I decided to end things one rainy Wednesday evening. My boyfriend was telling a story, and stopped to ask if I was listening. Huh? Who me? I was scrolling Instagram, the same thing I’d been doing mindlessly for the last 20 minutes – and during both one-hour commutes that day. My phone and I definitely needed to go on a break.
We may not be the only ones – 18 per cent of Aussies have argued with partners about their phone use, reveals a 2016 Deloitte report, and nearly a third of us tap away during the night (guilty – hey, Whatsapp). In a case of perfect timing, new book How To Break Up With Your Phone had landed on my desk earlier that week. Author and science journalist Catherine Price writes that while our phones are the bee’s knees in many ways, they also contribute to anxiety, reduced attention span and a sense of disconnectedness. The idea of her 30-day plan? To help you end things with your phone, but then kickstart a healthier, more-balanced relationship with it. Challenge accepted.
Day 1: Get a tracker
Price suggests this as a starting point, so I downloaded free app RealizD to monitor my phone use over three days. My prediction: an hour daily, max. The reality: at least that. One day, I picked it up 90 times and was on there for three hours all up. WTAF? Boy, this was confronting, but it’s a great exercise if you need motivation for a break-up.
Day 2: Check in with yourself
What do you want to pay attention to? Ask this whenever you reach for your phone. As per Price’s advice, I snap a photo of a piece of paper with the question written on it, and set that as my lock screen to remind me. If I still wanted to use my phone after seeing that, all good, but often it prompted me to get back to the people/work/meal in front of me.
Day 9: Streamline apps
You prioritise, you delete, you create sub-folders for your apps. The best takeaway? Reserve your home screen for tools only – what Price describes as ‘apps that improve your life without stealing your attention’. Things like maps, camera, banking, weather and the actual phone. Social media, dating apps et al go to another screen if you haven’t deleted them already (I nixed Facebook and banished Insta to my third screen). It’s surprising how little you think about an app when it’s not right in front of you.
Day 10: Turn it into a landline
Rather than charging my phone next to the couch each evening (where I’d inevitably check it during <Law & Order> ad breaks), I started powering it up at my work desk, then leaving it in my bag when I got home. I could hear it ring and knew where it was if needed, but it wasn’t constantly strapped to my side. I’m trying to keep this one up – it’s surprisingly liberating.X-HEAD:
Day 11: Swap rewards
Suss out what you’re after when you reach for your phone (eg, connection, info, distraction, boredom relief) and find other ways to get the same result. I spent my ferry commute scrolling Insta to see what friends were doing, so instead I started using the journey to Facetime them for catch-ups. Still using my phone, I know, but with a much heftier dose of connection.
Day 14: Rope in mates
To crack down on ‘phubbing’ aka phone-snubbing (check Facebook at brunch? Text mid convo? You phubber, you), I asked friends to leave their phones in a box when we had dinner one night. I’ve heard of groups enforcing this: whoever cracks and picks up their phone first has to foot the bill. Fortunately for our bank balances, I was cooking risotto at home. I expected resistance, but everyone was willing. Relieved even. It felt nice to digi-detox for a few hours.
Day 20: The 24-hour separation
I left my phone in a drawer on Friday night and said bye ’til the following eve. On Saturday, we did chores then went for a beach walk and ice-cream (make plans for this day, says Price). It was #foodporn gelato and my instinct was to snap a photo. I felt frustrated for a moment, but got over it just as quickly – there was salted coconut goodness to be eaten, plus my food pics never do a meal justice anyway. 24 hours wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be (‘out of sight out of mind’ comes to... mind) and I felt lighter, with no self-imposed pressure to snap/answer/call/search anything.
Day 30: Pat on the back
Challenge completed. I’ve changed some habits and become more aware of how I use my phone – it’s still part of my life, but we’re not in each other’s pockets 24/7. And it feels good. “I think I’m better now. Reformed, do you reckon?” I ask my partner. He thinks for a moment. “Yeah, you’re better than you were... I’d say semi-reformed.” Hey, I’ll take that.