15 ways to overcome smartphone addiction

Daniel Wong
SingaporeScene

Nomophobia is short for “no-mobile-phone phobia”.

It’s the fear of being away from your smartphone or not having network coverage. And it’s on the rise.

87% of young adults say that their smartphone never leaves their side, while 80% of smartphone users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up.

Smartphone addiction is becoming a big problem. Here are some signs of addiction:

- You frequently use your phone at mealtimes.

- You spend more time on your phone than interacting with others in person.

- You frequently use your phone when you know you should be doing something else more productive.

- You frequently use your smartphone while performing tasks that require focus, e.g. completing an assignment, writing a report, driving.

- You feel uncomfortable when your phone isn’t with you.

- You sometimes check your phone in the middle of the night.

Are you an addict, or do you know someone who is?

(If you’re interested, you can take this free online smartphone addiction test designed by The Centre for Internet and Technology Addiction.)

No matter how mild or severe the addiction is, here are 15 ways to help you overcome it. If you implement the tips, I guarantee you’ll break this potentially destructive habit.

Here are the 15 tips:

1. Turn off notifications.

Many people get distracted by the endless notifications they receive from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, and other apps.

You don’t need to know right away if someone “likes” your status update, follows you on Instagram, or sends you an email.

The more often you check your phone, the more it becomes an ingrained habit. So turn off notifications, and you’ll feel less compelled to use your phone.

The only apps for which you don’t turn off notifications might be your text messaging app and your calendar app. This is because sometimes you’re urgently waiting for a text, or your calendar app notifications keep you on schedule.

2. When you feel the urge to check your phone, close your eyes and take a deep breath.

You’re reading a set of notes or writing a report. All of a sudden, you feel an overwhelming urge to take out your phone and check your Facebook news feed.

You give in to the urge. You look through your friend’s latest vacation photos and comment on three of them. Next, you read a long article about the hidden lives of supermodels. Then you watch one cat video and one baby video.

Before you know it, 20 minutes have passed – when you only intended to take a 3-minute break.

Sound familiar?

The urge to check your phone comes in waves. If you hold out for just a few seconds, the urge will pass. You can then get back to work.

Here’s what I recommend: When you feel like you just have to check your phone, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Inhale for three seconds, and exhale for three seconds. The urge will usually disappear.

If the urge is still there, take another deep breath. You should then have the willpower to return to your original task.

This is a simple but powerful technique to help you break your smartphone addiction.

3. Delete all the social media apps on your phone.

This sounds like a drastic measure, but it isn’t. You’ll still be able to access social media sites through your phone’s Internet browser.

YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have mobile-friendly websites. Sure, the mobile web experience isn’t as seamless as the app experience. But it’s good enough to satisfy your occasional social media craving.

Plus, the extra step of opening your Internet browser app and typing in the site’s URL adds inconvenience to the process. This will deter you from mindlessly checking your social media updates.

I challenge you to go one step further: Delete every single game on your phone.

I did this four years ago, and I’ve become a much more productive person as a result.

4. Delete all the apps you don’t use.

This will help you remove the clutter from your phone, and reduce the time you spend “exploring” your apps. As such, you’ll be that much closer to overcoming your smartphone addiction.

Deleting your unused – or little-used – apps also frees up storage space, and improves your phone’s battery life and performance.

5. Set specific boundaries for smartphone usage.

Telling yourself that you should “use your phone less” isn’t effective, because that phrase is too general. To limit your phone usage, set specific boundaries instead.

Here are some possible boundaries:

- No phone usage at mealtimes

- No phone usage in the restroom

- No phone usage at social events

- No phone usage during in-person conversations

- No phone usage in the bedroom

Start with an easy one, and add one a month. Over time, you’ll see a huge difference in your phone usage patterns.

6. Mute your group chats.

I’ve muted all my Whatsapp group chats except my family group chat. This way, I don’t get bombarded by messages throughout the day.

If you’re like most people, the messages you receive from your group chats aren’t time-sensitive. So it’s fine if you only read through the messages a few times a day.

Besides, muting your group chats is a more polite alternative to suddenly leaving the groups.

7. Archive your inactive chats.

Smartphone users often scroll through dozens of chats before they find the one they’re looking for. In the long run, this wastes a lot of time.

What’s the alternative?

Archive your inactive chats.

If the conversation has ended, archive it. If you currently have hundreds of chats in your messaging app’s home screen, take 10 minutes to go through them and archive the inactive ones.

It will be 10 minutes well spent!

(If you prefer, you can delete your inactive chats instead of archiving them. Note that if you delete a chat, you’ll lose the chat history. But if you archive a chat, the chat history will remain.)

