Three Proven Methods to Reduce Screen Time – and Sticking to It

reduce screen time

Have you considered embarking on a quest to reduce your screen time? Have you tried similar techniques before but have not been able to sustain long-lasting change? Maybe you even read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, but it was hard to take concrete actions? Below are three easy techniques (vetted by me and many others) to help you make sustainable changes to reduce your screen time

how to reduce screentime
This is a quest. Back your bags and make sure to sleep well the night before!

Below are techniques to help you make easy changes to reduce your screen time. The list is in ascending order of difficulty and requires more and more commitment as you progress.

how to reduce screentime
No need for a fancy fountain pen, but please grab a sheet of paper. Paper leads to commitment.

There’s no turning back, if you commit to reading this article, you are not allowed to read the next tip until you complete the previous task! Grab some paper (or *sigh* use your notes app) and let’s get started.

ONE. Set your screen to black and white.

Do this right now, close this article and

  • For iPhone, open up Settings app > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters. Turn Color Filters on, and select Grayscale.
how to reduce screentime
Check to verify that this picture is actually grayscale. Pro-tip, your iPhone pictures will still be saved in color when you take them, even if you only see them as grey.
  • For Android 9.0 and above, access Quick Settings by swiping down twice from notifications and press edit (bottom left) > tap and drag grayscale to the top of the screen
  • For Android below 9.0, Go to Settings > About Phone > Build Number > Tap Build Number 9 times. Then open Settings again > scroll to Developer Options and tap > Simulate Color Space > Monochromacy

Lastly, change your background image to an all black or very dark photo.

help reduce screentime
Example A

For some of these changes to your settings, it’s relatively easy to toggle back and forth, but you must resist toggling for today and continue to resist. Try to hold a “streak” with yourself of how many days you can keep the gray scale. Better yet, forget how to access these settings!

TWO. Turn off notifications.  

You have definitely heard this before. Unless you work in journalism or your output and impact of your work is related to the immediacy to which you can deliver, turn off all non-essential notifications.

  • Think about what and who you really need to communicate with on an urgency or emergency basis.
how to reduce screentime
Emergencies usually require (God forbid) ambulances, so think hard about who is on this list.
  • Write their names down and the apps that you communicate with them through
iphone and depression
Not Instagram. Do not write down instagram. No emergencies are communicated through this application
  • Your final list may be Messages, Phone, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Turn off notifications for all apps except these. For these apps, mute all conversations or group chats that will never need your immediate attention.
I feel bad when I'm using my phone. I feel bad when I'm using my iphone
Mute is a glorious button. You can also selectively mute for certain hours of the day on apps like Slack if your work is “urgent”.
  • More specifically, turn off all lock screen notifications for everything except calls and messages. People know to call when something is truly urgent, and if not communicate to the people close to you right now that this is the case.

“Hi Steph, just letting you know I’m turning off my notifications, so please call me if anything is urgent. Super excited to share my progress…”

Copy and paste this message and send it to your close friends and family.

THREE. Delete apps permanently.

Instead of downloading re-downloading which is common practice among people who want to reduce time on their phone, simply delete these apps once and for all and check them on your computer.

  • Go through your apps one at a time and ask yourself this question, can I check this on my computer?
If you can check things on your computer, check it on your computer!
  • If the answer is yes, delete the app. Twitter? Yes. Instagram? Yes. Gmail? Yes. Delete. Delete. Delete.
Gmail app = slot machine. You can easily check your email at your computer instead of feeling special that your email was “Sent from my iPhone”
  • This is a bit of a painful process, but as you delete, you are gifting yourself hours of your life back to you

But you must be asking,  won’t I just check these sites on my computer? Yes you can, but check out my article here on how to block things on your computer and set up guardrails accordingly.

Now is a good time to explain some of the rationale behind this method. We are trying to increase friction to using your phone.

Black and white makes your phone as unattractive as a newspaper to look at. Turning off notifications means there’s no rush when you receive something new.

Newspapers are pretty boring until you realize they are distraction-free!

