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This Is Why You Keep Checking Your Smartphone

Here's how to cut down your phone usage and take charge of your time

Nowadays we often hear it said that our lives are busier than ever before. However, that is largely because we chose to make ourselves busy.

With Social Media, YouTube, Netflix, emails and constant notifications, there is always something to keep ourselves busy with and engaged. There’s always more texts to send, an email to check, more videos to watch leaving us with little time for much else.

A research conducted by RescueTime showed that people tend to spend an average of three hours and 15 minutes on their phones per day, with the top 20% of smartphone users spending upwards of four and a half hours.

For most of us it seems unimaginable to go even a single day without checking on our smartphones. But what makes them so addictive that we are willing to let it compromise our relationships, sleep, attention span, time, and productivity?

What makes smartphones addictive?

What does gambling, taking cocaine, binge watching , exercising, receiving texts and getting likes in social media all have in common?

The answer lies in a neurotransmitter produced by our body called dopamine. These activities cause the release of dopamine into our brains, which is commonly referred to as a "feel-good” hormone. Getting a hit of dopamine is addictive, and this makes us keep coming backing for more.

As Dr. Renee Carr, a clinical psychologist, told NBC News,

“This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It is the brain's signal that communicates to the body, 'This feels good. You should keep doing this! It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.”

With our phones by our side, almost 24/7 getting these dopamine “hits” is easier than ever before. And as an article on webwatcher states : checking to see if you got a new text or an Instagram notification may not be harmful as doing cocaine or feeding money into a slot machine, but the addictive properties are the same.

Going digital-free seems almost unimaginable and perhaps impractical for some, therefore the key lies in moderation. Here’s how you can reduce your phone usage and take charge of your time.

A willingness or desire

First and foremost a strong willingness is required to reduce the time we spend on our screens. Now that may sound pretty obvious, however, many of us are already aware that we spend more time on our devices than we would like to, yet we find it difficult to cut down on our usage. And that is exactly why a strong will is necessary so that our habitual tendencies don't overpower our decision to reduce screen time.

Turn off notifications

Notifications seem harmless and innocent on the surface, but are they really?

Not only these are these constant beeps and buzzes affecting our attention span, these interruptions can also change our brain's chemistry to make us feel anxious and stressed. Scientists warn that constant notifications can distract you so much that productivity can drop by as much as 40 per cent without you knowing.

The solution then, is straight forward. Turn them off or mute them. However, this may not be practical for you if some of them may be official communication that requires attention. In which case, consider being selective about the applications which you would like to receive notification from and mute the rest since once we hear these notifications the urge to check on our phones can be hard to resist. And once we do check the phone, one thing might lead to another and before you know it, half an hour has gone by

Turning off my notifications is something I did myself with my WhatsApp over six months ago, and not only has it helped to reduce the time I spend on my phone but I also feel better for it.

Exit or mute useless groups

There’s an overload of information coming our way every day – if we let it.

The choice lies with us, whether to partake in consuming excess information or take proactive steps to be highly selective in how much we consume.

Many of us may be on some groups where there are endless forwards day after day, which provide us with little to no value, yet consume our time. Consider muting them or exiting them in which case the urge to check on them won’t arise.

Find something meaningful to engage you

If you have a meaningful activity to replace the time you spend on your phone, it can prove to be far easier to cut down on your screen time, without feeling like you are making a sacrifice.

Cutting down on screen time can help you to make time to do the kind of things you always wanted to do but never got the time. Perhaps it could be spending more time catching up with friends, reading a book, learning a musical instrument, or spending more time with your hobbies.

Track your time

A few months ago, when I found myself spending more time on my phone than I would have liked, I downloaded this app called Usage Time. And as the name suggests, it shows you the time you spend on your phones, as well as the duration of time spent on each application. It even shows you the number of times you unlock your phone throughout the day.

Having this data makes us aware of the time we spent on our phones and can help us to set targets on our desired screen time and track them.

Being intentional and purposeful with your phone usage

As cliché as it sounds, time lost is something you never get back.

Being intentional and purposeful with our phone usage can bring down the time we spend on our devices drastically. Larry Rosen, a psychology professor and author of The distracted Mind, told CNBC that, most people check their phone every 15 minutes or less, even if they have no alerts or notifications.

Prioritise your screen time for what’s important and worth spending your time on.

Ask yourself some tough question and be ready to be brutally honest with yourself when you find yourself reaching for your phone.

  • Why am I taking out my phone?

  • How will doing this add value to my life?

  • Is it urgent? Can it wait for later?

However, this doesn't mean you need to get all serious about how you use your phone. If certain things are fun, then it makes it sense to do them (in moderation).

On the other hand, if it’s because you are feeling bored, uncomfortable or as a means of killing time and keeping yourself occupied with something to do, then it’s worth considering coming up with other alternatives.

After all, being bored is not the worst thing that can happen as it can force us to come up with creative ways to occupy our time with activities which can provide us with more value.

Replace it with a positive habit

It is said often said that one of the best ways to break a bad habit is to replace it with a positive one.

Take a couple of deep breaths if not more when you notice the urge to take out your phone for no particular reason. Don’t worry if the urge comes often as taking deep breaths will boost your energy levels and make you feel relaxed.

Take a social media detox

Six years ago, when I first stopped using Facebook, I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind that I would be missing out on what’s happening around me. Turns out about a week or two later my initial FOMO (Fear of missing out) paved way for feelings of freedom and relief which made me realise my fears were completely unfounded.

Doing a social Media detox simply means to stay away from social media for a set period of time.

While it may not be comfortable to start with, the freedom we experience without having to attend to any notifications and the newfound time we gain can make us come up with better ways of occupying our time.

Here’s a quick recap of the points discussed above,

  • A strong willingness or desire

  • Turn off notifications

  • Exit or mute useless groups

  • Find something meaningful to engage you

  • Track your time

  • Get intentional and purposeful with your phone usage

  • Replace it with a positive habit

  • Social media detox

After a long day, we often want to reward ourselves by getting onto social media or binge-watching content on YouTube or Netflix. While they provide us with easy instant gratification, making a habit of these activities may offer little value in the long run.

On the other hand, ideas you read from books can be life changing, exercising can put you in a better frame of mind as well as better your health. Spending more time on your hobbies can be more fulfilling over time.

Therefore having the big picture in mind helps to get some perspective about what’s important and use our time more wisely.

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Anoop Abraham
Anoop Abraham
Feb 25, 2020

Thank you ! :) Yeah OTT platforms can be pretty addictive.


Vidit Horo
Vidit Horo
Feb 25, 2020

I could relate to this in more ways. I follow a similar method to not get attached to any screens over OTT platforms. However, you articulated it beautifully!

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