5 min read

Making the iPhone Less Addictive  -  7 Changes I Made

I’m excited about technologies and its potential to support humanity and the world. Not all trends are positive though, and some insidious ones are in our everyday lives.
Research on cell phone use and internet addiction is growing, and its effects on us are becoming more widely understood and discussed.

Some of the brightest minds of the tech world are creating initiatives to ‘reverse the digital attention crisis’. Some of them are the minds behind functionalities that keep us hooked. Features like pull-to-refresh, notifications and infinite scrolling invite us to mindless consumption.

For a long time, I felt I wasn’t in charge of the relationship with my phone. I could find myself scrolling through random apps, Instagram or LinkedIn, not remembering having even picked up the phone.

It bothered me, I didn’t enjoy giving away my power to a device. So, I set out to make my iPhone less addictive. Easier said than done, here are the changes I made to save me hours every week.

#1: Get Clarity — Download Moment

Apple has reported that the average iPhone user unlocks their phone 80 times a day. Other research shows that a typical cell phone user touches their phone 2,617 times during a day.

It’s hard to make a change based on a vague feeling. When we get objective data on how things are, it can bring clarity to our next step.

Moment is an app that tracks how we interact with our phone, including screen time, pickups, waking life and sleep. It gives statistics and insights on exactly what we do and how long we do it for.

For me, it was getting the facts of how I interacted with my phone that disturbed me enough into wanting to change.

#2: Turn Off Notifications

I love the quote; ”your inbox is the agenda of everyone else”.

If we allow our workdays to be controlled by our inbox, i.e. other people’s wants, we don’t get much done. Same with notifications. If we give other people and businesses the power to decide where our attention goes, are we really in charge of our own time?

So, remove notifications (settings -> notifications). When I first turned them off, it brought a quiet that actually bothered me. And definitely FOMO; what if I’m missing something important? Now, I can’t imagine living with pings and message previews that used to lit up my screen.

Let’s not sell our attention to other people’s priorities. Let’s decide for ourselves when we want to be notified. Our time is too valuable.

#3: Choose Grayscale in Settings

This is what has impacted my cell phone use the most. I changed the color filter to grayscale. Removing color felt weird (and dull) for a few days, but I got used to it fast.

After three weeks, I toggled back to color. I was surprised by the intense colors of the phone; my brain literally hurt. I can’t speak to the science of removing color input, but there must be something to it.

The pull to pick up my phone has decreased. It’s like I removed my favorite candy from the candy store and my brain knows it. Even if I would go into the store, there are no rewards to be found.

Not sure if you’re ready to go gray? Create a short-cut to toggle between normal color and grayscale (by triple-clicking your home-button).

How to set grayscale? Settings -> general -> accessibility -> color filters -> grayscale. To create the shortcut, go to accessibility -> accessibility shortcut and choose color filter.

#4: Create an Empty Home Screen

A wonderful change was to clean up my ‘home screen’. It used to be filled with folders and apps. My home screen now has a clean background color and one app: Evernote. Swiping right, here are the folders with apps I use daily. On the third screen are the apps that I hardly ever use.

Also, I move the folders around once in a while. We get used to our newest set-up fast, and it is easy to get back in the habit of opening apps unconsciously. Trick your brain by moving apps and folders around.

#5: Remove ’infinity’ apps

The pull-to-refresh functionality is genius, and quite scary. Designed like a slot machine, it rewards us when we along and play the game.

Tristan Harris writes about the term intermittent variable rewards: “to maximize addictiveness, link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward.”

“We pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got. When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got. When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next.”

Make a conscious decision to remove apps that invite you to scroll, refresh and consume mindlessly — apps that are designed to make you stay. These include apps like Facebook and any news app. Remove your mail-app and only check mail in your browser. Consider your use of apps like Messenger, Instagram and Twitter.

Or keep them all, as long as you’re super conscious about your choice.

Personally, I’ve kept Instagram and Twitter. These apps are in a folder called Work, on my ‘third’ homepage.

#6: Choose Yourself

What do you want your life to be about? Turn your phone into a support system for the life you want. Meditation app, Kindle, a fitness app, perhaps coach.me? (How amazing is it that we live in a world where we can get a personal coach right in our phones!)

Don’t go overboard, but fill your cell phone (second homepage) with apps that support you in creating a joyful and productive life.

A fascinating study of 200,000 iPhone users gives an overview of the difference between the apps we cherish vs. the apps we regret. ‘Happy’ apps include Headspace, Kindle, Spotify and note-taking apps. ‘Unhappy’ apps include Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, games and dating apps.

#7: Set a Kind Reminder to Yourself

Set a reminder to yourself, once monthly, to revisit what is working and not. You’ll probably add apps and change settings that don’t serve you. Basically, you’ll ‘slip’. I know I have. In no way am I an enlightened cell phone user, but these steps help me save time, and be much more conscious about what I choose to put my attention to and how I spend my time.

There’s no final destination here I think. It’s about making it a habit to reflect about what is working and what is not.

#8: No iPhone In The Bedroom

This one I have actually never managed to do. But I’m putting it here in case someone has succeeded and can tell me how to do it? 😉

In the end, there is one driving factor about me wanting to change my relationship to cell phones and other devices. It’s about choosing to live a conscious life.

And for me, a conscious life does not include touching my iPhone 2,617 times a day 🙂

Good luck! And let me know if you have any more suggestions to add to the list.