Breaking free of your smartphone addiction

Putting down that phone can enhance creativity and free you up for other things that matter

Are you addicted to your phone?

You’ve asked yourself this question in one form or another. Your phone is undoubtedly a productivity-enhancing, communication-enabling, information-processing, knowledge database of a machine.

It’s also a hub for platforms and all of their business models centre on holding as much of your time as possible.

I recently came across something called the Smartphone Compulsion Test. By answering 15 yes-or-no questions, you’ll find out if your phone usage is in the normal range or if you should consider seeing a mental health professional specializing in behavioural addiction. Yes, that’s an actual survey result, and I achieved it. Granted, the survey was created by David Greenfield, who runs the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction.

But prominent figures partially responsible for our smartphone dependence have also expressed concern. Apple CEO Tim Cook. Tristan Harris, former Google executive. Even the head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has said spending less time on Facebook is a good thing. But he also just launched a Facebook chat app designed for children.

Discussions on cutting back smartphone usage often take the slant of “you have a problem, and so you need to deny yourself something you like.” That’s not always the best motivation. Think of it this way: for all the time you spend, non-productively, on your phone, you could be doing better things. Things you’ve been putting off; things you haven’t had the chance to try. Work. Or relax. Whatever.

Scrolling through tweets or photos can keep your brain in a state of constant distraction. It’s hard to stomach sometimes, but boredom encourages you to be creative. The absence of your phone can force you to think deliberately.

The first step is awareness. There are apps that accurately record just how much time you spend on your phone, and what apps you spend that time on. The numbers will likely be surprising even if you brushed off the results of the Smartphone Compulsion Test.

Start with small things. Keep your phone on silent mode. Turn off notifications for social media, or delete the app altogether and use the browser version. Reduce the number of games you have downloaded, and put the remaining ones out of sight of the home page. 

If you can do that, you can try something harder, like putting your phone away when you meet friends, family and workmates. You get the drift.

Limit your phone usage to the essentials. Cut out needless distractions. Free up time for things that matter more to you.