Last semester I wrote an article on how consuming self help and productivity medias had become its own way of procrastinating real work, reaching peak irony. In this article, I want to focus on how simple changes to our relationship with technology can positively impact our lives. With this article, you’ll be able to (at least in part) make technology work for you and not the other way around.
Before you go on with the article, do this simple test to determine your level of independence to your smartphone:
If like me you are a young student, you probably score above 9, which is kind of horrifying. Now that doesn’t mean that you should follow the test’s advice of going to therapy to treat your addiction (don’t take medical advice from the internet, please), but that helps you realize where you stand.
Step 1: Take back control of your study time by disabling notifications
That’s the tip. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Notifications break our concentration and distract us from what is really important, whether it is studying or spending quality time with someone in front of you. Think about it: do you think that the messages in some group chat, although probably funny, cannot wait 20 minutes until you finish what you are doing?
Alternatively, you can use your phone in a productive way with the Pomodoro technique: use apps such as Forest or Tide to help you set timers during which you will focus on your work and won’t be distracted.
Step 2: Set timers on the apps you spend most time on
Whether you use an Android or an iPhone, both have the feature of allowing you to see how much time you spend per day and week on every app. Have a look at it now. Just do it.
Done? I bet what you saw was more than you expected. Fortunately, both Android and iPhone also offer you the option of putting daily timers on apps. You should not however, go cold turkey and implement drastic timers on day one. Aim for a 10% weekly decrease in the use of your 5 most used apps and aim for a daily time you’ll allow yourself to spend on each. You may exclude some apps that provide real use such as WhatsApp, Audible, Spotify, your workout app or else. The goal is not to quit those apps altogether, but to recognize that you could spend a little less time on them each day without feeling any less happy. I’ve personally settled for a combined 90 minutes of YouTube and social media apps and it works great, but to each their own. The most important thing is that you have to be honest with yourself as to what apps provide real benefits and what apps are just pure entertainment.
Step 3: Take back control of your sleep
Not only have phones taken over our daily lives, they’ve invaded our nights as well. We could all benefit from getting not only more sleep but higher quality sleep, but our phones prevent us from having that. The solution therefore is to set boundaries: choose a specific time of the night after which you’re not allowed to use your phone and enforce it. When your alarm rings in the morning, do not snooze and do not scroll on your phone for “just a couple minutes” before getting up. There are tools to help you achieve that. Digital Detox is an app available on Android and iPhone that allows you to schedule moments of the day where you cannot access certain apps on your phone. Create a list with all social media apps and block them 8 hours before your alarm. Similarly, Alarmy is an app available on all platforms that is specifically designed to prevent you from wasting time in the morning. It has all the functionalities of a regular alarm app, except you decide how to deactivate the alarm. You can choose math problems, where the app will ask you to solve simple math problems like 542 + 278, you can choose a number of steps you have to make before it turns off but my favorite is the picture option. You take a picture, upload it on the app and your alarm will not stop until you’ve taken that picture again. You just need to take a picture of your bathroom or kitchen and the app will make sure you’ll be fully woken up by the time it stops.
The goal of this article is not to claim that technology is bad nor to shame people for using their phone too much, it would be hypocritical of me to do so. Additionally, tech companies are literally billions paying psychologists to make their products as addictive as possible since our brains do not evolve as fast as technology does. It would be ignorant to put all the blame on the consumer. Rather, the objective is to help people like me who realize that a little less time on your phone can have widely positive effects without significant drawbacks.
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