How many hours do you currently spend on your phone each day?

In his great book, Irresistible, Adam Alter found that most people spend between one and four hours on their phone each day – and many far longer. If we say it’s 4, that’s 100 hours each month!

That book was published in 2017. I don’t know about you, but my iPhone usage has soared in the past month that we’ve been in lock down with the COVID-19 pandemic. When this topic was requested for our weekly habit challenges, I looked up my own usage from last week (more on how to do that later). I nearly feel off my seat.

Last week I spent 29 hours, 44 minutes on my phone!

Wow. That literally renders my speechless. Needless to say, I’m grateful for the people who suggested this week’s Habit Challenge. I need this just as much as much as any of you – maybe more.

But, I know I’m not alone. For every screen you and I look at, there are a ton of engineers thinking about how to get us to spend more time looking at it. When we’re on sites like Instagram or Facebook or Twitter we need to be realistic. We are the product. These companies are using us – and specifically our attention – to sell to advertisers. Everything about those sites (and many others) is designed to keep suck our attention for as long as possible. It is called the ‘attention economy’ after all.

The first step in breaking a negative habit, or creating a positive one, is to get clear on WHY this is important to you and, specifically on the impact of practicing it (or stopping to do so). Inside of that, think about what are your values and who is the person you want to BE in all the key areas of life. How does obsessively checking your phone all day impact on how you embody your values and how you’re showing up in your life?

Personally, I like to think of my life in three categories: energy, love and purpose (work/passions). Let’s explore the impacts of our iPhone addiction in each of these areas.

The impact of iPhone addiction on our energy and health

Staring at a screen all day sucks my energy. It leaves me feeling wired and even jittery by the end of the day. If you haven’t already, please read up on the impacts of EMF – especially if, like me, you have kids. I can literally feel the impact of EMF in my body if I’ve been on my phone for too long.

Did you know, Steve Jobs wouldn’t even let his own kids use the iPad he created. And, he’s not alone. A bunch of other tech luminaries imposed similar restrictions. From the former editor of Wired magazine to a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium. Tight restrictions.

Because, social apps are so addictive, if I look at them at night I can often get sucked into a vortex and hours can pass by with me mindlessly scrolling like a zombie. That then affects both the quality and duration of my sleep (I track my sleep on an Aura ring so I’ve seen the data on this time and time again).

I don’t know about you, but I also find too long on social media aps can lead me down the path of comparisonitis. And that’s toxic. Whenever you’re focusing on comparing yourself to all the amazing things other people are doing (which of course is BS because most people only share the shiny stuff on social), you feel more and more crap about yourself. At a time when mental health is in a precarious state globally (in general, but specifically in the current circumstances), we need to do everything to nourish ourselves and limit what has us feeling anxious and sad.

Talking about anxious, this is a heightened time of fear for many. Being on your phone all day seeing the latest information about how many people have died from Coronavirus and the gruesome stories, will only exacerbate anxiety and hopelessness. And that, just weakens the very thing we need to protect right now: our immune system.

Also, as Cal Newport points our in his iconoclastic book, Digital Minimalism, humans are not wired to be constantly wired. We need solitude to thrive. Yet with the encroachment of social media and our iPhones on every moment of our day, we’ve been systematically reducing this crucial ingredient from our lives.

When was the last time you were in stillness with your thoughts?

The impact of iPhone addiction on our relationships

Presence is the most important gift we can give to our loved ones. Your iPhone is its greatest saboteur.

I can’t stand it when I’m at the park with my kids and I see parents all around me who are spending time with their phones, not their kids. Seriously, I’ve seen mums spend hours just staring at their phone while their kids vie for their attention. Same for when families or friends are out at dinner and instead of actually talking to each other, they’re staring at their phone.

In his book, Are You Fully Charged, Tom Rath, shares an incredible study from 2014 called ‘The iPhone Effect’, which shows how the mere presence of a smartphone can ruin a conversation and lead to disconnection. The study found that simply placing a mobile phone or iPad on the table or having participants hold it in their hand was a detriment to their conversations. Any time the phone was visible, the people felt disconnected. In other words, you don’t even need to be on it, just having it around leads to heightened disconnection, but if you’re checking it all the time, that’s amplified.

In short, our iPhone addiction is toxic to our relationships.

