Beware your phone

By | July 23, 2019

In the book Hyperfocus, the author recommends that you leave your phone somewhere else when you’re trying to work. I agree with this sentiment 100%. It’s amazing how often I find that device in my hand without thinking about it or meaning to. It’s well and truly an addiction.

Your phone is a tempting toy. It can take over your life if you let it. It’s so easy to let it. That’s the point of it. It’s by design.

The colorful shiny screen beckons you with its dopamine hits. Maybe there’s a new text or Whatsapp conversation or message from a suitor on the dating app.


Not me.

But no, most of the time, when I check my phone, there’s nothing there. Most of the time, it’s all for naught and I’m just wasting my life opening up the same apps over and over again without thought.

Thoughtlessness is my biggest fear.

Occasionally there is something on my phone that’s worthwhile, so I am satiated enough not to chuck it in the river. That’s the problem. This toy can be super useful.

Unfortunately, these toys are also destroying our attention span and focus.

Here’s an experiment if you’re into experiments. The author of Hyperfocus recommends keeping your phone next to you while you’re working and counting how many times you involuntarily pick it up.

I tried this and my number is a lot. I couldn’t keep track.

When my phone is next to me, it magically makes its way into my hands without me even thinking about it.

I don’t have a television and only watch TV when I’m house-sitting. But if my phone is next to me while watching it, I’ll find myself scrolling through the little screen and not staring at the big screen.

It’s preposterous.

If I keep it in another room and on silent while I’m doing something, I’m a much more productive person.

Productivity makes me happy.

Having my phone in bed with me is a sure way to destroy the morning. I can lay in bed, squinting at my phone for longer than I’m proud of, just breezing through internet dreck. It’s better to leave it in another room overnight.

The author of the same book I mentioned above also says that having your phone next to you while you’re interacting with another person diverts your attention from the other person. A part of your consciousness is invested in the phone and you check it unconsciously. It’s an ingrained habit.

One of my hopes for my life is to minimize my time peering at screens, so I have a bunch of resolutions that attempt to pry me away from them. Do you have any suggestions to add? Or are you not addicted to your phone?

Resolutions for minimizing screen time

  1. No electronics in the bedroom.
  2. No internet before noon.
  3. Keep phone in other room.
  4. Try the gray scale app that makes the screen black and white and less appealing.
  5. Avoid time-wasters like Reddit and Freecell.
  6. Keep phone tucked away when hanging out with people.

40 thoughts on “Beware your phone

  1. Benglian

    I’ve solved this.
    I removed all apps with any sort of updating timeline. Even the news.
    I keep useful apps (Maps/Uber etc.) and Whatsapp.
    Now even if I pick up my phone and open it….there’s nothing to go to and scroll through, so I have to put it down again.
    I have a tablet with all these distractions on it, but then its an intentional thing. I can spend 30 mins on the sofa with my tablet looking at stuff, but when I’m out…there’s nothing to do on the phone…

  2. WJ

    I just purchased Hyperfocus a couple of weeks ago and look forward to reading it. Currently reading Digital Minimalism, and even though I’m only about halfway through I highly recommend.

  3. Dave @ Accidental FIRE

    My suggestion is to read Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport. I’ve never had too much of a phone problem myself since I’m an introvert and don’t have a big social network anyway, but now I took all social media apps off it and only use it for GPS, texts, and actual phone calls (the horror). It’s glorious.

    1. Ramana

      There is a TED video of Cal Newport on the same. I deleted my social media accounts 6 months ago after watching that. It was long due.

  4. Dan

    You don’t need an app to make your phone greyscale there is an option hidden somewhere deep in the disabled access settings. I can’t find it to change the phone back without googling the instructions. Phones also have access controls deep in the settings so you can stop kids browsing inappropriate websites. You can also add in websites you think are inappropriate. My blacklist includes reddit and facebook and apl the news websites. If I want to browse these I have to go upstairs and get my laptop.

    It also helps to deete all of the dostracting apps whenever you have a small amount of willpower handy.

