According to research from RescueTime, one of several apps for iOS and Android created to monitor phone use, people generally spend an average of three hours and 15 minutes on their phones every day, with the top 20% of smartphone users spending upwards of four and a half hours.
In the American Psychological Associations' annual Stress in America survey, a fifth of U.S. adults (around 18%) cited technology use as a significant source of stress in their life. For many, it is the ever-present digital connection and constant need to keep checking emails, texts, and social media that accounted for the majority of this tech stress.
In a way, I was not too different from these people, and I realised something needed to change. I would like to take you on a journey, a journey that starts a month ago. A month ago, the last thing I’d be staring at was my phone — the first thing I was starting at was…surprise, surprise, my phone.
As the experimenting guinea-pig that I am, I was 100% aware that this was no way good for me. Yet, I struggled to resist the allure and fascination of my device.
Instead of beating myself with the proverbial whip, I put my learning hat on.
I discovered that the reason we often reach for apps or games on our phones is simple — they’re designed to be engaging.
As Ian Bogost notes, that’s because they have an incredibly effective system of rewards and challenges.
The tech moguls who invented social media are banning their kids from using it. Tech “detoxes” are becoming a trend in luxury travel. Ironically, disconnection itself seems to have become an elite privilege. However, it truly does not have to be, as many of us can tap into more conscious breaks at any time.
All right, so let’s say willpower alone will not help me in this case, and that I truly want to improve my sleeping and morning routine.
After looking hard and long for solutions, I discovered I had what I needed right before my eyes, on my phone.
“Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.”―Stephen Covey
Welcome to Screen Time
On most iPhones that support the latest iOS, you can access an incredible smart feature in your settings. This feature is called Screen time.
Screen time allows you to set restrictions for your apps.
You can restrict the use of all of your apps for a period of time every day or customize it for specific days.
You can also restrict a selected choice of apps, and only allow key apps such as messages, maps, etc.
Could this be the catalyst that would help me set a more positive, sustainable screen routine before bed and in the morning?
I put it to the test pronto.
As my screen time kicks in at 10 pm on weekdays, I make sure I am pretty much done with any screen (may it be us watching a movie or any external browsing).
Following the common-sense rule of no screens 60 minutes before bed I calculated that if I am aiming to go to bed at about 11 pm, dissuading me from a last pre-bed Instagram browsing would be beneficial.
“Checking your phone stimulates the brain so we are more active and awake,” shares sleep disorders specialist, Harneet Walia, MD “Even just a quick check can engage your brain and prolong sleep.”
There is also an element of me having to put extra effort in order to get my “rewards”, which is dissuading me from taking the action.
Turns out, having to “ignore my limit” and go past the wall I put for myself is enough to prevent me from heading to my Instagram and Medium (my favorite morning and evening phone-suckers).
I always have a book by my bedside table, in case I want to read instead of spending some more time chatting through the day with my boyfriend.
Overall, the screen time worked effortlessly — win!
This is where the proverbial cookie may crumble.
You see, in the mornings I tend to wake up really early, and looking for a kick of adrenaline I tend to be much weaker in willpower than I’d like to admit.
Instead of jumping into my morning meditation, I would spend thirty minutes in the black hole of scrolling.
I, therefore, made sure that the first hour of my day I would only allow my meditation app, my meditation audio and Pocket on my phone (as well as the basic apps such as maps and messages).
Why Pocket, you may ask?
Because I love to spend my post-meditation and stretch time by reading interesting articles. Yet, instead of heading to a browser or Medium, I save all my interesting reads into Pocket with a tag Read later.
Having my coffee whilst reading the paper has never been sexier. I’ve been using Pocket for over five years now, yet not to this extent before.
Overall, creating a simple routine that does not require me guessing or thinking too much, as well as having most of my apps locked until 8 am has been what has helped me take any guessing out of the equation.
Three weeks in, and I still manage to do focused, uninterrupted work until 11 am most mornings, as I carry on the good practices I set from when I wake up.
All you need is already there for you
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.” -Zig Ziglar
Obviously, screen time is a native iPhone functionality, so I cannot vouch for other devices.
However, taking the time to find your very own version of this tool could make wonders for your habit-forming goals.
The beauty of a routine is that it will affect people differently — finding what works for you and using the power of repetition can be what changes your whole relationship with your phone.