Sunday, January 31, 2021

Life Lately: On using my phone more mindfully

January feels like it zoomed by. I can’t believe it’s already a month since I sat on the sofa, coffee in hand, and reflected on which habits I wanted to continue prioritizing this month. At the end of the exercise, this list included things like: using my phone more mindfully, meditating every day, eating and snacking healthy, being more mindful and present…

Using my phone mindfully is something I have wanted to do for very long but didn’t crack until recently. For many years, I would reach for my phone first thing in the morning, respond to instant messages throughout the day, use it to escape once things got boring, and stay up late catching up on the latest news. I would sometimes make drastic cutbacks to accommodate busy periods at work or school but otherwise continued on that trajectory.

While all that time passed, my case for change grew stronger. First, my mood and energy levels would vary unpredictably and in ways I couldn’t control. I might randomly see a tweet about a stabbing and descend into a negative spiral for hours. (I’m introverted and I become overstimulated pretty easily). Second, interrupting myself frequently meant I wasn’t producing my best work. Third, keeping up with my new workload required me to be extremely productive during the day or work late every night. Fourth, all that phone use was resulting in a lot of connection but not enough conversation*.

Over the past three months, starting early November, I have cut my daily phone use by 55%. I’ve gone from a daily average of 5.5 hours per day before the intervention to a daily average of 2.5 hours now. This is how I did it:

I'm at ~1 hour daily for weekdays i.e. removing weekends from the weekly average

First, I added friction by deleting the apps on which I was sinking the most time. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – all gone. I even preemptively deleted Clubhouse once I realized I was forming a habit. I didn’t stop using these apps completely; I just decided I would only use them from a browser. As I don’t use my work computer for anything personal, this meant I had to turn on my personal computer and use Safari if I wanted to check Twitter during the day.

Second, I started leaving my phone outside our bedroom overnight. As part of this change, I also decided not to pick it up in the mornings until after I was ready to start the day. This meant not picking it up until after I’d bathed, gotten dressed, and made my daily fruit smoothie.

Third, I started leaving my phone in a different room during the workday. After meditating and just before starting work, I would glance through my messages and respond to whatever was urgent. I would then move the phone to my bedside drawer in our bedroom and return to work in the study. This addressed my habit of reaching for the phone whenever I was bored, faced with a challenging task, or just tired.

Through this all, I made sure my family and friends knew I no longer had my phone during the workday and that they should call if there was something urgent. (The calls come to my Apple Watch, on which I don’t have WhatsApp and notifications are only enabled for calls). For most other messaging use cases, I either batch-respond in the evenings or call the sender if that is more effective. I’ve also switched to keeping up with the news in a more structured way, using Google News during my lunch break and via a BBC news segment in the evenings.

Overall, this has worked really well for me. I’m able to produce work of a higher quality during the day. I can get off work at a reasonable time without the mental stress that accompanies leaving things undone. I have a lot more time and energy to do other things I enjoy outside work. This includes conversations with friends and family, consulting and setting up a side hustle, reading, and practicing the piano.

I recognize this isn’t for everyone and there are people who get stuff done while spending hours on social media and instant messaging. I suppose it’s important to figure out what kind of person you are and then design your life accordingly. Remember life has a practice of living you if you don’t seize the reins.

Cheers to a new week!


* In her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle distinguishes between connection, her word for the low-bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives, and conversation, the much richer, high-bandwidth communication that defines real-world encounters between humans. Voice and video calls are a much better way to replicate real-world encounters.


  1. 365ds is an accumulation and compounding of the everyday 24h/d. I like how you've prioritized your schedule and given more time to what matters to you.

    Some weeks ago, I thought seriously about my time on social media (used for just banter/gist/awareness/connections, which are themselves not bad) and particularly how much time I spent online during major events such as the #EndSARS campaign; I believe I must have spent 4-5hrs everyday during those days refreshing the timeline to catch on the latest gist. It was the most unhealthy thing I did in October 2020. There will be one interesting or amusing thing to catch up with and many things will compete for our time.

    I have not taken any radically sharp measure but I am also now priorizing what matters, among which is spending more time with family (gf, parents, sisters) and friends and creating time to respond to connections and meeting requests from people who need some help with career decisions.

    It is the same 24h/d we all have. If the apps/social media is also where energy needs to be channelled to, I hope we give it our all.

    Well done and thanks for sharing about a process in your journey.

    1. Thanks for reading, Gbenga. And thanks for sharing your experience too.

  2. This is so good. Will use a few tips this week and let you know how it goes. I'm sure it'll be just fine

  3. I'm quite late to the party- just read through this...
    First, thank you very much for sharing! Always a blessing reading your thoughts and disciplines.
    I've learnt a lot off this and I'm grateful to have some helpful tips to try out.
    If I say what I want to say now, I'll get tagged as an energetic Gen-Z person, or whatever that insult you threw at me was...