My Surefire Way to Reduce Screentime – Shut Off the Phone

I continue to (loosely) monitor the time I spend on my phone. The numbers weren’t egregious but I knew there was room for improvement. More than anything I want to be mindful of how I’m interacting with screens, especially with two pint-sized humans watching my every move and, most likely, forming their own opinions of healthy screentime use.

I’m averaging just under an hour on my phone each day, with 75% of that time spent on categories I label as productive/positive (texting with friends and family, taking and editing photos), and about 25% on extraneous/mostly neutral activities (Googling random things, checking the news) that can spill over into negative behaviours like doomscrolling.

I’ve found mid-evening to be a real culprit; by this point in the day I’m tired and often lack enthusiasm for much of anything. Too often I was reaching for my phone as a way to avoid getting ready for bed (sad, but true). I’ve discovered a new trick that makes it easier to eliminate this mindless scrolling and it couldn’t be more simple. I shut down my phone.

I’ve started turning off my phone – completely, not just putting it in airplane mode – around 7 pm. By this point in the day I no longer need to worry about receiving a call from the school about a sick child. There will be no reminders from banks or dentists or customer service helpdesks. No texts from friends looking to coordinate playdates.

What held me back from implementing this earlier was an unshakeable feeling that I must be reachable at all times, mostly in case of an emergency. But anyone who would be reaching out to me for an emergency would also have John’s contact information, so I figure the risk is very, very low.

I power on my phone as soon as I wake up in the morning and spend 5 -10 minutes catching up on any texts I’ve missed overnight and scanning news headlines. I know productivity and mental health gurus all warn against using digital devices first thing in the morning, but I’ve decided 5-10 minutes at 6:45 am is better than the 50 minutes at 9 pm so, for me, it has been a good tradeoff.

Also, the whole process feels slightly rebellious. When I take the time to shut down my phone, I see it as an act of independence and ownership over my time. No dings or buzzes. Just a black screen and a tiny sliver of life from the pre-smartphone era. And that feels good (if slightly disconcerting).

Thoughts? Does anyone else actually shut down their phone overnight?

Header photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

35 thoughts on “My Surefire Way to Reduce Screentime – Shut Off the Phone”

  1. Ha, you are radical!!! Just kidding, I think this is a great thing. i don’t actually shut down my phone, but a lot of times I put it in another room to charge and pretty much forget all about it. I don’t have it in the bedroom with me at night, ever. I guess I’m taking a small risk that something could happen to my son and he wouldn’t be able to get in touch with me- but since he’s so far away (I’m in Florida, he’s in Texas) if there was a true emergency, someone else would have to help him anyway. I’ll be interested to hear other people’s opinions on this. Should I keep my phone with me at night? We don’t have a landline. Anyway, I think your solution works great for you.

    1. I always had my phone next to me at night; even when it was on Do Not Disturb (which I had automatically set for 8 or 9 pm), I would still gravitate toward my phone. So it DOES stay with me overnight…but it’s of no functional use.
      I think this will change as the kids get older and might be out in the evenings, and I will definitely leave it on some evenings if I have ongoing text chains with someone that I don’t want to leave dormant and/if I’m waiting for a call.

      Just for so long I had this idea that my phone ALWAYS had to be on and…it doesn’t. I do think getting rid of our landline a few years really contributed to this as well; I do miss that aspect of a landline…

  2. I have my phone on Do Not Disturb, and I usually just put it in the charging station after 8:00 or so. I don’t shut it down because sometimes my kids are out and about after I’m in bed, and I have them on the “exceptions” to the Do Not Disturb, so in an emergency I would get their call or text.

    Less than an hour is not much at all on your phone! I am usually less than two hours, but a LOT of my time is “entertainment” which means Spotify. I don’t really count that as “screen time” since that’s just listening to podcasts or music.

    1. Gah – perhaps I make it seem like I spent less time on screens than I do. While I’m really trying to minimize my phone use, I do spend A LOT of time on my laptop/desktop computers each day. Some for work, but definitely lots of mindless scrolling to. I just have tried to teach my phone as separate because I never lug my desktop and monitors to the grocery store, for example. My phone had just become this crutch (for me) that I pulled out anytime I had downtime.

