About two and a half years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to stop looking at my cell phone when I’m around other living, breathing human beings. I posted it on Facebook and was very earnest and declarative and I got upwards of 83 likes, which is pretty good for me, analytically speaking. I deleted the Facebook app from my phone as a starting point and decided to begin focusing my energies on laughing and listening to my friends instead of reading tweets from obscure comedians and drag queens. And you know what? It worked!
Until it didn’t.
Here I am, having recently relocated to LA and finding myself, uh, not “traditionally” employed. I have a lot of free time, and that’s a look that doesn’t quite suit me. I’m like a baby deer trying to stand up on a frozen lake, flailing my limbs around trying to look like I’m doing something but winding up stuck in the same spot at the end of the day. So what have I picked back up? Filling the extra hours with the mini-monolith in my pocket. I ignored the emotional abuse of our past and got back together with my iPhone, and it was bad. Worse than before. Something had to be done.
So I got creative and tried out a bunch of different things to make the break stick this time. I did the obvious, like shaving down my apps to the bare essentials (IMDb stays, Fruit Ninja doesn’t. You don’t need to slice a banana with your finger…you just don’t.) I re-committed to my “no phones around friends” rule, even when the people I was with weren’t as vigilant.
But it wasn’t enough. I was still spending a lot of alone time doing the little leap frog from Instagram to Twitter to Facebook to Gmail and round and round and round until my brain was mush. So here are three little things that I found did make a dent in my cell-phone usage. There are only three because only three worked and I’m not here for filler, guys. I want to help you.
1. Time yourself.
Start your phone’s stopwatch before you browse and stop it after you’re done. Keep the count going all day and by the end of the day, you’ll be so horrified with your blatant disregard for your own time that you’ll either stop looking at your phone when you have the impulse to do so or you’ll kill yourself. Both are effective in limiting your cell-phone use.
The good thing about this method is that you really only have to do it once before the full horror sinks in and you change forever. The first day I did it, I got to three hours and 27 minutes before I stopped timing myself and stopped looking at my phone and stopped feeling like I was a valid member of society. After that, I phased myself out. I allowed one hour a day of meaningless browsing—which still seems disgusting—but, you know, baby steps. After the stopwatch hit an hour, I cut myself off. Once that didn’t seem painful anymore, I gave myself a half-hour. Allot however much time you want, but honestly, merely having a number to put on that “quick browsing session” for two minutes every 20 damn minutes makes a difference once you start to see it add up.
2. Ask yourself, “Do I want to look at that?” every time you pull out your phone.
This one sounds lame as hell, but I swear it works. I would pull out my phone on instinct, like, “Oh, shit, I need to see Instagram NOW.” But then I would pause before I opened the app and ask myself, “Do I want to look at this?” And more often than not, the answer was a resounding “NO.” I would put the phone back down.
Isn’t that kind of fucked that you’re impulsively spending hours of your day staring at something you don’t even want to see? I basically never want to see anything on Facebook. I don’t want to take a quiz called “How Wisconsin are you?” I know the answer—I have owned four different cheeseheads of various shapes throughout my life and two Usinger’s Sausage baseball caps. I’m very Wisconsin. I was just clicking on all this bullshit to fill the space, which is a depressing but enlightening revelation. Asking yourself the simple question about whether or not you actually want to be doing what you’re doing gives you back the power in a weird way. You start realizing this is a straight-up addiction and that if you don’t want to do it anymore, don’t.
3. Leave your phone in the car on purpose.
This one’s fun because it really leaves you no option to ignore what a shitty person you are, unlike the first two where you can just shrug off your vast amounts of wasted time or give into your addictions and stare at your phone anyway. I did it the first time on accident when I was going over to a friend’s house one night. At first I was a real Stressie Jessie, looking for it everywhere, but once I resigned myself to the fact that it was probably sticking out of my ashtray right where I left it, I stopped caring. I got back into my car a few hours later and didn’t really miss anything—maybe an email or a few text messages—but honestly nothing that needed a response at that minute.
Not having the temptation around obviously makes a huge difference and frees you up to actually enjoy whatever it is you’re doing, uninterrupted by the garbage on your phone that you don’t even like.
I’ve worked some combination of these three things into my daily routine, and I’m more productive and well adjusted and I fall asleep faster at night, for real. And I’m not ashamed to come out and admit that I needed these little tricks to help me reclaim my free time. I was in deep, guys, and there’s no shame in admitting that.
But look at me now—a real success story, writing short nonfiction lists for you to click on from your cell phones! There is a light at the end of the tunnel! You, too, can get those wasted hours back! Just finish reading this article first and maybe click on a few other ones on this site before you put the phone down. Cold turkey never works.