Are you using your smartphone too much?
I have been thinking about my phone. A lot. Too much. I’ve been thinking and touching it so much that before our family holiday I’m seeking to get things back in proportion. In this post I’m sharing possible solutions to my imbalance because I know many other bright, capable people are thinking too much about theirs too.
Come to think of it, it’s not the phone element of the phone is it? It’s the apps. It’s the software that’s hard to give up.
Real world research by Misra et al in 2014 demonstrates ‘connectedness’ between two people is reduced when an iphone sits on the table between them, regardless of whether it is being used. Enough of a reason to do something about phone over/mis use before holidaying with friends and family this summer?
I take a solutions-focussed approach in my coaching work and that school of coaching is characterised by a lack of ‘problem talk’ and a fixation on solutions (great nomenclature). However, for the sake of bonding I’d like to share the four drivers of my ‘problem.’ You might recognise them.
1) Absence of watch: I started clutching my phone almost constantly when my watch went caput. I used the phone for the clock. I bought a new watch in April (after about 6-9 months without one) and just this week, frustratingly, this one’s gone and got a few screws loose so it’s off my wrist and back with the maker for mending. This means I’m back into phone clutching territory. All this touching inevitably leads to twitching, texting and tweeting.
2) Maximising time: I get off on seeing just how much I can squeeze into a day and if I’m travelling by public transport without paper or podcast I’ll respond to e-mails, send updates to the Mothers Work!facebook page, LinkedIn and Twitter for the duration. I’ve got into the habit of constantly seeking stimulation and attempting to be productive. A ‘human doing’?
3) Ego-stroking: I’m happy to admit I get off on seeing interaction notifications on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – “I’ve written something useful! I’ve helped someone!” This leads me check for them last thing at night, first thing in the morning and many times in between.
4) Doing too much: This links to point two. In the school holidays I work less than the 4-4.5 days I usually do. This leads to me be hyper sensitive to small windows of time I can check e-mails on non-working days – keep abreast of what’s coming in and dealing it with it there and then if I can or adding it to my mental list of what needs to be prioritized on the days I’m working.
Before solutions, it’s probably helpful to consider what is it you and I want when it comes to phone interaction. I really had to think about this. After two or three minutes I settled on wanting to use my phone (checking e-mails and social media notifications) in a planned, purposeful way rather than a reflexive, time-filling, I’m-slightly-bored-and-got-a-spare-moment kind of way.
Here then are some solutions I’ve tried to good effect and others that could also be useful. If just one or two can help you, terrific.
As a general guide, rather than fixating on the problem and hoping to find an answer, look at the circumstances around the times you’re at your best (i.e. what’s going on when you’re behaving the way you wish you’d behave more of the time). Psychologists call this appreciative inquiry (AI). You might recall me talking about AI in a piece I wrote last year called ‘Boundaries are better than balance’ – a post that led to substantial social media notifications. Ding, ding! I think AI is useful to us here and by way of explanation here’s what’s generally going on when my mobile phone use is ‘healthy’ or how I would like it to be.
- I am wearing a watch and therefore not constantly looking or touching my phone for its clock.
- I am in meetings or coaching/facilitating for significant chunks of the day – my total focus is on somebody else and twitching is out of mind.
- I put my phone in another room/leave it in the car/switch it off when I’m going into situations where there could be mental ‘spare capacity’ and opportunity to twitch.
- I believe the people I am with would find it rude if I were to be head down on my phone.
- I set the intention to completely focused on X person or Y activity to the exclusion of all others.
More solutions for ‘controlled’ mobile phone use
- Out of office email responders
In the school holidays or other times you’re not fully in or out of the office (perhaps out with clients back to back for a day or two or travelling) putting an out of office auto-reply on your e-mail account can be useful. There’s no need to explain exactly why you’re out of the office or what you’re doing, it’s simply to manage clients’ expectations and lessen your impulse to constantly monitor e-mails.
- Respect your own out of office message
My latest auto-reply says “Thanks for your e-mail. I’m now unplugged from e-mails on a family holiday. The plan is to return refreshed and ready to reconnect with clients, coachees and colleagues on Tuesday 12th August. I’ll look forward to being in touch then.” If I were to respond to e-mails before that date it could signal the wrong things to a potential coachee/existing client or colleague. I think we owe it to everyone who is important to us to have times where we disconnect from life as usual and let ourselves get lost in the into the different flow that is holiday life.
- Keep in mind what keeps you efficient
When I respond to e-mails in batches, rather than as they drip in, I get through them far more efficiently. Remembering this plays to the time maximiser in me and helps me keep my fingers off my phone.
- Get distracted by something else
I’ve started turning the digital photo frame on in the kitchen at teatime as a way to distract me from looking to my iphone for stimulation (quick scroll through Facebook, brief nosy on Twitter) between culinary tasks.
- Move or disable apps
I’m yet to get to the point of uninstalling Facebook (I respect those that have noticed their usage is detrimental and so have done) but it’s an option. Moving Facebook and other time-consuming apps from the front page of your iphone could be another way to reduce usage.
- Be accountable to others
Let others know that you’re working on being more mindful of your smartphone usage and give them permission to challenge you if you’re stepping outside your self-imposed boundaries. I’m convinced putting others on the lookout helps us improve our self-management.
- Reward yourself
Work out what the goal is and a suitable prize for sticking to it (perhaps a small daily treat). Researchers have found that the average length of time it takes to make something a habit is 66 days, so every day that a reward helps you stick to the behavior that’s wanted, that’s another day closer to getting into a good groove.
Has any of this resonated with you? What else helps? What would you add to the list?