Daily micro-habits to help you be more focused and calm every day.
Poor habits are often the reason many people struggle with productivity—cell phones provide a greater distraction. Research shows the majority of Americans spend a full waking month out of every year on their phone.
Approaching my second year of being a digital minimalist and Instagram-free, I can say from experience that efforts to quit your favorite social media platform and unplugging from your phone can prove challenging by the demands of family, friends, and work.
Nevertheless, change is possible — it just takes time and is most sustainable when done gradually: starting with tiny improvements first and building stronger momentum and inspiration over time.
Here are 20 small daily habits you can start right now to begin the process of spending less time on your phone.
#1. Stick to your plans
Smartphones make it easy to waver. You can always make last-minute changes to plans by texting a quick apology when running late or flaking entirely.
Try to honor appointments with loved ones. Stick to plans and respect the time you have reserved to be together. In addition, keeping promises and commitments to friends and families builds stronger and more trustful relationships.
#2. Share a phone-free meal
Research demonstrates that the mere presence of smartphones makes conversations shallower and lessens empathy between friends.
Instead of keeping your phone on you, combine quality time with having nourishing meals. Taste your food and enjoy your company without being distracted by beeping, vibrating, and flashing screens.
#3. Hack back your feed
The infinite scroll of social media platforms like Facebook is a clever bit of behavioral design meant to keep you tapping. But just because Facebook uses fancy algorithms to keep our attention doesn’t mean we can’t hack back.
In his book Indistractable, Nir Eyal provides several tools to defeat the news feed. My favorite is a free web browser extension called News Feed Eradicator for Facebook, which does exactly as it says: it eliminates the news feed and replaces it with an inspirational quote.
#4. Engage in spontaneous chatting
Many today will turn to text or email to avoid the spontaneity of actual conversation. But research shows choosing to text instead of talk may be weakening your relationships.
Try to embrace face-to-face conversation. It’s often messy, awkward, and full of silent moments, but it’s in these moments that we reveal ourselves to each other.
#5. Choose to zone-out
Filling almost every second of downtime by glancing at our phones leaves little time for reflection, deep thinking, or simply ‘zoning out.’
Instead of sipping on the endless stream of information, choose to get bored in that particular fidgety, introspective kind of way. Let your random thoughts drive you places you might not have gone while engaged in reactive thinking.
#6. Create value before you consume value
The internet is full of amazing people creating content meant to motivate and inspire, and it’s very tempting to start your day by checking out the latest posts and updates from other people.
But we only have a limited amount of attention available.
As Chris Bailey mentions in Hyper Focus: “The state of your attentional space determines the state of your life. When your attentional space is overwhelmed, you, in turn, feel overwhelmed. When your attentional space is clear, you also feel clear. The tidier you keep you attentional space, to more clearly you think.”
#7. Buy an alarm clock
Blue light late at night messes with our body clock and instantly glancing at our phone in the morning puts our brains on high alert. So kick your phone out of the bedroom and replace its practical function with an old-fashioned alarm clock.
#8. Leave your phone at the bathroom door
While it may be fun to kill time scrolling Instagram or checking Youtube while doing your business, using your smartphone on the toilet has some nasty consequences for your health.
Do you butt, your mind, and the people asking to borrow your phone a favor and leave your phone at the bathroom door.
#9. Declutter your online ‘home’
Over time, most of us have collected screen after screen of untouched apps that are now clogging up our phones.
Delete apps that no longer serve you and rearrange them into useful categories. This way, you’ll be more directive when you open your phone and find what you’re looking for more quickly, avoiding the chance of being distracted by other apps.
#10. Choose the poorer user experience
Unlike apps, mobile websites are far less smooth because developers have less freedom to create an addictive experience for you. As Armardeep Parmar wrote in his article: “If you want to spend less time on your phone, then choose the poorer user experience.”
Anyone who has used Instagram through their browser will know it’s far less enjoyable, and as an extra win, you don’t receive any notifications!
#11. Ask yourself what you’re trying to escape
The urge to check your phone doesn’t just come from external triggers like loud notifications, bright colors, and smooth scrolling interfaces.
