I think many of us feel that our phones are both great and a little bit too compelling. We love the bizarro simultaneous connection and escape of social media, but feel compulsive and crappy when we get stuck in loops of refreshing feeds and checking apps without even really enjoying it.
Sometimes it rules. I love this window into seeing what’s going on with other people, deciding to sit and have a look-see. But finding ways not to slip into technology-induced inertia accidentally — actually deciding where and when to do it — definitely makes it feels better.
So I have some questions and hacks to help you figure out how to genuinely enjoy your technology but loosen its addictive grip a bit. I for sure still get caught up, but using these tips has given me a new baseline comparison. The muscle memory of all the times I either put down my phone or didn’t pick it up in the first place makes it easier to claw my way out of those inevitable spirals — and it may start to kick in for you, too.
What makes you happy — and what doesn’t?
Like everyone, I want to feel satisfied with my time. What satisfies me and has me going to bed thinking, “What a good day”? Watching TV, reading, writing, playing video games, getting outside, getting absorbed in work, doing my podcast, hanging out with friends and family.
What do these have in common? They have me involved in what’s roughly a single thing, not quick multi-doses of varying stimuli — which is exactly what our phones contain.
It’s for sure instant gratification-style pleasurable, but I’m not actually satisfied by the small, separate hits (this account, then that one) that come from my phone. It’s difficult not to remain in a spiral of “Just looking up XYZ” that leads you 10 other places, and then back to the first place to see what’s new. That’s in part because when it comes to the slow, constant drip of social media, there are no natural stop points, no chapter breaks — so you have to create them.
I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique for productivity and it’s led me to an obsession with setting timers — so I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes or whatever before I even open Instagram. By doing so, I’m creating a chapter break for myself. You can also use natural cues to snap out of it. For me, if I’ve got that itchy-but-stuck feeling and I see repeating numbers on the clock (2:22), I take that as a sign to keep it moving, sister. Whatever works!
(And by the way, you can see me talk about my timer obsession with Meg Smidt on a past episode of Mondays with Meg!)
Why are you doing it?
So if I’m not satisfied by using my phone in a way that sucks, what leads me to do it at all? Recognizing its purpose in your life is a key to a better relationship to technology, because you might be able to get the need fulfilled elsewhere — and better.
I’ve noticed it’s rarely actual desire or boredom that leads me down a rabbit hole: it’s procrastination gone awry. I like social media because I pretend it’s bite-sized — whipping out my phone “real quick” because I don’t want to get into anything long, like reading a book or watching something. I figure it’s easy enough to jump away from random short posts. But as we know, it’s not. And in reality, It’s pretty rare that I’m actually expecting to be on my phone for 2 minutes, anyway.
If this is the case for you as well, I think we might as well call a spade a spade, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, and enjoy it. I put the Kindle, Libby library app and Netflix apps right next to my Instagram app to woo me away from its false promise of quick hits. You may be surprised how enjoyable it is to read or watch something you’re into for just a few minutes — it doesn’t all have to be pillows and book nooks.
Recognize your biggest triggers
What sucks you in the most, with the least reward? Sometimes I want to get sucked in — it feels good when it’s an actual choice, and feels crappy when I’m weirdly bored yet stuck. Is there a particular app that does that for you?
I deleted Twitter from my phone with this in mind — it gave me the least yield as far as enjoyment, but I kept going to it out of curiosity/habit. I didn’t go scorched-earth and delete it all together, so I can still access it from my browser, but I find that I rarely do and miss it maybe 1%. (I’ve also done this with Facebook, and while I still go on, deleting the app has absolutely cut down my mindless usage.)
Maybe you have a sneaking suspicion that one of the things you check could be that way for you. Why not do this experiment from the fully awesome podcast series that spawned a book of the same name, Bored and Brilliant, and delete that one app that you know is your weakness from your phone for a day? You can always put it back on!
Set it up to work for YOU
Again cribbed from the work of Manoush Zomorodi, I don’t have all of my apps tiled across the screen of my phone, just waiting for me to scan them and then choose the lucky square. I have them all tucked into one single folder on my screen that I have titled “Catch-all.” It’s a small thing, but you have to be slightly more deliberate about your desire to check Insta-stories when it takes more than a single click to get to them.
There are also options on both Facebook and Instagram for unfollowing, which allows you the freedom to still see whatever you want while encouraging you to be deliberate about when you see it.
On Facebook, you can “unfollow” a group to remain in it and still have access to posts by typing in the group’s name in your search bar, but they won’t show up in your main newsfeed.
Unfollowing works exactly the same way for Facebook friends, as well as on Instagram (where it’s called “muting”) — you can unfollow to keep someone’s posts and/or stories from showing up in your main feed, but still have the option to visit their page. It’s a great option both for people who you’re friends with out of politeness but whose posts don’t really resonate with you, as well as people you love but who post a ton and clog up your feed. (They won’t know you’ve done it, don’t worry.)
I LOVE that these options exist because again, it means you have to be more deliberate about what you want to see as opposed to getting sucked into a 67 comment thread by happenstance on Facebook, and it shortens your scroll on Instagram.
Another great hack for Instagram is doing basically the opposite of unfollowing by hitting the “Turn notifications on” option on the profiles of people whose posts you definitely want to see. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it cuts off the excuse of “I’ll just go on to see what [blank] is up to” when you know you’d have gotten a notification if they were up to anything!
It’s not so much about NOT using the phone, as I see it — that’s a non-option. But we can use it and enjoy it more when we know what we’re doing.