Checking things on your computer make you feel guilty about not working when you should be. This all helps answer the question “how to reduce screen time”.

It’s a pretty good time to take a break from this article because I’m sure it has taken a lot of effort to complete these steps.

Check out Part Two after you’ve given yourself a mental break!

The Purpose of a Phone Free Future

Your journey with your technology is personal. You are the one spending your time on each of your devices. This usually makes it all the more harder to make any changes. These devices are inherently addictive by triggering activity in our reward cycles. They also bring out our deepest insecurities about ourselves and about being alone with ourselves.

Facebook is as addictive as always. Delete the Facebook app if you have not already!

But who does not know this already?  Most of us are aware of the impact phones have on our minds, bodies, and lives. The purpose of this blog is (1) to help you have control over the technology you use, where you make the active choice to pick up the tech instead of the tech driving you to pick it up. Eventually, I hope (2) to help you move towards the bare minimum of technology (like using a flip phone). 

High friction to accessing social media with a flip phone.

Some of us spend more time with our phones than our significant others, family members, or friends on any given day. Screen time hours rack up between 4 and 8 hours, often more time than allocated for the workday.  For many people, this time is spent listening to music, communicating with friends, but frequently ends up evolving into endless scrolling through email or social media. 

Phones galore and no smiles in sight.

I remember the mush I felt in my brain after being on Facebook or Instagram for an hour and then how hard it was to set it down. Even when I mustered the energy to set it down, I would often quickly pick my phone back up and get back into it. After three or four times of this, I would finally be able to set it down or turn off my phone. I thought the mush was just from social media, but for me, it was the whole device.

 When you actively reduce the amount of time that you are on your phone, you have to confront your own deepest fears and feelings. You are forced to be alone and twiddle your thumbs. And you must keep your head high but your eyes wandering in every awkward cafe or airport line. 

Awkward line conversations need not be awkward. They help you prepare for far more consequential uncomfortable conversations.

This is not an easy process. Frankly, there are very few people excited to experience these feelings. This is an enormously difficult process, but after embarking on this journey, you will reap a lifetime of rewards. 

Sometimes you’ll confront incredible feelings of loneliness, like you’re the only one in this vast universe. But good thing you’re not!

You will be able to stop and think about why you are reaching towards your device. You will have set up alternative things to grab that will give you a similar sense of reward, albeit more longitudinal rewards. 

Slowly, you will be able to gain the confidence you had as a child to start a conversation with a random stranger. You will know to look for strangers who also are not on their devices to strike up a conversation with. 

You will feel more comfortable in this world of vulnerability. I am certainly not comfortable in this world of vulnerability, and I’m not talking to strangers left and right, but with these goals in mind I can push myself further. 

 For me, the most important thing about embarking on this journey is how much my anxiety has reduced. I used to feel a lot of anxiety when people would not text me back, when wondering many people would check my social media posts, when hoping for emails back from my boss, and when looking at other people’s glamorous and “successful” lives on social media.  

Most importantly, my social life did not fall apart when I switched to using a flip phone. I continued to be in touch with family and friends, and often spent more time calling than before because it was difficult to text. Your social life will not fall apart either. 

I hope you will join me on this journey. Welcome aboard. 

Welcome aboard!

Why I got rid of my iPhone

It was another gloomy evening during the pandemic, I was alone splayed on my couch, my computer in my lap, periodically picking up and checking my iPhone.

Who knows what I was looking at, maybe some NYT cooking videos, MrBeast’s mega giveaways, or lazily searching for something to play in the background so I wouldn’t feel like I was wasting time when really I had nothing to do.

On my iPhone, I looked through my email, pulling down to refresh. The page loaded, but remained the same. No new emails, just the numerous important ones that I had been avoiding for days.  I said to myself that I didn’t have a good response formulated yet.

I flipped over to Facebook Messenger and iMessage and saw no new messages. When there was a conversation though, I would just engage in texting and flipping through apps for endless hours until I needed to get water, use the bathroom, was hungry, or my back ached.

