Chances are you’re reading this on your phone. Well, maybe you shouldn’t be.
Right now, there is a growing body of research that says excessive phone use is really bad for you. For starters, it’s bad for your brain, your neck, your eyes, and your fingers. It’s also linked to poor sleep, higher stress levels, and depression. This week, author Adam Alter released a new book called Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Getting Us Hooked, which dedicates 368 pages to the science of phone addiction and why you should be cutting back on the technology in your pocket.
But how do you actually curb your phone use? After all, your smartphone isn’t exactly a bottle of Jack you can pour down the sink. You need it holstered to your side at all times to thrive in the 21st century—to communicate with family, friends, your boss, even any potential romantic “matches.”
So we tracked down James A. Roberts, PhD, professor of marketing at Baylor University and author of Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?, who has written more than 75 papers on the subject of human and consumer behavior, and gathered his top tips and hacks for walking through life without serving as a slave to your phone. And while you’re improving yourself, don’t miss these 100 Ways to Be a Healthier Man.
If answering emails on your phone anywhere and everywhere is your phone-use poison—and, especially, if you have an insatiable need to get back to everyone right away—this tip is for you. On busy workdays, set up a brief automatic reply that says something along the lines of: “I’ve received your message and it is important to me, but I’m trying to get a lot of work done today, so I will only be responding to emails at 10am, noon, and 3pm today. Thanks.” It goes a long way. “People aren’t going to think you’re ignoring them or you’re being unproductive,” says Roberts. For more ways to minimize your phone use at work, see here.
Pick a time of the week and promise yourself you won’t post on social media at all during that period. Roberts calls these “social media fasts.” Maybe it’s for three hours on Saturday afternoons. Maybe it’s from noon to dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Roberts suggests evenings, for three reasons. One, you’re more prone to drink during the evening, and therefore more prone to sending a message you may regret. Two, “people just don’t need to hear back from you at 10, 12, 2 in the morning,” says Roberts. They can wait. And three, you’ll sleep better. The blue light that emanates from smartphones disturbs your sleep. Sounds like a win-win-win. But if you need your phone to spice up your social life, we understand. Here are the Best Dating Apps for People Over 40.
The irony here is palpable. Roberts says this tip is the digital version of “hair of the dog,” the term for staving off the effects of a hangover by returning to alcohol the next day. Download apps like Moment and BreakFree, which track your smartphone usage, so you can see, in raw data, how much time you’re wasting. Talk about a reality check. And if you’re feeling stressed out, don’t miss our roundup of the Biggest Male Stressors—Conquered.
So this is a thing. Seriously. While Yondr’s “smartphone pouches” look undeniably goofy, they’re actually quite handy and sophisticated. First, you put your phone in a magnetically sealed pouch. Then, you designate a smartphone-free zone in your home or workplace. During that time, the pouch stays locked so you can’t use it. If you want to use your phone, you have to physically leave the zone. The bedroom could be a good zone to start with, for example. For more great life hacks, here are the 50 Best Ways to Be a (Much) Better Man.
When it comes to helping people quit something, say, drinking or smoking, psychologists use “social contracts,” where they literally draft up a contract of where and when behavior is permitted or prohibited, and tie rewards and punishment to goals. No smoking after 5:00, for example. If you succeed for a week, you get to watch the game on Monday. If not, well…
In this case, it would be a contract about phone use. You set your own rules and rewards—and punishments. The tough part is finding someone to execute the contract, ideally someone who won’t succumb to the same urges that had you drafting the thing in the first place.
“I like to think of this like the Dutch reclaiming the sea,” says Roberts. “A little bit at a time. Small victories.” This one is a no-brainer. If you’re getting behind the wheel, put your phone away. For one thing, texting and driving is wildly irresponsible. For another, even if your drive is only ten minutes, that’s ten more minutes without your phone. Small victories, indeed.
You’re out to dinner, famished, your food arrives, you’re dying of anticipation, ready to dig in. But wait! Someone at the table just absolutely needs that perfect Instagram picture. Does this really need to happen? “Sometimes taking a picture becomes more important than experiencing the event itself,” says Roberts. So next time you’re about to whip out your camera, think twice. Live in the moment—which is also a great way to Relive Your 20s.
It’s tough, especially if dinner is with your in-laws. But those dinners are few and far between, and presumably most of your meals are with company you genuinely enjoy. Not to say your in-laws aren’t great! Just that lunch with Ted from down the hall is more conversationally stimulating. So put away the phone and do what you’re there to do: chat. Also, for further evidence as to why this is an excellent idea, please refer to tip #7.
“One of the reasons we’re so overly attached to our smartphones is because we do get a rush of dopamine, serotonin, [when we use them],” says Roberts. The natural step would be to find a replacement. “There are so many more ways to get endorphins than from a funny pet video, like pleasurable interaction, or displays of affection” says Roberts. He suggests hugs. Best Life suggests something a little bit more distracting. If you’re looking to improve your performance in the sack, here are the Yoga Moves That Will Transform Your Sex Life.
Of course, another way to generate those sweet, sweet endorphins is a classic. Go for a run. Lift some weights. Do yoga. (That one can help a lot with tip #7.) Every minute spent exercising is a minute not spent reading a silly internet article. And whatever you do, don’t bring along your smartphone as your jukebox. That entirely defeats the purpose. You needn’t go entirely analog, though. Here are the best fitness trackers on the market.
When all else fails, sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. This is perhaps alarmingly simple, but take the phone that’s on your desk right now and just flip it over. It’s the Schrödinger’s Cat of digital life: if you don’t see the notifications, are there any notifications at all? And sure, this may require Herculean levels of self control. So start small. A half hour the first week, then one hour, then two, and so on. After all, “without self control, nothing of good can be accomplished in life,” says Roberts.