How to make your phone work for you rather than against you

How to make your phone work for you rather than against you

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I know we all love and need our devices, and while they serve us very well, we also need to set some boundaries towards them. Here is a collection of tips, that you can try or not, some of them are a bit more out there, and might not be for you and that is fine.

If you are interested in this topic a bit more, there are a couple of books, that I can recommend.

If you need some quick inspiration to use your devices less, watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix.

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B O O K S

The Craving Mind - Judson Brewer

24/6 - Tiffany Shlain

Digital Minimalism - Cal Newport

Essentialism - Greg McKeown

Deep Work - Cal Newport

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Since I am an iPhone User myself and so you will see the settings on an iPhone, but all of the functions have equivalents on other phones as well, so this will be helpful either way.

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1. The Thing with Notifications

Push Notifications are the greatest enemy of focussed work. They keep pulling us out of what we are currently doing and into a deep spiral of attention thieves. All though, it is obvious, that we need notifications for the things that are really important for our life and work, there are times when these things might not be a priority.

Like with anything, getting your priorities and values straight is the most important thing, when it comes to making good choices with your phone. When do you need to be reachable and who needs to reach you? What is important enough to pull you out of your focus and when are times, when you are going into deep focus.

As you can see on this setting page on my phone most notifications are turned off. My phone very rarely pulls me out of focus. But I know I am in the privileged position of not having a job where I need to be reached 24/7. But even with my partner's job, we try to find times, where his phone is allowed to pull on your attention and others where it's not.

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When we talk about notifications, it's not only about the little banners that pop up, or our phones making sounds or vibrating to remind us of something. The little red numbers that show up in the corner of certain apps, can also be attention catchers. It freaks me out when my apps show numbers because I immediately need to go in and look at what is happening, which is why I got rid of those too.

The "Do not Disturb" mode automatically blocks all notifications for the time when it is turned on. This can be used regularly, it can be scheduled so that it kicks in at the same time every day, or can just be used occasionally.

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2. Emails

On average only 14% of the emails that reach us are actually relevant. A lot of them are ads or newsletters, that we don't even read or emails that are supposed to reach someone else, but where we should stay in the loop. Of course, it depends on your work and your responsibilities, but I am proposing, that you think about the time, that you spend on your emails.

What are the other communication channels, that you use for your work and your private lives? On which channels do you receive the information that is time-sensitive and which information, can be dealt with later.

By asking yourself these questions, you could try to dedicate times for you to check your emails. Maybe 2-3 times per day rather than all the time in the background. Maybe you can differentiate between the different communication channels you use, by knowing exactly which ones are for what.

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Apple Products like the iPhone or the Apple Watch also make it possible to make certain contacts VIPs, which means, that these contacts can reach you, while others can't and go directly to your box or don't show you notifications. This makes a lot of sense to me. Family, or your closest co-workers that depend on you, or maybe even a certain client who's project is currently in a hot phase, can be your VIPs, while other people or at other times, fewer people can get through to you and take away your time.

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3. Digital Decluttering

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I'm a sucker for the Konmarie Method and decluttering and this also applies to my phone. Like minimalism and decluttering in your physical surrounding can spark creativity and productivity, this also is true for your digital spaces. Keeping your devices tidy and deleting apps that you don't use, can really allow you to find some more space. This can also apply to your photos and files, downloads and maybe even your emails.

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4. Your Homescreen

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This is the first page on your phone, that you see all the time. As you might already know about me I like things minimal, which is the reason my home screens are usually pretty frugal as well.

Here are some screenshots of how my home screen looked a while ago and how it looks now. I took away all the stuff that might pull on my attention and only placed the things there, that I want as reminders.

I would recommend you put the apps you want to use more in the front. Like your meditation timer app for example. The more often and prominent you see it, the more it will motivate you to start your meditation practice. The apps you always use and already know that you want, don't need to be visible all the time, because it's super easy to click in the app library and navigate your way to them when you really want to. Which is why my social media apps are well hidden somewhere in the back of my phone, so that they are not my first choice, when I'm bored or picking up my phone because there is nothing else to do.

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5. Dark Mode

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All Smartphones can be used in Dark Mode or in Night Mode, these make the display darker and easier on the eyes, especially at night. This can support better sleep because there is less blue light, which triggers us to stay awake and makes our bodies produce less melatonin which is a crucial hormone when it comes to falling asleep. Some people swear on blue light glasses, which should help filter out that blue light and therefore makes falling asleep easier as well.

On the Iphone: Settings >> Display & Brightness >> Dark/Night Shift

A couple of other options to make your phone less attractive (and to also use less battery) would be to minimize the colours. For example by using a less colourful wallpaper, ideally, something darker can be easier on your eyes and your battery. Another, more invasive option, would be to set your phone on grayscale. This is a disability feature that the iPhone offers and it takes out all the colour and makes your phone go grey. This especially makes sense, when you want to avoid scrolling, because Instagram is pretty boring in black and white.

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6. Limit your Screen-time

We all know, that it would be better to spend fewer hours in front of a screen, but this is definitely easier said than done. Most smartphones have a screen time feature built-in automatically but there are also third-party apps like Moment, that can track your screen time and tell you what you spend your time on. The Screen-time app does not only allow you to track it also allows you to limit.

I have my phone set to lock itself between 10 PM and 7 AM and I have my social media apps (Facebook, Insta, Twitter and Slack) set to only give me an hour a day. After that, the phone will lock itself. That is nothing fixed and I can always make an exception if I need to, but at least it reminds me to put my phone away.

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Another way of supporting your willpower when it comes to your screen can be apps like Forest that work with the Pomodoro technique. This app allows you to set yourself a time that you want to focus on and not use your phone. Then you start to plant a tree and while the tree is growing you cannot use your phone for anything else or the tree will die (this is a big motivation for me because I don't want to kill trees). 🌳 Another nice side effect is, that the app actually plants real trees for all the trees planted within the app. The Pomodoro technique suggests that we work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break to have optimal focus. Every 4-6 blocks, you should take a longer break. For me, this blocking of time works really well to keep me going and distraction-free.

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7. Turn it off, turn it around or put it in a drawer

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An extremely simple, but extremely effective solution to get your phone away, would be by just putting it away. The further the better. Make it hard for yourself to reach for your phone and create as much friction as possible to avoid the habit, that you don't want to do as much.

An idea from the book 24/6 by Tiffany Shlain, would be to avoid your phone (tablet or laptop) for one complete day of the week and actually implement a tech detox for one day a week.

I recently read about a fun family challenge, where the family member that has the highest screen time count of the day, has to do the dishes or cook dinner for the day.

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