I’ve always battled with the relationship with my mobile phone. There were times when I was the same as everyone else, using it frequently, unlocking it for no reason, having it as my ‘go to’ option when stood in a queue at the supermarket. There have also been plenty of times in the past when I’ve gone ‘cold turkey’ and simply switched it off for a few days at a time when I’ve had enough of it.
I’ve also known, deep down, at the back of my mind these devices are terrible for your mental health, and are seriously damaging the way we interact with people and the world around us. There is more scientific, factual evidence to support this, with more and more people suffering with some kind of mental health problem – particular the younger generation. There is also proven research which simply points to our addiction to mobile phones being down to dopamine (which is like adrenaline) which our own bodies produce and release. Find yourself checking your phone over and over again – that’s a dopamine craving my friend.
I’d love to tell this as story about where it began, but I don’t really know. All I can be very clear on is how my attitude towards the “give me attention now” device has seriously shifted over the last couple of months.
The first thing that happened, was that @mattstocker recommended I check out the great little book “How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life” by Catherine Price. This is a great starting point to help you reduce your phone use and really think about how and why you’re using the device. I’m not going to through all of the book here, you’ll need to put down your mobile and pickup the book yourself to get the most benefit from it – along with finding what works for you. What I will go into is just a couple of small takeaway points that I implemented from the book which worked for me:
- Start by simply logging your mobile phone use. This in itself should have a huge impact on how you see your mobile phone. I installed an app called Quality Time which tells me how many times I unlock my phone, and how long I spend each day using it. I was already a low use mobile phone user, but even I was somehow using it up to two hours every day, that’s 14 hours a week, 56 hours a month or a whooping 28 days a year. I could no longer use the excuse for “I’m too busy” – as I clearly had lots of free time when I could be doing something, much, much better than using my mobile phone
- I put a message on my lock screen, which reminded me to question why I was about to unlock my phone
- I turned off notifications for everything – and I mean everything
- I stripped back on my installed apps – leaving me with a very small handful of utility based apps
All these improvements worked well for me, but I wanted to take things a step further.
I finally realised that my phone is the same as someone barging into my office at work and saying “Stop what you’re doing right now as this is much more important” – when it’s a call just to see arrange a meeting or confirm that I got that email. My time is precious to me, and once I got my head round this, I really started to up my game. My default mode on my mobile is now Airplane mode. I’ll take it out of this mode if I’m expecting a call, if I need to make a call or I feel the need to remind myself why I need Whatsapp.
I know some of you will be thinking one of the following:
- “I can’t do that, I need to be available all the time” – I’m here to tell you don’t. I don’t care if you’re Elon Musk, Simon Cowell (oh wait a sec, he has been phoneless for 10 months now…) or a humble business owner like me – you don’t need to be available 24/7. This will actually be holding you back. Have you ever had a message or missed a call from someone, you follow it up and they say something like “Don’t worry I had a question about X, but as I couldn’t get you, I figured it out myself” – that’s what happens most of the time. I’m a big reader, and some business books will say how you need to be available all the time, remove the office door to have an ‘always open’ policy – but trust me, it doesn’t work
- “I need to be available all the time for my children or elderly family member” – Not a bad argument, however I’m a parent and I’m still deeply unavailable most of the time. If there is a genuine emergency my family know my work number, they know where I work and they also have my home phone number (remember landlines – they’re actually awesome)
- “I’d miss out on social events without my mobile phone” – Yes, sometimes I do. However I’ve never been on Facebook either, and I know I’ve missed events because I didn’t want to hand over my life to them. This doesn’t actually bother me. I accept it. The benefits far outweigh the downside of missing the odd event. I know mobiles are quite good for this side of things. I’m no angel, and I’m currently orgainising where to watch some World Cup games via Whatsapp. But overall, I was able to get to events before I ever had a mobile phone, so did everyone else I know, so it’s clearly possible. Ask your parents if you don’t believe me
- “I need it for photos” – They are great for photos. The issue is, you start off taking a photo, then you’re sucked into a YouTube blackhole and you don’t re-appear for several hours. Go old school. I’ve dug out my old digital camera. It’s great. It just takes photos. Imagine that.
So how am I using my mobile phone at present? This changes all the time, but at the moment, here is what’s working really well for me.
- It’s in airplane mode, most of the time. I tend to perhaps take it out of this mode (other than when I need to make/take a call) once every couple of days to see if there any messages of interest
- My phone is banned from my home (as in, I put the ban in place myself)
- Family have my home phone number to reach me at the weekends and evenings
Will I get to the point where I retire it completely? Not sure on that, but if Simon Cowell can do it, then perhaps I can.
The finally section of this article are the ‘benefits’, so here’s what I’ve noticed about myself:
- I’m no longer on edge when the phone rings (and mine used to ring a lot…) about the next situation I have to be dragged into. As it’s in Airplane Mode, it will only ring when I allow it to and as a result I feel much less stressed, more focused and much more happy. I don’t have voicemail either.
- I simply get more done – that might be a work task, that might be having more time to spend with my family, but the above statistics aren’t made up – I’ve freed up 14 hours a week to do other things. I know my usage was already low, with some people spending 6/7 hours a day on their phones – what could you actually do with that time?
- I’m more engaged in everything I do – That might be a simple conversation, that might be thinking about a solution to a work related task. But I’m not distracted and I really feel properly engaged in everything I do. Going back to the beginning of this article – rather than face planting into my phone when stood in a queue, I might actually talk to real people around me to pass the time. It’s a truly remarkable experience.
- You won’t believe me on this one – but please just try going phoneless, just for a day or two and see if I’m right. Have you seen the film Limitless? For those that haven’t, the film is about taking a magic pill which makes you see the world in a different light and you’re able to think at a higher level. Turning your phone off does this. Honestly. I notice stuff I’ve never noticed before. There are so many examples. The most recent example is going for a walk with my little girl, and a huge bird of prey flew over the top of us and landed in a tree just across the road. If I was texting or checking Instagram (yes I’m on Instagram, but I only have access to it via my Tablet), I would never have noticed this, as I would have been face down and walking like something for The Walking Dead. Instead my head was up, I was listening to everything around me, and when that bird entered my eye line, I noticed it straight away. This happens all the time. I mean all the time. Every hour of every day. Limitless.
In summary, please, if nothing else, just log your mobile phone use and ask yourself after a week of logging it – what could you actually do with that time? Why not go a step further and see what happens when you’re not available 24/7. My money says nothing bad will happen at all, even though you think it will. And what about missing out things? You just might. But so what.
Gavin Moorhouse is the owner of Lucid Computer Solutions, a midlands based IT Support and Services Business. He produced this article in around fifteen minutes, as his mobile phone was nowhere to be seen.