I knew something had to change when I started seeing phone notifications when I shut my eyes.
… you know the ones that appear on an iPhone Home/lock screen when you’re not even using the phone – lighting up the display to tell you that ‘Something just happened in the online world! You don’t want to miss this!’.
As I was dozing in and out of sleep one evening a few weeks ago, I could see my phone’s screen burned into the inside of my eyelids, with notifications popping up from Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat. These notifications looked convincing but weren’t even real, my brain just made them up.
That’s not normal, right? 😬
I got up the next day and decided I needed to sort this out; I had already started to notice that I was wasting hours each day getting distracted and mindlessly scrolling through my phone, and this was the final straw.
Did I do a digital detox or hide my phone away for a week?
Partly because I physically can’t (I run a business that requires me to be active on social media), but also partly because I don’t ‘digital detoxes’ help.
The trouble with digital detoxes (and any type of ‘detox’, to be honest) is that they’re often just used as a quick fix/short term way of dealing with something that probably actually needs a more sustainable life change. Sure, I can cut out social media and distractions for a weekend or a week, but once that week is over, it’s highly likely I’ll just slowly slip into my old habits if I haven’t made a solid plan to stop that from happening again.
And, like I say, for some of us, it’s just not realistic to cut out your phone or social media completely. So what can you do instead?
Below are some of the things that I’ve done over the past couple of weeks that have really helped me get less distracted, feel more focused and productive, and a bit less stressed too!
I turned off notifications on my phone
I’ve switched Home/lock screen notifications off for EVERYTHING. It was just way too distracting! Then for the apps that I need to know whether there’s been activity, I just allow the little red dot notification next to the app instead, which I can only see if I am actually on my phone.
I rearranged the layout and ‘hid’ certain apps on my phone
Instinctively we arrange our phone screens so that all our most used apps are easy access. I had Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok etc all on my first screen to save me scrolling through my phone to find what I need, but that meant that every time I went on my phone to just get the calculator or timer, I’d see those apps and instantly be tempted to open them.
So now my first screen on my phone only has the essentials (weather, calculator, actual phone etc), and I’ve created several pages/screens on my phone to send Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat wayyy to the back of the line (and in their own folders), so that it requires much more effort to go swiping around to find them. Just the process of having to swipe to get to them is enough to wake me out of my automation mode and make me realise I was going to those apps to procrastinate.
This is a tip I read about from the Make Time book by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky*.
I stopped checking email on my phone
This felt like a drastic step but it has been a GAME CHANGER for me! I still have the Gmail app on my phone (hidden away in a folder a few screens in), but I don’t have notifications for it, or even the little red notification indicator dot anymore, and I’ve completely stopped checking it.
Because realistically, why do I check my email on my phone? The emails I receive usually require me to spend time acting on something and then formulating a proper reply from my desktop, so I never actually respond from my phone. All I end up doing is opening the email when I’m out and about, reading what’s inside, and then spend the next hour or so thinking about that email and stressing that I’m not at my laptop to reply properly.
This has saved me so much anxiety and stress when I’m not at my desk, I can’t even tell you.
(I have kept the app as sometimes you need to access some information in an email when you’re out and about, like a return scan label or things like that!).
I set a specific 30 minute slot each day for social engagement
Engaging with people on social media is an activity I need to do for my business in order for me to hit the growth goals that I want. However, I was mistaken for thinking I had to respond to people instantly, and I was always finding myself spending 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there going on Instagram to ‘engage’ throughout the day, telling myself I was being efficient. But it was actually just distracting me from my important tasks.
Now I set aside 30 minutes at the end of each working day to go on social media and reply to people and engage with them, instead of doing little bits here and there in the day.
I set timer limits on certain apps on my phone
On iPhones you can go into your Settings and go to Screen Time, and you can set Downtime (times of day when your phone will block you from all apps – mine is set between 10pm and 7am) and App Limits (set amounts of time you’re allowed to use certain apps before your phone blocks you from using them).
You can also get apps that help you do this if you use another brand of phone, and you can also get apps/extensions for your computer that do the same thing but for distraction sites like news sites, blogs and forums.
I try not to go on my phone after 9.30pm
I tend to post content to my social media around 9pm as that’s when a lot of my audience are online, but after that I put it down and away, and pick up a book to read instead. I could definitely get better at doing this, as I know the ‘blue light’ isn’t great for keeping me awake at night, but nobody’s perfect.
I only check my email 2 or 3 times per day
Having my emails open all the time is a constant distraction; I’ll be in the middle of a task and see an email come in, and instantly be distracted to go and find out what it is, which is a NIGHTMARE for getting anything done with any level of focus. So I’ve stopped keeping my emails open and have started just checking and going through my emails once in the morning and once in the middle of the afternoon, and on more intense client days I might check it once or twice more too.
Depending on your situation, it may also not be possible for you to do some of these things – I get it. But all I will say is that it’s important to weigh up the true cost of living a distracted life.
Every time you get a notification or find yourself scrolling on your phone, not only do you waste a few minutes here and there, but it also takes you longer to get back into the flow of the task you’ve been doing. Some studies suggest it can take up to 23 minutes to get back into full focus again after you’ve been interrupted/distracted!
And consider how it might be affecting your sleep – like it had been for me! Getting notifications when I shut my eyes and emails in my dreams… it was stressing me out as well as taking up time.
I hope these tips help but do share your own in the comments if you’ve been working through this too!
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