      And I definitely don’t consider things like Spotify as “screen time” though I hate how it throws off the numbers. I had a huge day a few weeks ago and I had not turned off my screen while Spotify was on and I was so frustrated. The numbers shouldn’t influence me as much as they do, but I see it as a sort of “game” – and the Screen Time report each day is a big motivator for me.

      I already do this when I qualify time spent texting or taking photos as a wholly positive time. So there are days when my numbers spike because of more texts. That said, even when I text A LOT, usually my “high” days are because I’ve gotten sucked into some newsfeed or am aimlessly scrolling around which almost never ends up feeling good for me at the end.

  3. I also use Do Not Disturb – it goes on starting at 8pm. I have it set up to let calls through from my mom and Phil. I also use that setting when I lay down to nap.

    I wish that the screen time ap was more customizable. Since I use my phone for work, my usage can look quite high because all of my phone calls related to zooms show up on screen time. I also use the kindle ap and podcast ap on my phone quite a bit, too. It would be so much work to subtract out things like that so I have kind of given up on looking at the screen time ap. Maybe there is a better ap out there that is more customizable and would give me better data? But if my phone usage is high, it tends to be because I’m texting with friends or family, whatsapping with my best friend in Canada, reading books, or listening to podcasts! Which are all good uses of my time. I would like to reduce the # of pick-ups, though. I am guilty of that during the work day!

    1. I think the same thing about the screen-time app. I did do a few weeks of actually subtracting these things out (#nerdalert?) but I won’t do that moving forward/long-term.
      Also, I had no idea your best friend was in Canada! My ears really do perk up whenever anyone from the US mentions Canada πŸ™‚

      1. Yes and we met through blogging! She sadly does not blog anymore, though. Her name is Amber and she lives in Northern BC! We started reading each others blogs in 2009 I think and met up in October of 2010 to run a marathon together. People thought I was crazy to fly to Vancouver BC and do a 5-day road trip with someone I hadn’t “met” before, but you can really get to know a person through reading their blogs. We saw each other at least once a year until we both had kids in the winter of 2017/spring 2018. So now we have to get by with whatsapp and the occasional facetime. But she is my dearest friend.

        But I love Canadians. You guys are seriously the politest people and when Trump was elected, all of us told our friend Amber that we’d like to move in with her. πŸ˜‰

        After I typed up this comment, I did briefly look to see if there were any aps I could use for screen time monitoring but nothing really stood out to me but I’ll keep looking. It would be so nice to block certain things from hitting screen time. My screen time ends up looking atrocious because of all my calls and all the time I spend reading! Like 2-4 hours/day!

  4. Oh, boy. I think I’ve spent more than an hour on my phone THIS MORNING. Your phone usage makes me jealous! I would honestly never shut it off because I know that my sister would call me if there’s an emergency with my dad and she’d never considering calling my husband. That’s just the way things are with my family. I could potentially see using Nicole’s “do not disturb” setting and put my sister and mom’s numbers as exceptions, but I would still leave my phone on. If we had a landline, maybe this would be different, but since it’s my cell phone or bust, turning it off seems kind of irresponsible for my current life situation.

    1. These are such great points. I can see this changing for me over time – needing to be more available for specific instances OR as the kids get older and will be more independent. At this point – and for a while at least – this has just been a really helpful tool for me to limit screentime.
      And absolutely NO judgment on how much time people spend on their phones each day. I really appreciated that about the How To Break Up With Your Phone book (which reminds me of Marie Kondo’s message). There isn’t a one-size-fits-all amount of time that works for everyone!

  5. Ugh. I use my phone WAY WAY WAY too much. I don’t mind all of the time spent listening to audiobooks, but IG and FBV? Terrible terrible terrible. Turning it off is a great idea. Right now, I plug mine in around 8pm and generally leave it alone until I wake up with the baby and listen to a book. I also have muted my large group texts, and I check in on them on e a day to see what I have missed.

    1. Turning it off does work for me (where the Do Not Disturb didn’t), but it sounds like a lot of people have success (and willpower) to set it down in the evening and leave it be. I was just noticing a big spike mid-evening and/or just before bedtime and it was almost never productively spent and sometimes could end up being…an hour of wasted time – which I would rather spend reading a book or even interacting with another screen (like watching a show with my husband) or reading the news online where I just find I engage in a different way.

      Screen time is…tough to navigate!

