Three ways to calmly step away from your smartphone

Easing your smartphone addiction doesn't require turning it off, but some gradual steps back.

The easy joke about cellphones, the one that late-show monologue writers and your corniest friends reached for, was that their ringers went off in theaters and restaurants and annoyed everybody. Most of us have since learned how important it is to silence our phones, and how to do so--most phones have a dedicated button for silencing. But now we’re actively choosing to let our always-connected, web-friendly phones interrupt our meals with friends, our work, and our ability to actually notice where we are and what we’re doing.

There are some simple but strong remedies for smartphone addiction, beyond staging a scene from a bad romantic comedy and chucking the device into a picturesque body of water. Here are three steps your author has taken recently to escape the emotional pull of constantly available information.

Turn off instant email notifications

There’s an inherent feeling of losing out if you pay for a data plan for your phone, and then don’t get notified the minute a new email comes in. But if you’re not able to actually digest an email’s contents, and react or respond in some way, you’re adding to your already burdensome inbox pile, and losing out on whatever you’re doing at the time. More to the point, to paraphrase Merlin Mann, that email almost certainly won’t give you anything serious to work with. My advice? You can keep email coming in your phone, but don’t let your phone notify you about every single message.

On an Android phone, head to the Gmail or Email app, press the Menu button (or tap the Menu icon in the upper corner on brand-new 4.0 devices), and turn off notifications. On an iPhone, head to the Settings app, scroll down to Notifications, and turn off Mail. On other phones, the process is likely similar. You can still open up your email app whenever you’re feeling bored or curious, but that choice is up to you, not whoever happens to be sending you something.

Do the smartphone stack

Study after study has shown that sticking to your resolutions and keeping yourself in good order is easier when your respected friends are part of the equation. So making the “smartphone stack” part of your meal routine is a rather effective way of easing you into the idea of living without your phone by your side. It’s a simple concept: when you arrive at the table to eat (or meet, or work, or whatever you’re doing with others), stack your smartphone and others’ somewhere on the table. You can leave your ringers and vibration buzzes on, and that in fact makes the point stronger that if you pick up your phone, you’re paying for the meal, or buying coffee, or whatnot.

Turn on a serious security lock

This is a good idea for anyone with a phone that has access to their important personal data. But for those finding themselves reading their phone as they cross the street, this can be a decent self-check routine.

Enable a PIN number on your screen that requires you to type in a few digits before you can get to your screen. Make it five or more digits, and change it every week or so (making a calendar appointment helps). By requiring you to think about what your passcode is, type it in, and hit “OK,’ you’ll be putting at least a momentary block on your distraction machine, making you consider whether it’s worth the hassle to check your Twitter replies. If it gets too annoying, and you’re on an Android phone, you have Unlock with Wi-Fi to rely on when you’re at home or other frequented spots.

What tricks and tips do you use to prevent yourself from distracting yourself too often with your smartphone? I’d be happy to add an item or two to this list if you drop them in the comments.

Photo by Phil Roeder.

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