Last night, I went to bed without my cell phone. My phone sleeps on the opposite side of the bedroom, so that it’s not the first thing I touch in the morning or the last thing I touch at night. Last night, though, I accidentally went to bed without putting my phone in its regular place. I’m pretty diligent about my nightly routine, but moving and boxes everywhere have left me a little off. I went to bed exhausted and so my cell phone didn’t go in its spot.
When I woke up, I couldn’t find my phone. After all, things have a place because then you know where they are when you’re looking for them. I checked the bathroom, the couch, the kitchen counter, the dining room table, the nightstand, my pajama draw, and the other bathroom without being able to find my phone. I looked and I looked with no luck.
After a LOT more looking, even a couple Casey, are you SURE you didn’t move my phone?, I finally found my phone in a pile of clean laundry that’s waiting to be folded. After wasting almost an hour looking for my phone, time that could have been spent folding the laundry that needed to be folded, I put my phone on the charger and went back into my morning routine.
With the phone on the charger, I wasn’t scrolling- no facebooking, no insta-storying, no email answering. This is how I like my mornings. I usually put on my watch right away, so that I’m diligent about the time, but I try not to grab my cell phone until I’m a couple of steps into my routine!
There is nothing wrong with Facebook or anything else on your phone, per se. There is something wrong with it if spending time on your phone is keeping you from doing something that is more important to you.
A couple of weeks ago, C was gone training and I was noticing that I was really struggling to recharge. I just generally wasn’t feeling good to start and then I was spending tons of time trying to recharge by “taking a minute on my phone” but I wasn’t actually feeling any better because of it. In fact, as the week progressed, I found myself feeling continuously worst.
Spending time on my phone doesn’t recharge me. That being said, cell phones are tempting! In fact, that feeling of getting likes on your latest insta post or the quick bump you get from that Snapchat filter actually triggers a dopamine receptor in the brain- the same feeling that gets people addicted to drugs! Your brain on Insta likes looks a lot like your brain on a drug high. That is insane.
Despite working in tech, I am conscious about not getting too lost in technology. In fact, I regularly evaluate how I’m using technology and what my relationship with technology is. When I recognized that scrolling through my phone was making me feel worse, I made it harder to scroll through my phone (I also went on to cut TV time). When I recognized that I was waking up and reaching for my phone, I moved my phone across the room. When I recognized the issues I was having, I was able to address that but that requires intentional reflection about how I am using the technology in my life.
How do you feel?
When you’re on your cell phone, how do you feel? There are lots of different ways you can use your phone. How do feel when doing each of them? Do you feel different when you’re scrolling through social media versus when you’re reading a novel on your kindle app? Reflecting on your current use of technology requires you to understand how exactly using your technology, whatever that is for you, makes you feel.
Do your eyes hurt? Maybe you need to think about what you can do to minimize blue light. If you’re on a Mac, I’d suggest installing f.lux. On iOS, you can enable night mode. Independent of which platform you’re using, I highly suggest blue light glasses. My favorite are Felix Grey Glasses. I personally wear these every single day. (My only complaint is that I have to be wearing contacts since these don’t have prescriptions, but their team has told me that they’re working on it!)
If you’re uncomfortable or unhappy with how much time you’re spending with your technology, I’d suggest you start tracking how much time you’re spending.
Tracking Your Time on Your Cell Phone
Unfortunately, this recommendation is just for iOS devices. If you are aware of an Android counterpart, please reach out; we will update this post and credit you.
I have written about it before and I will write about it again: Moment. From their website,
Moment is an iOS app that automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone and iPad each day. If you’re using your phone too much, you can set daily limits on yourself and be notified when you go over. You can even force yourself off your device when you’re over your limit.
If you want to start changing your cell phone usage patterns, you need to understand how much you’re using your cell phone. Tracking it is the first step to understanding. I am sometimes better at this than others.
I, somewhat arbitrarily, set the cap at 2 hours and 50 minutes per day. I try to stay under that, but you can see that I’m somewhat all over this place. This is, in part, because I’ve got a lot going on right now (PCS, new apartment, wedding planning). That’s an excuse, though. I do spend a lot of time wasted just scrolling through my phone. Moment’s reminders- “You’ve been on your phone for 45 minutes today”- help keep me focused. There are tons of settings, including putting a cap on how much you’re using your phone in any given sitting, that can be tapped into to help limit your use, if that’s your goal.
I know that scrolling does not help me recharge, so I want to spend less time scrolling. Remember to set the goals that are relevant to you!
