My crash diet of the summer had nothing to do with getting a beach body. It was about trimming away one of my guiltiest pleasures: time with my phone.
Having gone through the cleanse, I then started to monitor how well the lessons stuck.
Here’s what I found:
Strict time limits didn’t work: On a diet, you’re essentially in charge of yourself – you police what you eat, you block out the time to exercise for yourself.
But a phone is a communications device, which means that you also have the harder task of policing the actions of others.
That made the time-based challenges very difficult for me. On Day 5 I had to commit to checking my phone only once per hour, to keep me focused and discourage idle scrolling.
In fact, it was almost completely ineffective and made my workday almost impossible. I was either on eggshells about missing something all day or cursing myself for not having the willpower.
I failed spectacularly.
The truth is I can’t ignore a message from my boss for 50 minutes just because I talked to her at the top of the hour. And there are always some texts you need to answer right away – e.g., “What’s the plumber’s number!?”
While my screen time is still undisciplined post-cleanse, it did make me realize that many notifications and messages I get aren’t as urgent as I think.
After all, one phone buzz I thought might be the vet’s diagnosis for our cat turned out, instead, to be an MLB notification that someone was tagged out at third base. The cleanse may not have helped me totally unplug, but did help me realize I should chill out.
Cutting clutter is life-changing: I don’t want to go full Marie Kondo (the famous decluttering consultant) on you, but the most effective thing I picked up from my cleanse was the need to cut the unnecessary stuff.
The last day of the cleanse tells you to try clearing your home screen except for a few essential apps – texts, calls and mail. The clear screen was so oddly calming for me, that I’ve kept it that way ever since.
Culling and organizing my apps made it easier than ever to get into what I need on my phone, and then back out into the world.
That efficiency, more than anything, has helped me mess around with my phone less through the day. I’m going to try to do this every month going forward.
Different methods help different people disengage: In addition to the time spent on your phone, this cleanse tried to make you a little less engaged with it. But that’s a tricky goal because people use their phones in vastly different ways.
For example: on Day 2, you’re told to set your phone to only display shades of grey. For others, I talked to while doing the cleanse, that seemed to be the hardest challenge to them because they use their phones in which colour matters – taking or looking at pictures. For them, the idea of going grey would make their phones lose a lot of appeal.
For me, it did almost nothing. Most of what I do on my phone is read an unhealthy amount of text, where going black-and-white isn’t a big problem.
That drove home that “phone addiction” is actually a number of very different smartphone activities being rolled into one pop-culture diagnosis.
It also made me wonder about some of the monitoring tools coming from phone makers, which are essentially one-size-fits-all data dumps, with charts that tell you how you’re using your phone.
You can set limits app-by-app, but that seems to treat the symptoms rather than the cause of problematic use.
For me, knowing that I was checking on my phone more than once an hour didn’t help me change my habits. Thinking about why things were hard for me did. That’s the kind of context offered by trying the activity of something like a cleanse (as hokey as it is) that you won’t get from charts.
I still check my phone constantly; once every eight minutes, according to Apple’s early tracking tools. And some of the screen time I pruned from my phone went to other screens – the living room television, my desktop. If the goal is less screen time overall, I’m not sure I accomplished that with this quick-hit attempt to curb my addictions.
But I am at least thinking about it now.
And I’ve picked up a couple of good habits. Now, if I think I’m getting too distracted, I will try to put the phone down for a longer period of time, or at least will myself to look at my phone only after every three buzzes.
– The Washington Post