How Not to Explode when using your Handphone

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How Not to Explode when using your Handphone

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With the advancement of technology and the advent of the smartphone, we are now able to do a lot more on a tiny handheld device than we would have possibly imagined a few years ago. Checking and writing emails, doing research, taking and editing photos, catching up on the happenings of our friends’ lives, messaging and watching videos, we are now able to have all these done in the palm of our hands. The flipside, though, is that the device hardly leaves our hands, as it continually lures us away from our relationships, work and the world “out there”, by keeping our minds and hands engaged and inevitably bringing with it the many side-effects of stiff necks as well as strained and tired eyes. The next time you commute on public transport, just take a look around to see how many people are looking down on their devices and you will understand the magnitude of this problem.

Here are 10 tips to help you be “in the moment” and spend time with people and your loved ones and to reclaim your life back from your screens:

#1. Manage those notifications

One of the ways our devices try to get our attention is through notifications. Most apps, such as games and social media apps, try to get us to return to them regularly. And without a stopping cue, we will just go on and on as we lie to ourselves with excuses such as “just one more video” or “just five more minutes”. So, one of the ways of helping us stay focused and be “in the moment” is that of managing our handheld devices’ notifications. Here are some tips on how we can manage our notifications:

  • Disable notifications except those from real people
  • Decide on how you would like to be interrupted notified by selecting if you would allow sound notifications, badge app icons, notifications on lock screens, banner notifications and/or previews in notifications.
  • Decide if you would need your phone to be in sound, vibration or silent mode
  • Avoid wearing wearables which could receive notifications from your phone.

Anthony Ongaro in his video about managing notifications on phones suggested asking yourself 3 questions to determine if you should keep notifications for your apps:

  1. Do I really need to know what this app is trying to tell me the second it’s available?
  2. Is my day going to magically get better if I randomly receive a notification from this app?
  3. