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Breaking My iPhone Addiction

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For a long time, I felt addicted to my iPhone. I often ignored the people around me in favour of email, tweets, games, and YouTube videos.

I don’t use the word addiction lightly. If I ever found myself without my phone I’d feel more than uneasy; I’d panic, frantically searching everywhere until it was found. On more than one occasion I’d arrive at the office, only to discover I’d forgotten my laptop. I’ve never forgotten my iPhone.

How could I? It gave me a false sense of importance. I mean, what if someone needed to get in touch with me immediately? What if an email came in and I missed it? Heaven forbid.

More than that, I’d forgotten how to be bored. If I was waiting in line, I’d stare at Twitter. Sitting on the toilet? Checking email. Riding on a busy streetcar? You can bet I was probably playing whatever IAP-laden game I’d downloaded that week.

I was trained to reach for my phone constantly, no matter the situation.

A while back, tired of constantly feeling tethered to my iPhone, I decided to try a 30-day experiment. I was going to try and break my addiction to my smartphone.

Here’s what I did:

Step 1: Deleted Useless Apps

If it had a news feed, it was gone. Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Facebook, you name it. Ditto for games. If an app wasn’t bringing a ton of value into my life — on a near daily basis — I got rid of it.

Digital clutter is a lot of physical clutter. You don’t realize how much mental space it’s taking up until it’s gone.

Step 2: Turned Off Notifications

For a long time, I felt bombarded by notifications. Sorry, I should really just call them what they are; distractions. How many apps truly needed to get my attention immediately? Damn few.

I kept notifications turned on for Messages, Phone, and Calendar. I turned everything else off.

The silence was glorious.

Step 3: Removed Mail

I figured, most “emergencies” aren’t emergencies at all. And most emergencies weren’t going to show up in my inbox. Compulsively checking email wasn’t a productive use of my time, so I removed all of my accounts.

I started batching my inbox processing, usually checking twice a day on my laptop. And never first thing in the morning.

Step 4: Removed Safari

Controversial, perhaps. But my mobile browsing was less, “exploring the infinite world of knowledge made possible by the internet,” and more, “checking IMDB to see if that actor was on E.R. once.”

If I really needed to look something up, I’d ask Siri or — briefly — re-enable Safari. But it didn’t come up much. Often, browsing could wait until I was at my desk.

Step 5: Disable iTunes Store, App Store, and In-App Purchases

The killing blow.

I wanted to be more intentional about how I spent my time, attention, and money. These three apps were actively working against that goal, so they had to go.

In-app purchases were particularly troublesome for me. We’re all smart people here, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has gotten sucked into a game and blown money on a sack of coins, pile of gems, or whatever.

So, how’d it go?

I won’t lie — some of these steps were really hard to take.

It took a long time before I shook the habit of reaching into my left pocket for my phone, when I had a spare moment. But, eventually, I found I was far more present with the people around me. I spent less time consuming mindless crap and my stress levels decreased significantly.

Look, I didn’t stick with all of these changes once the 30 days were up. A few social media apps have made their way back onto my phone. And not having an email client was fairly untenable. But I no longer allow my phone to run my life.

Now, I use my iPhone intentionally — and only in ways that support how I want to spend my day. It’s made a huge difference.

Your Turn

If any of this sounds familiar, I’d encourage you to give my experiment a try — if only for a week. I mean, you can do anything for just a week right?

After seven days, you can go back to your old habits. But I suspect most of you won’t.

Until next week,