Opening up Instagram was the worst because I would scroll endlessly and look at profiles of people whose names I would not even be able to remember if I didn’t see them regularly on Instagram. Tapping through instagram stories was unstimulating and posting my own anxiety-causing. 

I picked up my phone every 5-10 minutes (about the length of my attention span) whenever I felt bored or an urge to look at something different, scarcely able to focus on anything deeply. 

Hopefully, I would remember to call a friend, and on those nights, I felt the best about existing within my four corners.

Really, I was just sitting there because I finished my work for the day and thought 10 or 11 PM was too early to sleep, and I needed to pass that last hour of my day.

These nights passed like a blur, not to mention the mornings when I sat with my phone for half an hour before going on a run.

I had been trying to reduce my screentime for almost five years. As a student, I would leave my phone off during classes and always in my backpack. I tried turning my phone off for two to three days at a time when I needed to focus intensely. I tried leaving my phone at home whenever I left the house. I tried turning my phone monochrome. I tried going tech free every Sunday. I tried monitoring my screentime and setting goals. I tried setting pacts with friends. 

None of it worked long-term, I would rebound back to being on my phone for about two to four hours every day.

It was on one of these aimless nights that I decided to get a flip phone.

Because of COVID-19, there were no events I was missing out on. No one could spontaneously call or text me to hang out. I had nothing urgent I needed to respond to work wise via phone that I couldn’t do on my computer. 

I thought about what it would be like to raise children in a home with so much technology, sitting at a restaurant, playground, or in our living room looking at my phone instead of talking to the children. If I wanted to be a good example, which I think is the best way of parenting, I knew I’d have to start now.  This was the perfect time to do something drastic, in a last ditch attempt to really change my phone habits.

Lastly, I did this calculation.

✕ 365
✕ 70 yrs

= 51,100 hrs

of my life which was 5.8 years of my life. Imagine being at the end of your life, and wishing you had one more minute to live, when you could have had almost 6 more years to live.

Seeing this number made me pull the trigger. I went on Best Buy and down a rabbit hole to find the best flip phone for me.

I bought the Alcatel GoFlip 3.

My First Month With a Flip Phone

I decided to get a flip phone when I felt like I was not missing out on much during the pandemic. 

The first month was a hard transition because I had been using iPhones for almost 8 years. My iPhone 7 Plus has travelled with me, heard me crying to friends after a breakup, snapped pictures of blackboards after lectures, and guided me to secret beaches.

The first step was removing my SIM card from my iPhone and placing it in my flip phone. Pretty straightforward, right? Yet, because it was easy to switch the SIM card back and forth, I frequently found myself right back to using my iPhone again. So, I started observing why I needed an iPhone. 

Most of the reasons were for going out. I would need directions on how to get to a friends house. I would see a beautiful sunset I wanted to take pictures of. I would want to look up good ice cream or a restaurant nearby. I would discreetly text someone that I’d be a few minutes late when I was still hanging out with a different person. 

This happened much less during the pandemic, and I started brewing up alternatives for my “needs” I had for a smartphone. 

I bought this camera to replace my photo taking needs. The Canon Ivy REC has been a fun attachment to my wallet. 

A fading sunset I can still capture on my Canon Ivy REC camera

I check google maps before I head to a friends place and use my car GPS to travel anywhere new. I write down addresses on paper that I can type into the GPS. 

Now, I look up places to eat and visit ahead of time. And honestly, most of my friends have iPhones, and I can peak over their shoulder as they search up the highest rated seafood nearby. 

A restaurant we found just by walking around the docks and following the direction that most people were walking. See my friends with their iPhones taking pictures that are as good as my pictures

I was more timely and aware of my tardiness and made it a part of my identity to not be late. 

This first month, I also noticed my focus increasing during my working hours. I still wanted to impulsively grab something to read or scroll my eyes on at random breakpoints during the day. I bought some Chinese books that I had been wanting for years and set that there as my easy distraction. 

By using our smartphones, we are just distracting ourselves from the hard work that needs to be done. We use them to pass the “extra” time until it’s crunch time and the deadline is imminent. Only then, do we have no option but to work. The smartphone is just enabling our tendencies to procrastinate. 