  5. Ms Vine

    I’m sure I’m addicted to it—I do many of the things you mentioned. But, I do have all sounds and vibrations turned off most of the time (unless I’m expecting an important message). This helps with involuntary pickups. But I’m definitely guilty of mindless scrolling when I should be doing something more productive.

      1. Ms Vine

        I think silencing and using do not disturb for certain hours, and then setting it out of sight during periods where you need to focus on a project. The mindless scroll happens after I’ve picked it up, so it helps to make an effort to only pick it up with a purpose. I also set a time limit—“I’ll stop scrolling IG in 5 minutes”

        Also notice the times you aren’t tempted to pick it up. For me, that’s almost always when I’m outside or exploring a new place (top reason why I don’t take enough travel photos). Those times are when I’m not seeking out a distraction and am living fully in the moment.

        1. Thriftygal Post author

          That’s interesting! I’m not tempted to touch my phone when I’m out with interesting people. Or traveling a new place as well. That’s also the reason my travel photos are sparse.

  6. Doug M

    I’m glad you shared this, I feel a little less alone (but this has been a concern of mine as well). I don’t have a smartphone (love my little flip-phone) but only because my 57 year old eyes have trouble seeing the screen and I don’t want to deal with bifocals. BUT I CAN’T STAY OFF MY TABLET. I see it as just a bigger version of a smartphone & unless I’m out, I find myself picking it up way too much throughout the day. I rent a movie, only get 40 minutes through & need to take a movie-break to get on my tablet. I’ve nipped it in the bud a little, 9 months ago I deactivated my Facebook account. It was like giving up a heroin addiction at first, but eventually I felt soo much more free. (In fact, a couple weeks ago I reactivated my account to download my photo-albums & couldn’t get off there soon enough, can’t believe all the time I used to spend on there!) But yes, this tablet has taken over my life. Sorry for my long ramble.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I dream of deleting facebook. I have the feed eradicator, but I still hate that website.

      I appreciate your long ramble. 🙂

  7. Fille Frugale

    Hi Thriftygal, I’m older than you and of the last generation that remembers what life was like before the internet, so while I love my phone, I’m less addicted to it than the younger folks around me. I always found FB and most social media apps annoying, for example, and just don’t get why some people feel they need to share every little thing they do. I do follow the National Geographic on IG because their photos are always so spectacular, but that’s it really. Like Dave, I definitely recommend Cal Newport’s book if you need extra motivation to keep the phone away. I heard him on a recent Rich Roll podcast and he had some amazing insights re how to break the addiction (and especially useful if you’re an introvert like me). Best of luck!

  8. MKosinski

    Another resolution that I have adopted is to simply leave my phone at home – if I am planning to be gone for a relatively short time. This also helps if you are paranoid about losing your phone. Which I am.

  9. veronica

    I subscribe to a cell phone plan that has no data. Problem solved.

      1. veronica

        Ugh! Cell phone plans are stupid expensive in Canada. I’m paying $30 per month for 120 minutes daytime use, unlimited evening and weekend calls and unlimited texting.

        I also liked the suggestions posted by Travelin’ Dad. Changed my phone ringtone last night.