The simplest, most powerful way to bring back more connection in all your relationships is to put your phone on airplane mode and put it away!

The impact of iPhone addiction on our work

“The monkey mind’s constant activity reflects a deep restlessness: monkeys can’t sit still because their minds never stop. Likewise, most of the time, the human mind delivers up a constant stream of consciousness. Even in quiet moments, minds are prone to wandering. Add a constant buzz of electronics, the flash of a new message landing in your in-box, the ping of voicemail, and your mind is as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso,”The distraction addiction – Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.

Our iPhone’s are making our minds as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso. Yup, pretty much!

If we have a jittery monkey mind, that jumps all over the place and can’t concentrate, we’re never going to be really good at what we do. We’re never going to fulfill our true potential. I created Optimize Habits precisely to help all of us – including myself – BE our best possible self. One habit at a time. Obviously, breaking our iPhone addiction is a fundamental step if we want to BE and perform at our best.

When we’re working, it’s crucial to have blocks of deep work. I’m going to to a separate weekly challenge all about this as it’s the number one key to productivity, but you can read more right now in Cal Newport’s fantastic book, Deep Work.

Needless to say, getting constantly distracted from our work by the pings of emails or social media notifications is the death of productivity and deep work. Every time we move from one task to another (ie writing a report to checking our Facebook feed), our mind has to spend energy to bring us back to focus. By some estimates, we can lose several hours or work every week by task-shifting.

I work nearly full time, have two young kids and Optimize Habits to run. I don’t want to waste time. I want to focus my energy and attention on my priorities. When I’m working, I want to be as productivity as possible so I can completely relax and be present with my family afterwards.

With all of this, let me be clear.

I hope you’re clear on the impact that your iPhone over-use has on these key areas of your life. Now, it’s time to break the habit. But, I don’t want you to just read this article and get inspired and take a one off action. I want you to break this habit for good. To do that, please pause and download my FREE guide to creating habits that run on autopilot and the accompanying workbook. Following that will give you the structure to kick this habit for good. Furthermore, as you’ll reading that guide, accountability is a key step. So, please follow me on Instagram and Facebook, where I’ll be showing up throughout the week to help you follow the steps in the guide so you can quit your iPhone addiction once and for all.

Get your free workbook for this week’s challenge that will take you through my Optimize Habits formula so you can create this habit and make it run on autopilot!

BTW, I do get that it’s ironic me telling you to follow me on social media when we’re talking about breaking our iPhone addictionJ But, in the steps below and in the workbook we’re going to be working on how to create strict boundaries around those platforms so you can still get their benefit without the impact.

It’s time to break the habit!

Bring awareness to just how much you use your iPhone

The first step in any change is to bring awareness to the behavior you’re trying to change. We want to break the habit of mindlessly scrolling throughout the day and automatically grabbing our phone all the time like we’re lost without it. The fact is, we’re currently doing that on autopilot. We need to bring awareness to the behavior.

To do that, I want you to go into your settings and then select Screen Time. Select ‘see all activity’ and then scroll the screen back to last week’s activity. That will tell you up the top the average amount of time you were on your phone each day and below the graph it will show you the total screen time for the week. Write down those two numbers. Or better yet, take a screen shot of it (or get your partner to take a photo of it).

Then, scroll down to the ‘most used’ section and note down what you spend most of your time on your phone doing. For me, last week it was Instagram, Safari, Messages, Camera, YouTube and DownDog, in that order. You can also note down how long you spent on each. We’ll come back to this soon.

Finally, I want you to look at the section on ‘pickups’. This is the number you picked up your phone in the week and also the most pickups in a day. This is pretty scary when you reflect on my points above at how this wrecks out attention and presence! But, don’t worry, scary is good.

Now you have a baseline to work from and we’re going to improve it. You now know how many hours you spend each day and each week on your phone, think about all those things that you say you’d love to do but don’t have time. Think about how many hours you’ll free up by breaking this habit!

Get honest about your weaknesses

We all have times when we’re more susceptible to being sucked into the iPhone vortex and spending far more time than we want on it. Equally, we all have specific apps or games or websites that suck us in. I’m sure you already know yours, but the step above will help you bring even more clarity to this.

