deleted the native Mail app. It was a freeing experience. It's not even an option to check e-mail or social media on my phone anymore, so I don't compulsively do it. When I decide to check, I grab my laptop. So it's available when I need it but that small extra step of pulling out my computer means I'm not constantly tethered.

I know that sounds impossible, like you'll be missing so much, but just try it. Delete the few apps that are the worst offenders at making you feel like a slave to your phone. You can always put them back on. But my guess is that you'll be glad you got rid of them. I can't understate how little I've missed Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.

Implement just one of these tips right now, and start freeing yourself from slavery to your phone.

Hi, I'm Jacob! I'm an at-home Dad and pastor in Fort Worth, TX, writing about productivity and rest. I'd love to hear from you about how I can write things that will help you specifically. You can talk to me via Facebook, Twitter, or email. And don’t forget to grab my free e-book!