4 ways to take back control of your smartphone (and life)

Your smartphone… do you know where yours is? Of course you do. You’re never without it. Better than a digital Swiss Army knife, your phone is also your camera, GPS, personal assistant, calendar, video and audio recorder and player, and of course our window to the world via the Internet. It entertains us, informs us, connects us.

Where we are, our phones are, because they can do so much for us. Almost insidiously, smartphones have wheedled their way into our lives and made themselves indispensable.

Essential for communication and productivity in our business and personal lives, our phone instantly satisfies our need for information. And there’s the rub—instant gratification starts to sound very like addiction, an ugly word indeed.

Does it matter?

Unwittingly, many people use their phone most often, not for work, but to “zombie check.” That’s when you reach for your phone almost instinctively because nothing else is demanding your attention at that second. No one called or texted, but now the phone has your focus.

The Pew Research Center surveyed smartphone users in the US. They found that among users 18-29 years old, over 90% used their phone just to avoid boredom, and almost half used it to avoid interacting with other people around them. That’s a problem.

These are the business and community leaders of the future, and technology is denying them the opportunity to face and deal with the simplest of issues.

UK communications regulator Ofcom reports that the average person in the UK checks their smartphone once every 12 minutes. Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s Director of Market Intelligence, says, “While people appreciate their smartphone as their constant companion, some are finding themselves feeling overloaded when online, or frustrated when they’re not.”

Finding the balance

Phil Montero from The Anywhere Office considered the question of what individual business people can do to sort their communication technology so they are not disturbed by non-essential or untimely interruptions.

Montero says one key to managing your communication technology is knowing how to use it.  Turn off audible or visible notifications when you don’t want to be interrupted by them. On a weekend, or at night, do you really need to be alerted every time you receive a new email?  Someone else on your team might be working late but you don’t need that notification right away.

Within your business, you could set up communication guidelines which include expected turnaround times for different forms of communication but also a priority level.  For example, voice calls can be used for priority messages versus email or text messages. That way your team members and employees are free to “turn off” their email or messages at non-essential times. If something really important needs their input, they can still be reached.

Such communication guidelines should ideally be discussed and agreed on as a group.  They should be clear and open so that everyone understands and abides by them.

Technology to control technology

A recent article in The Conversation highlighted the new screen time management tools included with the latest operating systems from the tech giants. Just as you would expect help from the manufacturer of a chainsaw, or a bottle of strong medicine, to stay safe with their product, now we have it for our phones.

Apple recently introduced Screen Time. Found in the settings menu, it creates detailed daily and weekly activity reports. It shows the total time you spend in each app you use, your usage across categories of apps, how many notifications you receive and how often you pick up your iPhone or iPad.

Googles’s new Digital Well-being dashboard for Android users has a similar design.

Equipped with this data, we may be able to target problem behaviours, and better self-regulate our phone use. The Conversation suggested the following step by step plan to use these features to take back control of your phone, and maybe gain a few extra hours for something else.

Step 1: Map your use

Examine how you use your smartphone during the day, and over a week.

Identify which part of your phone use you want to change. It could be:

  • reduce the time spent on a social media platform
  • reduce how many times you pick up your phone each day.

Step 2: Identify the triggers

What is it that triggers the particular use of your phone that you want to change?

For example, if you want to pick up your phone fewer times throughout the day, then look for the time of day, and day of the week, you have most pick-ups. Does this high use coincide with another activity – perhaps waiting for the train, or taking the kids to sports training?

Step 3: Make a plan

Use this information to develop a plan.

Set specific times when you will or won’t use your device in particular ways. Have other options available to avoid boredom, such as having a book with you, or just people watching.

A plan will help you reach your goal and increase your self-control. Try the plan for one day.

Step 4: Reflect on your plan

After one day or week of using the plan, ask yourself:

  • did you stick to the plan?
  • when was the plan most effective?
  • was the plan realistic and achievable?
  • do you need to adjust the plan so that it is achievable?


Bri Williams, an authority on behavioural economics, writes for Smart Company: “Modifying your own behaviour is one part of the puzzle, but you may also want to change the behaviour of those around you. Kids addicted to screens? Colleagues tapping away through staff meetings? The fastest way is to change the environment.

“Have Wi-Fi-free rooms, collect all devices before dinners/meetings, or provide charging points that are away from desks or bedrooms and require devices to have passcodes (they are annoying and slow impulse usage down).”

What’s not to love about a friend in your pocket that helps you locate people, book tickets, and find your way? Apply a few of these simple tips to avoid having that become a toxic love affair.