Very few people want to sit alone with their thoughts and twiddle their thumbs. You can confront uncomfortable feelings and realize unsettling things about yourself or others. You may realize it’s time for a career switch or to terminate something you’ve been subconsciously, or consciously, avoiding, like a toxic friendship. Sitting alone with your thoughts with no distractions brings you in touch with reality. For a lot of people, this is simply too much, especially when experiencing alienation out of our control, and we just need a break. Unfortunately, it’s so much easier to just grab and click. 

What other reasons do you have for checking your phone? What is your creative solution?

Canon Ivy REC Camera Review

I decided I needed a camera when I got rid of my iPhone.The 2MP camera on my flip phone was not enough. I was looking for a camera that was small, light, and shot great photos and videos. I chose the Canon Ivy REC, a solid $79 camera.

This is the perfect camera for leaving your house when you don’t want to carry your phone around.

how to reduce screen time
A beautiful sunset captured on the Canon Ivy REC

This camera shoots Full HD 1080p videos with up to 60fps and has a 13.0-megapixel CMOS sensor capturing high-resolution images. The camera is shockproof, waterproof, and perfect for outdoor adventures as well as daily use. Water resistance means you can take underwater photos up to 6.6 feet deep!

A beautiful sunset taken on the Canon Ivy REC in Newport, RI with blissfully soft sand

For me, I take pictures with the purpose of triggering memories. I don’t shoot with the explicit purpose of sharing photos. This camera helps me reach this goal enough. It’s as easily portable as my iPhone.

The viewfinder doubles as a clip and clips easily to my wallet. You can clip the camera on a water bottle, belt loop, backpack, or more! Unfortunately this means that there is no screen for you to immediately look at your shots. But why not trust your shot?

Kulfi ice cream (cardamon, pistachio, and almonds) from Three Sisters in Providence, RI

The camera also connects to bluetooth and photos can be easily accessed via the Canon Ivy REC iPhone or Android app and saved locally. However, in order to save photos in the first place, you must put a microSD card inside. For me, since I don’t use an iPhone, I just upload my photos to my computer and then to Google Photos at full resolution.

There are 5 easily navigable settings: bluetooth connection, off, camera, video, mixed video/camera. Easily turning this off and on between your shots means the battery lasts practically weeks without a recharge.

Though it feels like a normal camera, your friends or family might forget, remind them to not cover the camera when they are taking a picture of you.

how to reduce screen time
Beware of floating fingers!

Night time and low light photos don’t come out with the best contrast. I recommend using your friend’s smartphone for taking these types of pictures.

Additionally, be sure to stabilize your shot with both hands or on something solid, especially when shooting video. Shoot your videos with slow movement and rotation to maintain the best shot.

There is no auto-stabilizing software in the camera, and it is very sensitive to movement. There is also a mic on top right next to the camera button, so don’t cover it when you are shooting!

how to reduce screentime
Beautiful rocks at Beavertail Park in Jamestown, RI

This camera is also good for children who want to run around and take pictures and you don’t want to give them something expensive or easily breakable.

P.S. Hopefully these photos inspire you to take a quick visit to Rhode Island, please let me know if you do! All photos in this article were shot on my Canon Ivy REC.

reduce screen time
Thank you to Eric Kim for inspiring me to start this blog

Why I Don’t Have WiFi at Home

When I moved into my new apartment, I called the Internet Service Provider to set up WiFi. I got to an automated mailbox saying that their offices were only open Monday to Friday. And it was Saturday. I resolved to give them a ring Monday first thing. 

But that night, as I was thinking about existing without the internet, I realized I had landed upon an accidental opportunity. What if I never got WiFi? Could I live at home without the internet?

As I approach most things in life, I experimented. I thought I would try it for the weekend and at worst just call my CoxWiFi on Monday. It was luxurious. 

Sunday morning, I woke up and packed up my bag in search for internet. 

