Save Your Time: How to Beat a Cell Phone Addiction
Two months ago, on New Year’s Eve, my boyfriend came to me and said he had something on his mind. I was getting ready for the evening, trying to decide on a dress to wear, but what he proposed sounded so interesting that I immediately stopped what I was doing and started planning the revolution: a screen time cut down, or an effective method for beating mobile phone addiction.
To be honest, calling it an addiction in our case might be a slight exaggeration. I know that cell phone dependency can be a serious problem, notably decreasing the quality of life for its sufferers and even endangering others (NEVER use your phone when driving!). Yet even those of us who thankfully aren’t “properly” addicted often end up wasting countless hours staring at the screens, sometimes without even noticing it. Sadly, that’s been the case for us, too. We’ve been on many amazing adventures and achieved some great things during our 11 years together, but the truth is, we could have done and explored even more had we spent less time on the Internet.
Cutting down on screen time and consequently saving all the hours we spend mindlessly scrolling down social media feeds because we’re either too tired or too lazy to do something more productive? Sounds great, I agreed. But how to make it work?
Turns out, he had a great plan: we would record all our screen time and set a limit to what was acceptable: an hour a day, or seven hours per week. That’s still a lot of time – almost one whole working day each week – but we wanted to set a realistic goal to start with. We could always scale down as we got better at it.
But of course, just setting up a limit is not enough; there have to be consequences for breaking it. Thus, we decided to schedule a weekly check-in session for every Sunday where we would check our own and each other’s screen time (automatically tracked by our iPhones) and created a joint account where we would deposit one pound for every minute exceeding the weekly limit. In short, if you exceed the allowed screen time by 2 minutes, you’ll have to pay two pounds… but if you exceed it by 100 minutes, you’ll have to deposit £100.
Sounds wonderful, I thought, and immediately signed up to the challenge. My enthusiasm waned a little after the first check-in the following Sunday when I realised I’d have to fork out 300 pounds. I’m a PhD student, I whined. I can’t afford this! But of course I knew that what PhD students really can’t afford is wasting 300 minutes on social media or some other non-essential phone stuff when we should be writing our papers and dissertations.
Two months later, I’m absolutely in love with our new system. I’ve become much more mindful about using my phone (I often ask myself whether what I’m doing is worth paying one pound a minute for – usually, the answer is no) and saved at least one full day worth of hours already. Have I written my dissertation? Not exactly – I’m still working on that! – but what I have done, among other things, is read 20 books in just two months. That’s pretty good, if I may say so myself.
Want to try it too? That’s great! What you need is a partner to hold you accountable and a way for tracking your screen time.
If you’re an Apple user, there’s a nice little iPhone feature called Screen Time, which allows you to analyse your daily and weekly phone usage down to a minute and even set limits for different apps and categories. If you don’t have that, there are trackers that you can download for this purpose.
You also need to decide whether all of your apps count towards your screen time, or if some are excluded. We went for the second option, because we live abroad and spend a lot of time on the phone chatting with our loved ones – we would never want to limit that! There are some other useful apps that we also chose to exclude – think heating app, Maps, Spotify and, importantly for me, Libby, a wonderful library app that I use for reading books on my phone.
I’ll be updating our progress on the blog as we go and, hopefully, get better at this. Who knows, maybe we’ll move to 45 minutes next? Whatever limit you set for yourself, let me know if you’re also going to be taking the challenge – or if you have some other tips for cutting down on unnecessary screen time!
For motivation, here are some of the things you can do with the time you save: