Combating Phone Addiction: Try, Fail & Try Again

Let me preface this by saying that this post discusses my own experiences and observations in my life. Your perspective may vary, and what works for me or is a problem for me, may not be so in your life. That’s ok, we’re all different and awesome.

My husband and I are on round 4 (ish) of our attempts to renew our resolutions to find a healthier balance of our phone and online use. As a web developer it’s tempting to almost live online, but at least for us, that’s a fast track to unhappiness. Luckily it hasn’t been an extreme problem- it hasn’t interfered with our careers or parenting or physical health. But there have definitely been some concequences of too much phone use.

For me it’s social media, tutorials and articles, and an endless stream of screencasts and videos of conference talks. It used to be mobile browser games too. It’s fluffy amateur fiction and lots of Twitter. For my husband it was games, then YouTube videos, news (often not even about our own country), Reddit and comedy specials. Our phones are endless sources of dopamine shots and minimally interesting or entertaining material.

This temptation catches us on our phones during the commercials when watching a broadcast TV show. In the washroom, or on the couch while the children play around us like that heartbreaking Papaoutai video {French}.

To clarify – my kids do not want for loving, affectionate and involved parenting. I’m a work-from-home parent until September and my kids are snuggled and given heaps of attention. What’s missing is getting down on the floor and playing games like pretend and checkers and the like, more often than we do now.

Some of the things I know have been a consequence of too much phone use:

  • I read WAY fewer books than I used to.
  • I have less time for non-online hobbies.
  • Less time for meaningful board and video gaming.
  • We go outside less, to just play in the neighbourhood or yard.
  • Less frequent playing with my kids.
  • Less meaningful learning cemented with putting what I learn into use.
  • Almost zero time spent bored or daydreaming.

You know what? Each of the things I’d rather be doing require a tiny modicum of energy more than just reaching for our phones. They require a longer attention span too. Our attention spans are another muscle we’ve noticed has atrophied like our tolerance for boredom, or our capacity for unguided imaginative thought. And we humans are masters of finding the path of least resistance.

So, we fight this battle. Set limits. Fall off the wagon. And get back on.

Our latest round of limits:

  • No phones in the washroom. It’s like a force field keeping them out of there. Bring a book.
  • A limited block of free browsing each day.
  • If we need to use our phone – for work, or looking things up, it happens in the kitchen – the least comfortable room.
  • No phones on the couches or when watching a show together.
  • If I want to read a bunch of articles, or a screencast, it happens at my computer when I’m in ‘work mode’ and can practise along or make notes.
  • We continue to make use of a DNS filtering service to block distracting sites at certain times of day.

We also re-established a weekly schedule, blocking our evenings into a balance of time for work, relaxation, and side-projects. This helps us to feel like we are never lacking in time for the things we want and need to do. Time for each other, time to be productive, and time for relaxing fun. Thursdays are also family board game night. Wednesdays are date night – even if that’s just watching a show then playing some co-op video games. This is a system we have used in the past to much benefit, we just fell out of the routine lately. We try to plan fun/R&R (Rest & Relaxation) nights on our most exhausting days when work or kids’ after school activities make the days feel long.

We have 3 R&R nights each week. 3 nights for work or side-projects. And one ‘flex’ night to use as needed or plan social outings. This type of scheduling isn’t for everyone. But it helps us feel like we have a balance. No guilt on fun nights that we should be working. And less resistance to work nights because we know we have plenty of relax time.

An additional resolution – also exacerbated by too much phone use, is our tendency to go to bed too late. When you have kids, that precious kid-free time in the evening is gold. But staying up too late is robbing from ourselves tomorrow. So an addition to our phone limits and schedule are strict bedtimes that will help us feel fresher and less frazzled the next day.

As I write this, it’s now 3 days into our renewed efforts. It’s not easy. The temptation and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is real. In our conversations with friends and colleagues we know that we aren’t alone in these struggles. I hope that this post can be a way to reach out to others and share our story. Find out what works for others. And hold ourselves accountable.

What’s been your experience in this area? Any tips that work for you? Do you have other resolutions that are top of mind as we head into the new year? You can do it!


Photo by Marjan Grabowski

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