That was the first of many days where I would be forced to leave my house as soon as I woke up to sit near restaurants, coffee shops, or buildings with WiFi (if I didn’t want to be bored to tears). I got out of my house relatively quickly. There was no laying around in bed with a cellphone or sitting with my laptop before starting my day. This also meant I had to go outside during the day every single day. I got plenty of sun, and of course lathered myself in sunscreen every 2-3 hours. 

I also had to stay outside of my house for most of the day because I needed wifi for most of my daily work and activities. I had to be social and deliberate about my leisure hours as well since I couldn’t just lounge around at home with my laptop. It’s a little awkward to watch Netflix in a coffee shop. 

I made many new friends that first week. One of my biggest life fears is that I will not be able to make friends at later points in my life, but I prove myself wrong each time. The first day, as I was working I struck up a conversation with someone nearby. The next day, I already noticed I was less afraid to begin conversations with people at the gym. On the third day, as I was sitting outside smooching off someone else’s WiFi at 7AM, someone on their morning walk stopped and we ended up talking about his hobbies, and I thought about my dreams for the first time in many months. Why you are awake at the wee hours of the morning is a great conversation starter. 

On the fourth day, I set a goal of making a new friend every day. Just kidding. 

I also had almost had nothing to do when I got home. The most I could do was read, journal a bit, call a friend, and text a few people to schedule calls or meetings. I usually ended up in bed within 30 minutes of getting home instead of sitting on my computer wasting the last hour of my day. 

Since I was not doing anything past 10 or 11 PM, I would just sleep and finally achieve that elusive goal of waking up before 6AM and clenching that extra early morning productivity and clear-headedness. 

The biggest challenge is when I wanted to watch internet-based TV at home with friends. I usually set up a hotspot and an HDMI cable. But honestly, it was a great excuse to not watch much TV anymore. 

“So you want to sit on the couch and just talk?” is usually the reaction, but yes, I do. 

Why I Chose the Alcatel SMARTFLIP GoFlip 3

This is my phone.  

I have a flip phone. And flip phones aren’t just for grandparents. 

There are many phones to choose from when deciding to throw away your iPhone (sell it rather for cash). At first glance, most flip phones look the same. A T-9 keyboard, a classic flip to dramatically hang up on partners or parents, a 2-inch screen, and of course speed dial exist for all of your communication needs.

Fortunately, flip phone software differentiates one flip phone from the next. And Alcatel’s SMARTFLIP / GoFlip 3 software stands out. (There are two names because Alcatel sells this phone as the SMARTFLIP to AT&T and as the GoFlip 3  T-Mobile, Sprint). The SMARTFLIP runs on KaiOS, a mobile operating system released in 2017. 

KaiOS is equipped with 4G LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS connectivity. With their investments and partnerships with Google KaiOS provides Google Assistant features, a Google web browser, and Google Maps. You can dictate all of your text messages by stepping out into the hallway to “text” with Google Assistant. You can satiate your curiosity by using a moderately slow web browser. And you won’t get lost with an excellent navigation tool at your fingertips. 

Fortunately, in the KaiOS store, there was no Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat to download, but there was a radio and music app where I could listen to music as I walked or local radio to listen to the news while commuting through a headphone port on the left side. 

The silent, vibrate, and sound buttons are easy to maneuver on the right hand side just pressing down all the way for silent and vibrate one above that, and sound levels up to 15 above that. Speakerphone is easy to use, it is just the center OK button. Similarly muting yourself is easily accessible as the left top button. Bluetooth headphones can also connect to the phone for phone calls which is easy to set up. 

The phone takes a Nano SIM card (same as iPhone) in the back and has an easily removable back for battery replacements and a micro SD card for saving images. The Alcatel SMARTFLIP is equipped with a 2 Megapixel phone on the top half of the body, so you won’t accidentally cover up the camera while you are taking a picture. 

It is possible to check your email, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Twitter on this phone if your heart so desires, but wouldn’t that be ruining the point of getting rid of your iPhone in the first place?

Lastly, there is no support for group texts. I’m still looking for a phone with group messaging support.

If you find another flip phone you enjoy, please let me know and I will review it!