First Things First: Tips for putting your phone in its place

Lauren Hall
Lauren Hall

Welcome to part two of our series on how technology can help and hinder us and our relationships. Our goal is to use technology responsibly. How can we enjoy all the tools technology puts at our fingertips while avoiding the pitfalls?

(READ MORE: Yes, we have technology, but how does technology have us?)

There are few technological developments more significant than smartphones, social media and the "connectedness" of everything. Learning, relaxing, working, creating, socializing -- the possibilities smartphones present seem endless.

And that's part of the problem.

Smartphones also create new possibilities for distraction, disconnection and destructive habits.

We need to make sure we can put our phones in their place.

Ask yourself, "Do I have a healthy relationship with my phone?" I'll try to avoid using the word "addiction," but consider the following information with an open mind.

-- Our phones are typically the first thing we reach for when we wake up, the last thing we touch before we go to sleep and the one thing we can't imagine living without.

-- Americans open their phones 160 times daily, or once every 9 minutes.

-- The average person spends 4 hours and 10 minutes on mobile devices daily.

-- Users click, tap and swipe their phones 2,617 times a day.

-- 17.3% of parents admit they spend more time on their phones than with their children. (The key word here is "admit.")

-- Employees use their phones 56 minutes per workday for non-work-related purposes.

(READ MORE: Opinion: Social media insanity)

OK. We use our phones a lot. We have to, right? Well, about half of Americans describe themselves as having "an addiction to their phones."

All the convenience and connectivity can come with unintended consequences. The impact of all that use is staggering.

-- Reduced frequency and quality of face-to-face conversations.

-- Decreased physical activity and increased obesity.

-- Poor sleep patterns.

-- Reduced concentration, short-term memory and problem-solving skills.

-- Increased stress, anxiety, depression, insecurity and loneliness.

Yikes! When it comes to smartphone use, keep two things in mind. First, this isn't a zero-sum game. We don't have to choose between using our phones 24/7 or not using them at all. Just like our diets, most of us have room to improve.

Second, we need to realize the game is rigged. These technologies are designed to get your attention, keep it and profit. Developers know all about brain chemistry. We'll have to intentionally increase our mindfulness to avoid manipulation.


Here are some simple, practical strategies from the experts.

1. Turn off notifications for everything on your phone that you reasonably can. Check your phone when you choose to, not when your phone commands you to.

2. Ban your phone from your bedroom. Get an actual alarm clock.

3. Try the 50/50 Rule. No phone use for 50 minutes when you wake up and 50 minutes before you want to go to sleep.

4. There's an app for that! Use your phone to help you not use your phone. (Apps like Freedom, YourHour, Flipd, Offtime, Mute and Moment can help you set goals and make curbing phone use fun.)

5. Use your phone's "Focus" and "Do Not Disturb" features.

6. Move your most distracting apps off your home screen.

7. Schedule a screen-free hour into your day.

8. Create a contest (and accountability) with a family member or friend to reduce phone use.

Be honest and be good to yourself. Maybe you just need to be more mindful of the time spent on your phone. Set small, incremental goals and gamify the process. You may need to face up to a full-blown phone addiction. Ironically, you can easily google resources to get help.

Lauren Hall is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at

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