October 2016: Phone Detox


I’ve gotten a late start on this month’s experiment because we’ve been in the middle of trying to buy a house for the past few weeks. It’s been something of a mess and has kind of put a lot of projects on the back burner for the time being.

But I’m back at it and getting everything finished that I’ve been putting off. And that includes October’s experiment. Originally I had planned on turning my iPhone into a dumb phone (only using the basics: calling, texting, alarm, music, camera). But I realized that that wouldn’t really help me learn about my smartphone usage. It would be another month of trying to “white knuckle it” while I had withdrawals from my phone dependency.

Instead, I’m trying a smarter, less abrasive approach and (hopefully) more lasting approach. I’ve deleted a ton of apps (games, social media, etc.) and each day I’m trying to use my phone less and less. If I need to look something up or do some Internet-related task, I try to wait until I’m on my computer. This way I won’t just whip out my phone to look up everything that pops into my head or any time I’m bored or have nothing to do.

Currently I overuse my phone in the following places or times:

  • At home
  • In bed
  • In the morning
  • At work
  • At school
  • While walking outside
  • Standing in line
  • Sitting on the couch
  • When I should be doing other things
  • When I’m procrastinating

I know I have a problem with my phone. I check my email incessantly some days. I check my email and social feeds for new things even after I just checked them a few minutes earlier. It’s even worse when I’m expecting an email or text or when I’m procrastinating homework or chores. During the month of October and for the rest of this year I’m going to experiment with digital detox times for my phone and for my computer and/or the Internet in general. The Internet sucks me in like a gigantic black hole of GIFs, funny videos, political arguments, news, hashtags and interesting articles. And before I know it, several hours have passed.

So I want to put a stop to this passive approach to life. I don’t want to be remembered for having seen the most tweets in a one hour period or for liking X amount of Facebook posts. It doesn’t matter if I’ve watched every video on the YouTube channels I subscribe to.

Here’s my plan:

  • Make a mental note of things I need to do. Pick one thing and do it for at least 25 minutes before checking my phone.
  • After 25 minutes, allow a short (3-5 minute) break to check my phone, get on Twitter, watch a video, play a quick puzzle game, etc.
  • Rinse and repeat.
  • Institute phone-free zones. These include times of day and physical areas. These will be as follows:
    • No phone use in the obvious places (car, restroom, etc.).
    • No phone use while I am in bed, either at night or in the morning.
    • No phone use during meals.
    • I might add to this list as occasion calls for it.
  • Daily and weekly accounting via social media posts, blog post and to my wife. I’ll also try to keep logs in a journal about my experiences, successes and struggles.

If you keep up with my blog, this plan will seem super rigid. This is because I know myself. I know I don’t have the will power or self-control or whatever you want to call it to put my phone down all the time. I want to experiment with a strict set of rules that will keep me accountable and obedient to the rules and to others.

I’ve thought a lot about a reward or punishment for this challenge. At first I wanted some big punishment if I failed, like I couldn’t use any apps for a week or something like that. I also thought about buying myself lunch if I succeeded every week, but that could get expensive and is not an immediate reward.

Instead, I’ve devised a genius system to track my successes and failures: tally marks. I’ll keep a tally mark for every time I am successful at completing a 25 minute session without my phone (unless it’s necessary for my work, like taking a photo or answering a call, text, etc.) or when I don’t use my phone in a phone-free zone. When I fail, I’ll keep a tally mark on the opposite page. At the end of each month for the rest of the year I’ll add up my successes and failures and if I had more success overall, I’ll treat myself to something like lunch, a dessert or a nice night out with Sarah. If I had more failures, I’ll analyze, evaluate and start fresh with a new plan for the next month. I’ll do my best to update this via social media and here on my blog.

What do you think? Will my plan work? What have you tried that helps you put your phone away more often? Share your thoughts with me on Facebook or Twitter.

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Also published on Medium.

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