  6. I don’t shut down my phone literally at night because it is the only way to call for help. However I have NO problem putting it aside around 9:00 p.m. and not using for the next 10-12 hours. I’m not a phone person to begin with so cell phones haven’t called to me as much as they have other people. [Yes that was a pun.]

    1. Haha. It took me about 1 second longer than it should have to get the pun, but nice one πŸ™‚
      That’s great you can set it aside in the evening and not touch it. I also think it’s wonderful how some people can avoid it for the first few hours of the day. For me, early in the day is when I get the majority of my texts from friends (especially ones that might be time-sensitive about after-school pickups or coordinating daytime plans). I also get notifications from the school about school closures via text, so morning for me just seems like the best time for me to be on my phone and for mostly productive or utilitarian purposes (i.e. not showing up at school to find it canceled)!

  7. I am with Ally Bean on this one. I do not look at my phone after 9pm unless it rings which it very very rarely does. I don’t put it on any special setting after that time just leave it on my desk and it stays there until I retrieve it in the morning. I have had a smartphone for about two and half years so I am a fairly late adopter. I find the screen too small to use it for much, all my surfing is done on a laptop so I should probably check/monitor my usage of that as I bet it would be really high! I do look at my laptop after 9pm although I would love to get in the habit of not using screens after 9pm as I know they can effect your sleep.

    1. I didn’t always end up back on my phone at this time of night, but often enough it seemed like an easy place to make a tweak. To me it’s painless to shut down the phone and I never really think of it again where if it’s on (but in Do Not Disturb), I often gravitate back to it.
      My laptop use is…MUCH higher. I’m tackling one thing at a time and have less of a concern about the laptop because it tends to be more intentional (as I mentioned earlier, I don’t whip out a laptop when I’m waiting for the kids to get off the bus, but I sure would use my phone in this lull of time).

  8. sounds like a great idea! I currently just charge my phone in the bathroom around 6pm and only go in if I need to text someone to coordinate morning kids related issues. it’s not completely de-plug but a good way to redirect my attention to books instead of browsing mindlessly.

    1. Charging the phones in another room is a great idea (and one I’ve read a lot about). I have all sorts of excuses as to why it’s easier to charge the phone in my room (it’s also where I charge my laptop + watch as well)…but this would get around having to turn it off completely!

      1. Not even special ones that are water resistant? Wow. All bathrooms in Canada have sockets!
        Though I wouldn’t charge mine in the bathroom because almost all sockets here are right by the sink (for things like electric razors) and so I’d be worried about water getting on my phone.

      2. This is something I’ve always puzzled at about Europe. How/where do you charge electric toothbrushes?! Where do you blow dry your hair? So many questions!

        1. Bathrooms here are allowed to have a shaving socket, basically for electric razors and toothbrushes only. There’s no standard sockets in a UK bathroom… I guess it must be against the law because it’s an absolute no no, never happens.

          Hair drying has to happen in another room πŸ™‚

          1. Wow! Our sockets work for everything in the bathroom but they do have an anti-shock design so they can withstand water!

  9. I also have that thing about needing to be available at all times. But, my parents are in their 80’s, and with our three grown kids out of the house (one in Florida, one 40 minutes away, and the third in college), I feel compelled to be reachable. We still have a landline, but no one uses it…so it would be my cell that would get any emergency calls (the hubby leaves his in the kitchen, charging, but he sleeps like a bear in deep hibernation).

    1. Can I just say I wish I slept like a bear in deep hibernation!
      I do think that turning the phone off will be a temporary solution as there will almost certainly be times where I need to be available (though, at this point, anyone who would call me in an emergency would have my husband’s contact and his phone stays on). If the kids do overnight camp this summer, for example, I would definitely leave it on!

  10. Ohh this triggers me LOL. I absolutely suffer from that “I must be contactable” mindset and I don’t know how much it is true and how much I am kidding myself. Even when hubby and A are safe at home with me, I still feel that work may need me and I do keep an eye on emails and team messages out of hours… and there are genuine emergencies.

    In fact, this Sunday evening hubby asked me why I was checking emails at 8pm – but it was good that I did as there was a genuine emergency in there. So while I do agree that we can put our phones away without the world ending, I do feel the fear that criminal law doesn’t keep a typical 40 hour week.

