When my hands starting cramping, my fingers felt tingly, and my 4-year-old said "Get off your phone", I realised I was using my it way too much. Don't get me wrong, I love all the useful features. But I was using it so much I wanted to find as many ways of possible to get back into the "real" world. So I took 12 steps to kick the habit. And I'm so glad I did.
- Stop taking the phone to bed: The first step I took was removing my phone from the bedroom. Sure, Madonna may sleep with hers under her pillow, and I admit to furtively looking at my screen under the duvet gone midnight, but seriously, that's no way to live your life. Checking your phone late at night is not conducive to sleep. If, like me, the first thing you reach for each morning is your phone, then just remove temptation and put it in another room.
- Unsubscribe from emails: With my phone out of the bedroom, it meant there were quite a few emails to check through after I got up each day. To further reduce the time on my phone, I decluttered my email inbox. Sure, those Mothercare newsletters were helpful when I had a newborn, but did I really need them now my daughter's almost school age? Ditto online fashion stores: if I need new clothes, I'll go straight to ASOS on my computer, rather than clicking through email links and spending hours virtual window shopping.
- Turn off push notifications: Next on my list was limiting the number of pings I heard throughout the day. My push notifications for emails and Facebook were a constant barrage, and I simply didn't need to be notified every time somebody posted in a Tom Hardy fan group. So I switched them off in settings.
- Set up sleep modes for work communication channels: As a freelance writer working with companies around the world, I get messages from colleagues at strange times of day. Slack is great at keeping us connected, but I don't need my phone to glow and beep whenever someone in Canada contacts me about a project. So creating sleep modes on apps like this enabled me to create working hours in the virtual world, like a digital Do Not Disturb sign that meant I could dip in to see off-duty messages, but my phone wouldn't shout about them at 2 a.m.
- Mute WhatsApp groups: I love keeping in touch with my university friends through our WhatsApp group, but with dozens of us in there, it can get pretty noisy. Some afternoons there were literally hundreds of exchanges popping up. I didn't want to leave the group entirely, but rather peruse it at my leisure in one fast-scrolling go. The mute function is key here. You can mute a specific group from sending notifications for a particular time-frame, or you can mute all groups by going into your phone's settings and clicking on notifications. You'll still get @ mentions though, so you'll be in the loop when something directly applies to you.
- Delete time-sapping apps: My biggest, and most helpful, step was deleting Facebook from my phone. This was definitely the single thing that was taking up the most time, and with the least reason. When I found myself reading about the parenting tribulations of people I didn't know in local mummy groups, and then even scrolling through the comments, I realised something needed to be done. Ironically, what prompted this whole process of taking steps to use my phone less was an article that had been shared in such a Facebook group. I accepted that I couldn't trust myself to just not go on it, even if I squirrelled it away in a folder, so I just removed it entirely. Now, I check Facebook once a day, on my computer, and for a fraction of the time I used to spend on it. Identify your Achilles heel, whether that's Snapchat, Instagram, or a game, and try to go cold turkey.
- Place the phone far away: So my phone wasn't notifying me so much now, but it was still calling me, figuratively speaking. If I placed it on the table next to the sofa, I automatically reached for it during a break between watching MasterChef and Made In Chelsea on Sky+. If my husband and I got into a debate about where the restaurant is on First Dates, or how old Mary Berry is, it was too easy to grab my phone to investigate, and then be drawn into a spiral of checking other things. So I placed the phone on the kitchen counter. What helps here is that I'm lazy, so I generally can't be bothered to walk that far. And on the rare occasions that I do bother to make the trip, it's uncomfortable enough to have to stand and check my phone that I don't stay on as long as I would when curled up on my DFS sofa.
- Set a timer: One of the biggest issues with my phone use was getting sucked into checking "just one more thing". Moving the phone out of arm's reach helped, as did placing it somewhere that was uncomfortable to stay on it for too long. But sometimes I got so engrossed that what was meant to be a two-minute message to check if my mum needed anything from Sainsbury's turned into a 30-minute investigation into cake recipes, when the new series of Bake Off is starting, and how many calories are in a packet of Angel Delight. One way to snap yourself out of this perpetual searching is to set a timer on your phone, so that you know when your designated "phone time" is up. Go wild watching videos of cats in boxes for your allotted time-frame, but when the timer goes off, step away from the cute furballs.
- Turn off 4G or 3G: By now, I was using my phone less at home thanks to all of these steps. But whenever I stepped out the door on my own, I would use it as an opportunity to get on the Internet. Walking home from the nursery run each morning, my head would only lift from my phone to check it was safe to cross the road. But by simply turning off my 3G, I was able to keep my phone in my pocket. I could actually look up again, notice the weather, the flowers in my neighbours' front gardens, and it felt good to be part of the real world for that five-minute daily stroll.
- Replace "notes" with an actual notepad: One example of getting back into the actual world is the notes tool. Yes, it's really handy to type out ideas and reminders as they come to me. But before I had a phone, I was still able to do this — with an old-fashioned pen and notepad. Now I keep a notepad by the sofa for when I need to make a shopping list, rather than picking up my phone.
- Order photo prints: In my sentimental moments, like when my daughter's sweetly sleeping, I sometimes scroll through the photos on my phone, or browse my photo albums on Facebook. And it was on Facebook that I first discovered Chatbooks, through a sponsored ad. You've probably seen it too — the woman in the bath, and the tagline: "Stop Wasting Hours Making Photo Books". It's the easy way to get your photos printed, as it only takes 30 seconds to set up a Photo Book Series on Instagram or Facebook, and you'll automatically get 60-page photo books sent to you. You can even just pick your favourites from your camera roll. They deliver to the UK for $3 postage, and each book costs from $8. So the next time you want to flick through memories you can do it IRL, rather than digitally.
Keep tabs on your phone usage: My husband is pretty
annoyinggood at calling me out when I've been on my phone too much. But Moment is an even better way of keeping tabs on your usage. The app automatically tracks how much you use your device each day. It shows you which apps you use the most, which could help you figure out what ones to delete in step 6. You can also set daily limits, and either get notifications when you go over or be forced off your phone.