  10. Travelin'Dad

    I didn’t get my first smartphone until a few years ago, so I’m a strange case in that regard (as in many others). But I was living simply and frugally overseas for an extended period during the crucial years when smartphones in the US suddenly went from “An increasing number of people seem to have them” to the pearl-clutching “What do you mean you don’t have one?! Everybody does!” I resisted for as long as I could, then finally got one for GPS purposes on a cross-country trip. Since then I’ve nearly lost my ability to navigate without one. Some of the things I do to manage its power to distract me are:
    * Leave it at home. A lot. When I’m walking out the door, I run through a mental checklist of its possible uses during the outing, and if those don’t outweigh the disadvantages, I leave it on its little shelf.
    * Turn it off when I go to bed. I mean really “off,” as in, the power button is used. The next day I often forget to turn it back on until late afternoon, or sometimes 2 nights in a row on the weekend.
    * Keep the notification volume set to silent, and the ringtone set to about half-level.
    * Turn almost all app notifications off – disable their permissions to push notifications to me, particularly notifications of new emails. Check email when I want, rather than when the phone demands it.
    * Use a very calm, non-exciting ringtone. More of a low-key digital sing-song humming lullaby than a screaming “Now now now!!!” sound.
    * If I’m doing something – anything at all really, but, say, having a meal, and it rings, I silence it. People who know me already know that they should not expect me to pick up just because they call or text, but that I will generally respond within (what I consider to be) a reasonable timeframe, such as 1 to 36 hours later.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      This comment is gold. Thanks for the thorough chiming in. I’m going to adopt some of these, like the ring tone and the turning it off at night.

  11. Joel

    Told my phone to shut up and lie still untill I tell it to do something. Only sound I allow it to make is “Master, master, someone wants to talk to you master!”

    Never got very addicted to my phone. I’m worse with the computer, which I along with internet must use before noon for work. In my defense during the summer my job consists of waiting for a thunderstorm to knock a customers system offline and currently I got to a point where I’m cleaning the garage to get a break from scrolling the internet.

  12. Jeff L

    Have you checked out Raptitude’s recent experiment log where he tried to make his phone more of a tool and less of a toy? I’ll second the suggestions given here about making ringtone and alert sounds less intrusive and jarring. I find loon calls and wind chimes to be somewhat soothing rather than demanding that you take immediate action. I’ve never gotten into the black hole that is Reddit, but all this recent talk of Freecell makes me feel like I might be missing out on something : )

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Oh, I’ve been damning the allure of freecell for years! A few people have recommended raptitude. I’ll check it out. Thanks!

  13. Miss Nomer

    Every time you stop using it turn it off . . . completely off. Every time you want to use it you have to wait for it to boot up again, and maybe that will stop you turning it on for trivial reasons.

  14. Nedo Laanen

    I understand the problem, but personally (thankfully) I don’t get distracted by my phone much at all. I do often use it, but only when I have the time. The one thing that is keeping me from getting any work done is my co-workers. They make a lot of noise and are a major distraction to me.

    Smart phones, however, are indeed very addictive and they can take up a lot of your time and focus destroying whatever real social (and sexual) life you may have.

    My phone is a very handy tool, but it is not important to me. Whenever I go out with friends or when I need to go to the shop I usually leave my phone at home. If I don’t really need it I don’t carry it around. Even in the house I tend to not use my phone when I’m busy doing other stuff. I think you can try many tricks to reduce time spent on your phone, but the one thing that really helps is to change your relationship with you phone. Once you stop caring about your phone you’ll find yourself using it less and less. If that’s what your really want.

    Unlike alcohol and drugs, phones are merely a mental addiction and not physical. Perhaps, it’s just a really bad habit. Changing the habit could also work for many people. The real answer will differ from person to person.

      1. Nedo Laanen

        Well, I think it’s a mental habit and those don’t change overnight.

        Here’s what I did.

        In the Netherlands many people use their phone all the time. There are dozens of video’s on youtube showing (near) accidents between cars and bicycles, because people use their phone while riding their bikes. Also, when in public transport people don’t talk to each other, because they’re all staring at their phones.

        That is silly behaviour (I think). So I asked myself the questions: “What could possibly be so important that I need to check my phone every 10 minutes?” and “Do I want to be that silly person staring at my phone all day?”.

        I realized that there was nothing that important (or fun) on my phone. So, I didn’t need to check it every 10 minutes.

        Basically, I just noticed other peoples silly and addictive behaviour towards their phones and I didn’t like that, so I decided I don’t want to be like that. I changed my view on mobile phones by focusing on the negative aspects. That did take some time.

        Or, just do it :). Stop caring about your phone. Tell yourself your phone is not important.

        I’m also from a generation that grew up without internet and mobile phones. That may have helped me as well :).

        Hope this helps.


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