Tracking Your Time on Your On Your Computer
RESCUE TIME IS MY HERO. RescueTime, at least on MacOS, runs almost entirely in the background. I do nothing! Every week they send me productivity reports. These reports help me keep a pulse on how I’m spending my time on the computer. As someone who works full time in front of a computer and then whose side hustles (writing) and hobbies (blogging and development) are also on the computer, if I’m not careful I can definitely spend way too much time in front of a screen! Sometimes it does happen.
On this particular day, I logged 11 hours in front of the computer between 7 AM and 8 PM. I wish I could say this was one of my worse days, but it’s not. Since all of my work is at the computer. It’s not uncommon for this to be the case for me. That makes it that much more important that the time I’m spending on the computer is productive and efficient.
Rescue Time is “smart” meaning it autocategorizes the time spent on the computer, both on the web and in applications. At any time, you can go in and recategorize things to better suit your needs. For example, I use Twist for work, but I consider it distracting time since I know I could be more efficient in how I use it.
Rescue Time also lets me set goals for my time spent on the computer. Here you can see that I aim to spend less than 2 hours on All Distracting Time and more than 2 hours on Reference and Learning. While I never hit the less than 2 hours on distracting time, I do often hit my 2 hour learning goal.
I’ve also recently set the goal that I’d like to spend less time on the computer on the weekends. On this particular Saturday I did spent a lot of time on the computer, but you can see that my productivity score was 84! If I’m going to spend time on the computer over the course of a weekend, it needs to be efficient. This particular day, I was a python conference and spent most of the time that I was in talks working on a couple of development projects, including one using twilio, which is why twilio and its docs make an appearance, as well as a ton of development work! When I work in Jupyter Notebooks, it’s in my local environment, which is what
localhost:8889 are. Sublime Text 3 is my preferred editor. iTerm2 is what I use for my terminal.
Digging into this, you can see how the way I spent my time on the computer tells a story. Start tracking your metrics and see what story the time you’re spending on the computer is telling!
If you want to make a change, do it!
If after tracking your usage of your computer and cell phone, you want to make a change you can do it! If you’re unhappy with your productivity on each of those, change it! Only you can make those changes! If you so want to make some changes, here are some tips I’d suggest-
Buy a stupid phone.
Remember those things that aren’t smart phones. Buy one of them and toggl your Sim Card into it. Do a one-week smartphone-less week. How do you feel? Evaluate. I have not done this.
Go cell phone free for a weekend.
This is one that I do semi-often and, for me, is pretty easy to do if C is home. I will turn my cell phone off or keep it in a drawer for the weekend. If there were an emergency, I know that my family would call him if I didn’t answer. Sometimes I also text my sister (Hi Laura!) and say, “Going cell phone free this weekend.” It’s a nice way to disconnect from the world and just enjoy whatever it is we’re doing that weekend.
I recognize that this is much easier said than done, but when possible it is worth it.
Control Your Notifications
You know how whenever you download a new app they ask if you consent to push notifications? Say NO! Control your notifications. What apps get to give you notifications and which ones don’t is totally up to you! You might have to experiment here to find the right flow for you.
For me, only text messages and phone calls go through to my Apple Watch- no other notifications because they’re probably never going to be important enough to bug me on my arm.
That being said, controlling notifications is not a “one and done.” For example, I once had my email set to never show notifications on my phone. The result was that I often found myself opening the email app to force-refresh it. Now, my phone will show me if I have a new email, but there is not an indicator icon on the Mail app, so I don’t feel the pressure of having to check it and can ignore email when I want to.
In fact, there are only five apps on my phone that can have indicators. They are: text messages, phone calls, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Timehop. I’m pretty respectful of text messages and phone calls- these are, after all, what the phone was created for. I don’t have Facebook on my phone, but I do have Messenger; I feel like it’s a variation of text messages for those who just don’t have my cell phone number yet. WhatsApp is how I communicate with my international family. Finally, I love my daily Timehops and don’t want to miss them!
If in a week or a month or even a year, my perspective on these change, then I’ll change the notifications settings. As technology grows and changes, we must constantly be reflecting on our relationship with that technology and adjust as needed. There is a paradigm shifting and things are changing.
Don’t let your technology dictate its relationship with you. Feel free to stop checking your phone.
Emilie is an Army Wife, Data Engineer, and CrossFitter with a love for working through her thoughts in this space on the internet. She lives with her husband Casey and their pup Bo in Savannah, GA.