Stop your smartphone from hijacking your brain.

Popular Science wants to help you break the smartphone habit:

“When we let ourselves space out and let our minds wander,” [Manoush] Zomordoi writes, “we do our most original thinking and problem solving; without distraction, your mind goes to some interesting and unexpected places. Creativity—no matter how you define or apply it— needs a push, and boredom, which allows new and different connections to form in our brain, is a most effective muse.”

More and more research suggests that constant access to information is changing our brains, and not necessarily in ways that we want. In the past, a lot of that attention focused on how technology could harm or help children. But increasingly, those of us well past the age of puberty are noticing how the internet has altered our behaviors. Book lovers find that they struggle to make their way through a novel; parents find that only half their attention is on their children.

Ex-Google strategist James Williams recently told a reporter that he left the company in part because he realized technology was stopping him from concentrating on the things that he wanted to focus on. “It was that kind of individual, existential realization: what’s going on?” he told The Guardian. “Isn’t technology supposed to be doing the complete opposite of this?”
Williams launched an organization, called Time Well Spent, that argues these tools are hijacking our minds. The website details how certain behaviors, like YouTube’s autoplay and Snapchat’s streaks, are designed to override our deeper desires and tap into our monkey brains to keep us watching, scrolling, and clicking.

While the idea can seem a bit trite, the book was most useful in helping to quantify just how much I was using my smartphone (and social media) in general (on my worst day I racked up 155 minutes that I’d probably like back; and my average was around 75 minutes per day). It also helped me figure out which of those uses were the least beneficial. Here are some tips to help you cut down on your smartphone time.

  • Track your usage. One of the most surprising things for me was how much I actually used my smartphone. Apps like offtime (iOS, Android), BreakFree (iOS, Android), and RescueTime track your usage in the background for you.
  • Figure out your values. What is it that you actually want to be doing with your time?
  • Eliminate notifications. The reason notifications exist is to get us to look at our phone. So, get rid of the notifications, especially on social media.
  • Eliminate time suck apps. The one and only phone game I’ve ever played was 2048. Once I won I immediately deleted the app and have never installed a phone game since because I admit that I am weak and powerless before them.
  • Pick your poison. You don’t have to be on every social media platform there is. Figure out which ones serve your needs and stick to those.