After my most recent monthly goals post, I got questions from a few readers about the all-too-tricky question of phone boundaries. One of my goals for January was to stop checking my phone — specifically, Instagram — before getting out of bed in the morning, which I noted was part of a larger transition I’m trying to make away from being so tied to my phone and all that comes with it. It sounds like I’m not the only one trying to make these strides, so I thought I’d go ahead and share a few of the other specific things I’ve been doing to try to adjust my phone habits.
I’ll start by saying that, relative to the other people in my circles, I wouldn’t call myself super dependent on my phone. I’m not one to download a lot of apps, and I primarily use my phone for calling, texting, listening to podcasts, watching Hulu at the gym, and (of course) checking social media. At the moment, I don’t have a single game installed, and most of the apps on the second screen (when you swipe to the left) of my phone are rarely touched. I spend all of my days in front of my laptop alone, fielding communication from people in seemingly endless digital forms, so I really don’t crave more of that in my spare time — at least, not outside of talking to my family and friends.
All of that being said, I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t love the mindless Instagram scroll or a quick Twitter check-in during a free moment. Catching up on my Instagram feed first thing in the morning used to be my way of waking up slowly, of transitioning from cozy-in-bed to work-ready. I don’t think there’s any harm in these social media rituals and I have absolutely no judgement if it’s part of your routine, but I will tell you that I’ve loved easing my way out of some of my own, and it’s made me really excited to make even more changes.
If you want to shift your own phone behaviors, here are some ideas based on what’s been working for me!
- Leave your phone at home. Nothing will happen if it doesn’t come with you everywhere you go. I understand that emergencies can happen and, yes, it’s important to be accessible — but an hour here or there without your phone is going to feel great. The only thing I’ve really missed since doing this more often? The camera! You may have noticed that I’ve been posting fewer photos here on the blog and sharing less on Instagram — but I can buy an actual camera to fix that. The mental shift you’ll feel when you start to physically separate from your phone is actually pretty surprising.
- Switch up your email app. A few months ago, I finally caught up to the rest of the world and downloaded the Gmail app. In doing so, I hid the standard Apple mail app (you know — the white envelope on the blue background) in another app folder so it would be out of sight and hid notifications for Gmail, which means that I don’t have to see that annoying red bubble constantly tallying up how many messages are waiting in my inbox. This allows me to check my email on the go only when I need or want to, instead of every time I see the red bubble. The red bubble is stressful, and more often than not it signifies the arrival of some random coupon or discount code I don’t even want. Along these same lines, I’ve also started to unsubscribe from as many mailing lists as possible so that I can streamline the time I’m spending across all devices.
- Put the phone away during “down time.” One of the things that most inspired me to take stock of the role my phone has been playing in my life was an episode of the Beautiful Writers podcast that Matt and I listened to when we were driving back to Pennsylvania for the holidays. The guest was Tom Hanks, and he spent a lot of time generally lamenting how obsessed everyone is with their devices — and while a lot of his thoughts on how to fix it seemed a little idealistic to me, I was struck by what he described as our inability to be bored. If a commercial comes on during our favorite show or if we’re bored during a movie, we check our Instagram to pass the time. I hate commercials as much as the next person and I’m not a big movie watcher, but this really got me thinking about what it was like to be a kid in the world pre-cell phones, when all you could do during that time was, well, sit. Or read (which is one of my favorite things, anyway!). I’ll admit that this has been a really hard one for me to keep, especially because Matt’s not on the same anti-phone crusade as I am right now, but it feels really good when I get it right.
- Put a hard stop on the phone at bedtime. I don’t pick a certain time to put my phone down for the evening because our routine can differ a little from night to night, but when I’m done with my final social media check for the night, I set the phone face-down on the nightstand and pick up my book. This might sound silly, but it’s huge! I used to keep my phone face-up on the nightstand, so if I caught the screen lighting up out of the corner of my eye with a notification, I was more likely to grab it again. I know there are a lot of people out there right now advocating for everyone to charge their phone outside of the bedroom at night (Arianna Huffington even put out a “phone bed” to spread the word on this!), but with a little self-control and a slight tweak to the habit, I’m not sure this is necessary.
- Don’t look at your phone first thing in the morning. Seriously. Turn off your alarm and just. get. out. of bed. If you can go for even the first 10 or 15 minutes of your day without checking in with the rest of the world, I think it’s really going to help! I find that what you do in the morning really sets the tone for the next few hours, and as my phone has become less of a priority first thing in the morning, I’ve naturally become less attached to it later on, too.
What are your thoughts on phone boundaries? Do you want them? Do you need them? What have you tried to put them in place? I’d love to hear more in the comments below.