For me, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram in bed at night costs me a good night of sleep, which in turn affects my energy the next day and my ability to focus and probably will leave me as a cranky mum. Not what I want. The benefits? Maybe I get some inspiration from friends and people I follow – but at night I’m also more susceptible to comparisonitis. My willpower is also totally shot at night (as is the case for all of us), so me telling myself ‘I’m just going to scroll for 20 minutes’ is equivalent of buying a bag of Scoop’s chocolate peanuts and telling myself that I’m only going to eat one. Yea right.

Do a cost-benefit analysis

I’m not anti-iPhones. I’m pro-optimizing. Use your iPhone to help you thrive. But create red-line boundaries so it doesn’t stop you from being your best self.

Consider your values (always but especially right now). What are all the reasons you’re on your phone? What are your greatest uses of your phone? What’s the impact of that usage in relation to your values? On the other hand, what are the benefits of using it for that purpose in relation to your values?

For example, exercise and wellbeing are priority values for me so my daily use of DownDog and all their associated exercise apps is totally in line with that. Personal growth and optimizing is another value and I like following thought leaders in this area on Instagram. BUT, I can see from my usage, that it’s very easy for me to tip over from the beneficial to costing me my health, focus and connection. So, this is something I don’t want to totally get rid of, but absolutely but strict boundaries around.

What about you?

Create a concrete goal and strong motivation

As I wrote in the Optimize Habits Formula guide to creating habits that run on autopilot, we need to make habits simple to achieve or to break and we need to be specific about what we want to to achieve and why.

So, I want you to create a specific, achievable goal. By achievable, I mean set yourself up for success by making something you can easily win on – then you can grow from there.

You could just look at reducing the totally number of hours on the phone (using the data above). But, I think it would be much easier to focus on your greatest weakness and start there – and again make it stupid small so you can’t fail.

Set boundaries

Just because all the cool kids have a certain app or are on social media for every waking hour doesn’t mean we need to. We’ve got better things to do!

Because our phones and specifically social media or mindless googling is so addictive, we need to create BRIGHT LINES to follow. I talk about this in detail in the attach workbook, but an example would be: I don’t get on Facebook or Instagram after 7pm.

What are some bright lines you can create?

Unfortunately, willpower is limited. We can’t rely on it. That’s why we use our limited willpower to create habits that will run on autopilot.

One step to breaking a bad habit, is to make it hard to engage in that habit.

Enter, using technology cleverly to curb technology!

Here are a few apps you could consider that will help you control your iPhone usage without having to rely on your willpower:

  • In your phone under Screen Time, there’s a button called ‘Downtime’. Click that and it will allow you to set times that you don’t want to use your phone. The problem is it’s pretty easy to override (unlike the following suggestions) but it’s a quick, free and easy starting point.
  • Freedom app will block the apps or sites that you select (your weaknesses) for the time periods you select. While you can override it, it’s challenging.
  • Moment app tracks your device usage and allows you to set daily limits and will let you know if you exceed that. You can also choose to set it so it will force you off your phone by flooding your screen with annoying alerts when you try to extend your screen time.
  • Flipd appIf you really want to give your willpower a break (yes please!) this is the app for you. It allows you to lock your phone for a set period of time, and once you do, you can’t cheat!

Make it invisible

When you’re trying to break a bad habit, you want to make it invisible. With the iPhone addiction the easiest way to do that is to turn off all your notifications so you’re not constantly having your attention blown up by beeps telling you that someone has liked your post on Facebook (or whatever else).

So, go now and turn off all your notifications (I have everything turned off apart from the phone ringing and messages).

Create accountability

Accountability is key to creating or breaking a habit. So here are two steps you can take:

  1. Invite some friends who also struggle with iPhone addiction (most people right now I’d say) to join you in this challenge and forward this this article. Then set up some sort of structure where you can check in with each other on how you’re going.
  2. ! I’m going to be sharing all week on Instagram and Facebook (only at set times using my new boundaries!) what I’m doing to kick this habit. So, follow me and join along and tell me how you’re going – bonus points for sharing a photo of your usage at the start then again after week!

From here, I’d recommend following the steps in the attached Optimize Habits guide and use the workbook so you can create your own strategy to kick this habit once and for all! I can’t wait to hear how you go.

Get your free workbook for this week’s challenge that will take you through my Optimize Habits formula so you can create this habit and make it run on autopilot!