Sometimes, all you need is a lil’ space.
If you are anything like the average smartphone user, you spend around 4 hours each day on your phone. That is roughly 50 days a year.
If you’re also anything like the average smartphone user, a good chunk of the time you spend on your phone is spent on social networking sites; 2.4 hours to be exact.
Even Apple knows that is a little bit too much time for its users to spend on their devices. So much so that, Apple released the Screen Time app back in 2018 as part of its “digital health” initiative to address growing concerns around increasing device usage, smartphone addiction and social media’s impact on our mental well-being.
One feature of the Screen Time app is to track the hours a user spends on their phone on a daily and weekly basis and generate a report.
Back then, my daily phone use average was around 5 hours a day, or 35 hours a week. I couldn’t figure out how, especially after quitting social media and trying every trick out there to spend less time online, I was still spending close to forty hours a week on my phone.
That’s a full-time job.
After some careful consideration and critical self-reflection, I came to the realization that a good chunk of the time I spent on my phone came from the in-between moments when I’d reach for my phone to pass the time or avoid uncomfortable social and emotional moments.
Waiting for the train, during a meal, right before sleep, right after waking up, during a conversation, walking to a building, while on the toilet. My phone was an extension of me. It was with me every moment of every day.
That realization led me to rethinking how much space my phone took in my day to day. I needed space. Literal space. “It’s not you, it’s me” kind of space.
I began consciously working on leaving space between myself and my phone to avoid excessively, and often unnecessarily, reaching for it. Some were minor adjustments, and some required consistent, long-term effort.
I can proudly say I have the healthiest relationship with my phone now than I ever had. We spend time independently away from each other often. I often only reaching for my phone when I actively need to use it for something, like calling someone or checking directions.
What helped me create space between myself and my phone? Some tips…
Do not carry your phone in your pocket. Leave it in your backpack, purse, or bag. This will make it harder to mindlessly reach into your pocket and grab your phone whenever a hint of boredom or restlessness engulfs you. At the very least, that tiny bit more effort required to retrieve your phone can be all the reminder you need for why you put your phone away from reach in the first place.
Vow to stop walking around with your phone in your hands. This was my #1 priority on this list, and it has worked wonders. How did we get to this point? Here’s food-for-thought: I bring my bank card with me everywhere I go, to use it when and if necessary, but I don’t walk, talk, breathe with it in my hands. Put your phone away when not in use.
Do not carry your phone around the house. I mean… it is actually pretty ridiculous when you really think about it. Does the phone really need to accompany us and travel from one room to the next all day long? No. Instead, leave your phone in a designated area in your house where it’s accessible and forget about it.
Put your phone away at work. Keep it in a drawer, or leave it in your bag. Put it anywhere but on your desk constantly hijacking your attention.
Do not walk and text. One, it is dangerous. Two, at least 99.9 percent of the time, the text isn’t urgent. If you must walk and text, make it a habit to pull over to the side and text before resuming your walk. Do this a few times and it gets annoying enough that it’s more convenient to avoid walking and texting altogether.
Do not be on your phone in situations where you would not pick up a book and read.
I learned this from Rosie Leizrowice: Rethink your smartphone etiquette by imagining it as a book. It can be really hard to implement at first, but it’s a good measuring stick of the inappropriateness or unnecessary nature of most of our phone usage. In situations where you could pick up a book and read, read a book instead.
Leave your phone behind. If it is not too much of an inconvenience, start leaving your phone behind. If you’re going to be away for a short period of time, like grabbing lunch at work, using the washroom, walking the dog, etc., don’t bring your phone with you.
I do most of those things instinctively now. Not saying I never walk and text, or go one my phone while talking to someone, but those moments are the exception rather than the rule now.
It feels strange and awkward to walk and text, or be on my phone while chatting with someone. It helps that I have turned my iPhone into a dumb phone. Almost anyone I talk to, or watching birds fly, is more interesting than what remains on my phone.
This is not about demonizing the tool: Smartphones are one of the greatest inventions of our time. It is, rather, about remaining cautious of our dependency on smartphones as a crutch to avoid the discomfort of reality or as an escape from real life.
Create some space, and fill it with paying attention to and caring for the moment.
Until next time…
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