    BUT I definitely don’t need to tap my phone screen every time I get to a red light to see if a new message has come in!

    1. I don’t have work emergencies anymore, but up until this year I did check (and respond to) work e-mails outside of office hours all the time, including the weekend. My situation is a little different since I do work at odd hours since my timing is flexible (I don’t have a set schedule as I get all the work projects completed that need doing, so I could do all my work at 2 am if I wanted aside from team meetings which, oddly enough, everyone wants to happen during regular working hours)…but I now sign off COMPLETELY over the weekend of all work accounts.

      It doesn’t sound like it would make any sense for you to shut off completely from work – you’re essentially perpetually on call. Is there any way to have people triage contacting you though? If there is a regular intermediary (i.e. an office assistant or part of your legal team), could you ask them to reach out via “X” method for emergencies that need to be tackled outside of office hours while use another method for things that can wait? Maybe have them call if it’s critical, but e-mail if it can wait until the following day?

      1. I’m glad you’re switching off now!

        I do see the sense in flexible hours, though. I have one colleague who chooses her own hours to some extent and I often see that she’s been working at 10pm… but she probably didn’t work between 3pm-5pm when her kids were getting home and needing dinner etc, so it all works out in the end hopefully.

        I’m not sure that I can change much apart from limiting my checks. As long as I check my emails once a day over the weekend for emergencies, I can catch everything in time. It’s when those checks become every time my phone is nearby that it stops making sense…

        1. That balance is…so hard!
          But yes, flexible hours have been a mainstay in our life over the last decade. It’s the blessing/curse of start-ups/entrepreneurship. The key is to accentuate the “blessing” side of things and minimize the “curse” element.

  11. I don’t ever shut it off completely (unless I am on an airplane) but I use Do Not Disturb (which is especially needed for Whatsapp Notifications as so many of my contacts are in different time zones and my phone would light up all hours of the night otherwise LOL).
    I agree with Lisa that I wish that screen time was a little more customizable as I really would hone in on the time “wasted” vs. the time productively spent on my phone.

    Another interesting measure is how often you pick up your phone. It really tells you something about the “mindless reach” that people have gotten so used to. This is something that I am trying to actively work on. Maybe when I master this, I can work on actual screen time.

    1. I was aiming to lower my pickups (this was actually what I wanted to bring down more than screentime), but I’ve found now that I’ve lowered my screentime…I’m getting less fussy about pickups.
      Things that come in during the day TEND to be more time-sensitive (i.e. texts from friends or family) and I do have more pickups than I’d like. One little hack – if you have an Apple watch – I turned notifications back on, so they push to my watch and it’s easy to triage if it’s something I need to respond to/go on my phone. It’s SUCH a nuisance to respond on my watch, I only use the push notifications as a way to gate-keep my phone use…

  12. I am in the put-it-in-another-room-but-leave-it-on group. πŸ™‚
    But I also have the watch, which I wear at night because of the alarms in the morning.
    So that means that if I am not sleeping deeply, and someone texts me, it does blip. That does not happen often – and since I am up frequently in the night, it doesn’t really bother me, either. I do most of my doomscrolling, etc., during the day (e.g., when I get up to walk around to take a break from the desk chair) so bedtime/night time screen time is not usually an issue, either. I do need to break the habit during the day, though. It’s a bad one.

    1. Oh doomscrolling…was this a word pre-2020?
      Also – catastrophizing. Someone asked a few months ago if that was actually a word; I don’t remember it pre-2020, but it no longer sets off my spellcheck…

  13. I am always so impressed with your phone screen time usage. It’s a good day if I keep my screen time under 6 hours! Ha. But I recently realized that my phone counts my hours double if I’m listening to a podcast/music AND doing something else on my phone, like playing a game. So the screen time is a little skewed.

    I could not turn my phone off at night, mainly because I live alone and need to be available for emergencies. I use the Do Not Disturb feature and that helps! I do want to get better about putting my phone on the charger in my room at night. I think that would help with the boredom scrolling I tend to do.

    1. Wow! I didn’t know it counted “double” hours. That’s…very annoying.

      I had my camera on yesterday and forgot to turn it off…so my screen time was skewed and it annoyed me more than it should have…

      “Boredom scrolling” – that is almost ALWAYS why I end up scrolling…

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