I cannot imagine anyone reading this wakes up each morning and asks themselves ‘How much time I can possibly spend unintentionally scrolling on Instagram today? How much time can I spend looking at accounts that don’t fill me with joy? How much time can I spend swiping, clicking, hoping to find something of moderate interest?‘ No person has these goals for themselves. There’s no intention, no purpose.
There seems to be a deep misalignment between the goals we have for ourselves and the goals our smartphones have for us. It’s time to take back control and evaluate what we want from them and how they can be used as a useful tool to enhance our lives rather than getting in the way of living. Here are some tips to help you, which will hopefully result in you feeling more focused, present and energised.
Tip 1: Keep your smartphone out of sight when you are working, learning, or focusing on a task to reduce distraction.
Our apps work hard to grab our attention by the way in which they are designed. This is called Persuasive Design and its aim is to persuade or motivative you into taking a particular action which ultimately means you spend longer on your device than intended. You’ll see this design practice everywhere online.
For example, on Facebook you’ll see red used for notifications – this powerful colour catches our immediate attention, provoking us to react quickly, which prompts us to click. Then there is the bottomless infinite scroll we see on Instagram feeds, which keeps us scrolling longer than originally intended just in case we might find something of interest. As we don’t know what we’ll find, we are motivated to keep on scrolling by bursts of Dopamine, a chemical hormone which makes us feel good. So, something as simple as your email notifications going off will release a small burst of dopamine – you don’t know if these messages will be interesting or valuable, but at some point in the past, one of them has been, so dopamine is released in anticipation. It’s instant gratification but the benefits are short-term which can detract us from our true goals.
Interestingly, even when you’re not actually using it, having your phone in sight can still use your brain’s cognitive resource, leaving little for anything else. Adrain F. Ward (2017) discovered this in his research paper entitled “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity”.
Even when you’re not actively using your phone, there is always a subconscious expectation that something may happen. At any second we may get a notification alerting us to a new email, a new message, a new piece of information, another task we need to complete, thus we can never fully focus. Our attention is a limited resource. We don’t have endless amounts of it to spend, so use it wisely. Put your phone in another room altogether when you’re focussing on a task and observe what you achieve, I have a feeing it may be a lot.
Tip 2: Utilise all those helpful in-built tools provided by your smartphone which you can find in the settings.
There are more than you realise to help you. Once you have found them, Click “do not disturb” and Disable ALL notifications during deep work to retain your attention and focus. Notifications trick your brain into thinking that everything is urgent, so the sound of the pings and seeing red notifications can play havoc with your focus and stress levels.
Since we’re all constantly distracted by our phones, it’s becoming harder to create the conditions for concentrated work, which actually provides us with real meaning. According to expert Gloria Marks, it takes on average 23 mins and 15 seconds to get back to task once we are distracted. That’s because once we respond to that interruption – we open an email, we read the information, we action the task, we create a reply, press send, we remember what we were originally doing, maybe we go make a coffee, a quick scroll on TikTok, we go back to the task, that all takes time. If we do that several times in the day, that is a lot of wasted time! So even just “one little look” can have a huge consequence, especially on those big tasks and goals you wish to achieve which require your deep focus and attention.
Tip 3: Swap your smartphone for an alarm clock and put it by your bed at night to stop you from doom scrolling.
Start and end the day with a positive mini routine rather than, say, waking up and immediately checking your phone for emails or social media. Doing that can put you on the wrong foot, especially if you catch yourself scrolling for longer than intended which then can cause stress, as you now have less time needed for other activities such as getting your kids ready for school.
Stretch, brush your teeth, shower – it doesn’t have to be a complicated routine, but whatever you choose, avoid picking up that phone for 10 minutes. If you want to reach optimal digital wellness here, I also recommend sleeping with your phone outside your room rather than keeping them in the bedroom to discourage you from checking it during the night or first thing. If you must keep a phone nearby in case of emergency, set it so that it only rings when certain people are calling, but still place it across the room and away from your bedside and out of sight. You’ll soon be clocking up the ZZZs
Tip 4: Get your diary or calendar and schedule in time to scroll through social media/ news/ internet in general just like you schedule all your other tasks.
Make it intentional, where that 5 min scroll doesn’t turn into 20, allowing you to remain in control of how much you are consuming and when. Ask yourself when you wake up in the morning or when you’re planning your day, how much time do I wish to spend on Instagram or Twitter today? How much time do I wish to spend finding new accounts or watching funny videos? What are my goals?
It could simply be that you just want to browse without an agenda as it’s something you enjoy and that’s totally fine but schedule it in! Maybe you want it in one big chunk of the day or split out during your day at appropriate times, whatever works for you. Just pop it in your diary and stick to it. If you’re intentional about your internet and social media use then you’ll likely stay more aligned with your true values and goals.
We know that social media can be such a joyous experience providing opportunity for learning, discovery and fun, but only if it is used with intention. Oh and whilst your there, schedule in some time to unfollow accounts that don’t bring you joy or inspiration and follow new ones that do!