Breaking up with your phone

This is a book I came across at work, which I was reading a while before lockdown. I haven’t actually broken up with my phone (far from it!), but I did find the ideas in the book helpful to reduce my phone use and make my time more focussed.

It takes a while to read (even though it isn’t that long and is extremely readable) as there is a big section outlining how smartphones work, in the sense of how they’ve been designed to make you addicted to using them as much as possible. I had a vague idea about some of this, but it was quite an eye-opener! And then there are daily actions to take over a month to reduce your usage. There are tips throughout for how to make your phone work for you. Some of the most helpful I found were:

  • VIP calls/notifications. This stops you being disturbed by calls, notifications etc but ensures that someone who genuinely does need to get hold of you still can. Mine is set so that OH and LO’s nursery can get through when I’m at work, but no one else. This also works for email, so only VIP emails get through at certain times.
  • Put the phone out of sight. I’ve discovered that putting it behind me at work, or in a drawer, means that I’m much less tempted to pick it up and start doing something. The same when I’m at home.
  • Reset notifications. This was a little time consuming to do initially, but well worth it in the long run! Basically the little red notification, or worse, banner message, that you’ve got a message/interaction/email etc acts as a spur to make you go and read it, which means you’re distracted from the reason you picked the phone up in the first place and before you know it, 45 minutes has passed. Get rid of the notifications (especially the really intrusive banner or lock screen ones) and you won’t be tempted! The only ones I have now that appear as banners are updates from LO’s nursery app, and from my map app if there’s an update about traffic on my commute.
  • Tidy up your apps. I used to have my apps arranged (as a good librarian) in folders according to their function – so shopping apps were all together, travel apps etc. To keep the useful apps very accessible and the time-sapping ones elsewhere just rearrange your apps. I now have the most useful ones (phone, calendar, to do list, weather, bank accounts, utility company) on my home screen. Social media is grouped into a folder on the second screen, so I have to make a deliberate decision to go there and use any of it.

I didn’t complete all the actions in the book. The idea is to get as far as having a phone-free weekend, and that just isn’t going to happen because I use it for so many useful purposes (as a phone and as a camera, for a start) and LO uses it too at weekends. Some of them I didn’t need to – we’ve never used phones at mealtimes, for instance, or in Ye Olden Dayes when you could meet real people for a drink or meal, I’d only get my phone out if I was going to show them a photo etc.

One way I found the book’s advice particularly useful during the early part of the pandemic was when I realised the constantly updating news (all of it grim!) was sending my anxiety levels sky-high. Particularly in the evening when I was hoping to get some sleep. I already knew that that’s how websites keep people coming back by constantly offering them something new to look at and click on. I limited the use I made of apps, and started using just the BBC News morning updates to keep me abreast of the top 5 Coronavirus stories. And no more. It meant I felt informed, wasn’t exposed to the more hysterical/dubious news sources out there and didn’t get sucked into a blackhole of constantly updating news reports.

There is still more I want to do. I have slipped back into bad habits of checking my phone in bed, which I had stopped doing for a while before the pandemic. I also want to do more to sort out my email mailing lists as there are quite a few I’m on where I never read the email so there’s no point receiving them – there’s even some I get twice as I’m on them with both my maiden and married names!

Have you looked at managing your smart phone use? Did it make a difference to you?


  1. Ha ha, this would never be a problem for me, I hate using my phone. Having grown up with desktop PCs, the tiny screen, tiny buttons, and generally useless apps seem so immensely inferior to me that I have no patience with them. I also can’t type on them, my man-hands constantly hit the wrong buttons and it is always a very frustrating experience compared to typing up to 120wpm on the PC. The copy/paste function is difficult to use on my iphone (I use it constantly on the PC), searches are more difficult, my email client doesn’t work as well, the screen is tiny and I can’t see it well with my ageing eyes, etc etc etc. I also refuse to be a slave to notification alerts so turn it all off. In fact I usually leave my phone on silent since I get very few calls on it anyhow. The only thing I actually like on it is text messaging but again find the typing difficult.
    Now if you tried to take away my desktop PC, it would be an entirely different story!!


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