If you’re trying to escape internal pains such as lack of self-worth, impending divorce, or financial stress, the real problem isn’t your smartphone.“Without dealing with the discomfort driving the desire for escape, you’ll continue to resort to one distraction or another,” Nir Eyal states in his book Indistractable.
So whenever you notice your social media habits are slacking, ask yourself where this behavior is coming from. Try to pinpoint the root cause because by understanding your pain and discomfort, you can find lasting ways to deal with negative urges.
#12. Call a Friend You’re About to Text
Nowadays, most of us prefer using our smartphones to text or chat rather than make phone calls. The fast text option has become one of the more efficient habits for getting a message to another. It seems that the function for which the phone was once developed has fallen out of favor.
But research shows that while texting increases and fosters an illusion of closeness, it actually decreases a relationship’s stability and satisfaction. As author Tanya Goodin mentions in her book Off: “Written words cannot convey the warmth of a voice or the undeniable sincerity of eye contact.”
#13. ‘Like’ Your Physical Feed
“One of the habits that helped improved my relationship was being more present”, says editor Jonathan Printers Jr. (@modern.therapist). Being in the habit of giving compliments helps you create an optimistic, happier outlook on life. Studies show that giving someone else a boost has an uplifting effect on one’s mood and helps you notice what’s going well — benefiting the giver and receiver alike.
#14. Cultivate high-quality leisure
Instead of filling your time in between work, taking care of family, and sleep with mindless watching and swiping screens, invest your energy into those activities that generate energy.
For me it’s climbing and building things with my hands, for you it may be going out with friends, home maintenance, or taking long walks.
Don’t shy away from action and demanding leisure — even after a hard day of work. You’ll likely end the night feeling better than if you had spend the entire evening passively watching Netflix or browsing Twitter.
#15. Visit The Metaphorical ‘Cabin In The Woods’
We spend a lot of our time processing the ideas and thoughts of other people.
But as Cal Newport argues in his book Digital Minimalism, spending time alone with your own thoughts is what allows you to process and balance complex emotions, solve hard problems, and gain creative insights.
So instead of grabbing your phone when waiting in line or sitting alone at a restaurant until a friend arrives, take these opportunities to visit your metaphorical ‘cabin in the woods’ and leave your mind to process and dissolve your own thoughts.
#16. Turn Off One Day Per Week
Disconnecting from the online world can be a powerful way to reconnect with yourself and your intimates. Try to fully disconnect one day per week and let your friends and family know you’ll be offline — Or better yet, invite them to join you.
#17. Give Attention to Your Environment
“We appear to care more about the people who are available through our devices than those we are right in front of our faces,” Gazzaley and Rosen state truthfully in their book The Distracted Mind.
Stop prioritizing distractions over the most important people in your life. Stop blowing magical moments with your loved ones because something on your phone grabbed your attention.
Be, laugh, and share with real friends in real life as much as you can.
And don’t forget about our most loyal friends too. Take long walks with your dog or cuddle your cat on the couch instead of impatiently trying to get him to do-the-cute-thing again while pointing a camera in its face.
#18. Spend Your Evenings Getting Into a Flow State
Replace your evening scroll with activities that get you into a flow state instead.
Digital detox expert Tanya Goodin describes this as a meditative state during which your brain can restore, and your breathing and heart rate slow down. It’s that state where you’re fully emerged in what you’re doing and lose all sense of time.
To get into a flow state, try different activities for which you’ll need your full attention and preferable both hands — so you can’t scroll through your phone simultaneously. It can be reading, drawing, crafting, cooking, exercising, puzzling; whatever offline, screen-free activity floats your boat!
Not only will it help you wind down, but your brain also produces rewarding chemicals when in a flow state — making it a meaningful experience and a joyful way to pass your time.
#19. Have a Beer With Friends
Call up the friend whose Instagram story you were just watching and grab a beer with him or her in the city. Catch up through direct conversation rather than scrolling through each other’s social media feeds and actually laugh out loud at each other’s jokes instead of smirking from the couch at a brightly lit screen.
#20. Have the Best Sleep of Your Life
Instead of scrolling through your phone until you fall asleep — hoping that you can turn off as easily as your devices — pick up that dust-covered book you bought three months ago, have some small talk with your partner before bed, or simply explore the wealth of your own mind until you naturally drift away.