Smartphones Call for Smart Habits

Your phone is designed to grab your attention

Smartphones are fun and useful. But they're powerful tools of seduction. Every feature, colour and sound has been 'optimised' by teams of designers and psychologists to keep us hooked and coming back for more.

Look around and you’ll see how well it's working. The average person taps, clicks and swipes on their phone over 2,600 times a day on average (source). If we did anything else that often, we'd probably call a doctor.

What's going on? Are we consciously choosing to keep interrupting ourselves?

Some signs you might be stuck in a loop

When things make us feel good, we do them more often. Over time this becomes automatic –– a habit. Our 'muscle memory' keeps us checking our phones, even when it isn't useful or doesn't feel so good anymore. Do you recognise any of these feelings?

The twitch: feeling the urge to check your phone even though you’ve already checked it in the last ten minutes? ... okay, more like 30 seconds ago?

The pang: forgot your phone at home and feeling weird and uneasy? That'll be the pang.

The phantom vibe: feeling your phone vibrate, only to realise you've imagined it? Spooky.

The green-eyed sigh: too many geo-boasters (friends who brag by 'checking-in' somewhere new) in your life? Or too many phubbers (phone-snubbers keep their phone out when they're with you - just in case)?

These feelings are all signs that our phones are seducing us into a loop of constant checking.

Tips to outsmart your smartphone

The good news is that a few simple changes can reduce those twitches, pangs and vibes:

1. Stay present

Notice your relationship with your phone

On a normal day, pay attention to how and why you're using your phone (are you bored, alone or has the person you're with got theirs out?). Google and Apple now have ways to check your habits with Google's Digital Wellbeing and the iOS 12 update. These services will tell you how often you’re checking your phone and when. Are you surprised by your number? What would you like it to be? Set yourself a goal.

Use physical reminders to keep you on track

Write yourself a note like "Why now?" or "Put me down," then take a photo of it and set it as your homescreen. When you pick up your phone, it's the first thing you'll see. Also try the app Space, which adds a 10-second loading screen to apps you open. That pause gives you time to notice your habits and calm your auto-pilot.

Apply the same logic to your whole phone by adding a screen lock. The extra hassle to enter the unlock code is your auto-pilot speed bump –– and it keeps your phone safe from prying eyes.

Change where you keep it

Checking your phone first thing in the morning and late at night? At the dinner table and on the way to work? Put physical distance between you and your phone to create emotional distance. Try charging it away from your bed, keeping it in a desk drawer at work or even leaving it at home sometimes. Can you go for an afternoon without it?

2. Personalise your default settings

Turn off notifications

Do you really need to be notified that you've been emailed a coupon offer? Constant attention grabbers like these are designed to nudge us into checking when we don't mean to. Turning them off is the single most powerful thing you can do to put yourself in control again. Here's how:


  • To turn off notifications for a specific app:
    • Settings
    • Notifications
    • tap an app →
    • turn off Allow Notifications
  • To turn off an app’s lock-screen notifications:
    • Settings
    • Notifications
    • turn off Show on Lock Screen



  • To turn off notifications for a specific app:
    • Settings
    • Notifications
    • tap an app →
    • Block all settings
  • Another way to disable an app's alerts is by long-pressing its notification when it appears. Then you'll get the chance to "block alerts" or "show them silently."
  • To stop your phone’s lock screen lighting up when notifications come in:
    • Settings
    • Display
    • turn off the Ambient Display setting


Note: These instructions tell you where to go, but as phones and operating systems vary, the exact buttons you need to click may be called something a little different on your phone. Explore your phone settings or search your model online.

Put your phone screen in Grey Mode

Colourful screens convince us to spend more time on them. Set your phone screen in grey mode and try it for a week to see if you check it less. (This isn't available for all phones so search your phone model and 'colour screen settings' online. If not, switching from 'vibrant' colour mode to 'standard' is still helpful.)


  • Settings
  • General
  • Accessibility
  • Display Accommodations
  • Color Filters
  • Choose “Grayscale



  • About device
  • find “build number” →
  • tap it until the phone says you're a developer.
  • Then, go back to Settings
  • Developer options
  • Simulate color space
  • choose Monochrome

Stay on top

When you install a new app, notice the tricks it uses to keep you coming back.

Has that podcast app automatically overridden your screensaver settings to show you downloads instead? Is that game sending you notifications about your daily streak and who has more points than you?

Until phone and app designers move away from seduction by design, you'll have to be a bit more proactive in editing your settings. Reduce the noise. They're relying on the fact that you won't.

3. Make plans and keep it fun

Tell your friends and family that you're trying a new normal

This is an easy tip to forget, but it can have a big effect. Ask others to join you in this phone experiment! Make it a family competition. Or just plan things you enjoy in advance so that you aren't left looking to your phone for fun at the last minute.

Breaking free from constant checking is much easier when your time is filled with other things.

Ready to give it a go? If it's hard, that's okay. Powerful seduction methods got us into these loops and it will take some time to get us out. Start wherever you feel comfortable and take it from there.

You may not end up spending less time on your phone, but just spending that time differently. When it comes to time on your phone go for quality, not quantity.

Last updated on: 10/29/2020