After you’ve completed this process, you’ll probably be left with 5 to 10 active chats in your messaging app’s home screen. This will make it easier for you to find the chats you’re looking for. It will also reduce the clutter in your phone, so you’ll be more organised.

As such, you’ll spend less time processing your text messages, which will help you overcome your smartphone addiction.

8. Reply to text messages just three times a day.

Apart from urgent text messages from family and close friends, don’t reply immediately. I know the temptation to reply right away is great, but you must resist it.

Why?

Because it’s more efficient to reply to text messages in batches, rather than one at a time.

I recommend replying to messages once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at night. This will save you time on the whole, and will prevent you from compulsively checking your phone for messages to reply to.

This is in line with the bigger goal: removing your dependence on and addiction to your smartphone.

9. Turn off your phone before going to bed.

Turn off your phone before going to bed, and leave it to charge outside your bedroom. It can be tempting to use your phone in the middle of the night, but you won’t if it takes too much effort to even get to your phone.

If you follow my recommendation, you’ll need to walk out of your room in a half-awake state. Next, you’ll need to wait 30 seconds for your phone to boot up. So you’ll probably just go back to sleep instead – which is what you ought to do anyway.

I can almost hear you saying, “I can’t do this, Daniel. I use my phone as an alarm clock. If my phone is outside my bedroom, I won’t hear the alarm in the morning.”

If that’s you, read on to Tip #10 for the solution.

10. Use an actual alarm clock.

It seems like everyone uses their phone as an alarm clock, right? Well, you can be different and use an actual alarm clock instead.

This way, you’ll have no excuse not to practise Tip #9. Which means you’ll also be on your way to fighting off your smartphone addiction.

11. Before you start work, put your phone at least 10 feet away from you.

Better still, put your phone outside the room where you plan to work. To eliminate temptation completely, turn your phone off – or at least to airplane mode.

Erik Altmann, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, found that an interruption of just 2.7 seconds doubles your error rate at work.

So use Tip #11 and you’ll get your work done faster and better.

12. Use apps to track and restrict your smartphone usage.

These apps run in the background, so they won’t distract you.

Here are three handy apps:

- RescueTime (Android). This app helps you understand your phone usage patterns, so you’ll know how to become more productive. It gives you a detailed breakdown of how much time you spend using different categories of apps.

- Moment (iOS). With this app, you can track how much you use your iPhone and iPad. You can set daily usage limits and choose to receive notifications when you exceed those limits.

- AppDetox (Android). AppDetox allows you to set phone usage rules. For example, you can prevent yourself from opening your email app after 8pm every day. Or you can limit the number of times you open your text messaging app each day, among other types of restrictions.

13. Wear a watch so you don’t need to check your phone for the time.

You probably use your phone to tell the time. But I’m sure this has happened to you before …

You glance at your phone to see what time it is. As you do this, you see a flood of Facebook notifications and text messages. You start going through them, and in the blink of an eye 15 minutes have gone by.

And all you wanted to do was take two seconds to check the time.

What’s one way to prevent this from happening?

Wear a watch. It’s that simple, really.

14. Tell others about your decision and enlist their help.

If you tell others about your decision to break your smartphone addiction and ask for their help, you’re more likely to succeed.

Here are a few ways you can do that:

- Inform your friends and family about your decision, and ask them to check in with you once a week.

- Before you get down to work, give your phone to a trusted friend or family member.

- Tell your friend that every time you don’t stick to your plan, you’ll give her $10.

- Find a friend who’s also addicted to his smartphone, and persuade him to join you in breaking the habit.

15. Lock your phone with an annoyingly long password.

Most people set a short password so they can unlock their phone quickly. But if you want to reduce your smartphone addiction, set a long password instead.

Make it at least 15 characters long, and include symbols and uppercase letters. (You can set this type of password for both Android phones and iPhones.)

The inconvenience of unlocking your phone means that you won’t use your phone mindlessly. In other words: mission accomplished.

The bottom line

Smartphones are meant to help us lead better and more productive lives. But when we succumb to smartphone addiction, we become slaves to our phone. This affects our relationships, work, and life.

By applying the 15 tips in this article, this won’t happen. In addition, we’ll have more time and energy to build meaningful relationships, serve others, and make a contribution to our community.

All because our eyes aren’t continually glued to a small, glowing LCD screen.

So let’s get to work eliminating our over-reliance on our phones. The world is counting on us.

Daniel Wong is a learning and teen expert, and is also the bestselling author of “The Happy Student”. He works with students 1-to-1 to help them become both happy and successful. Download his FREE e-book, “16 Keys To Motivating Your Teenager”. The views expressed are his own.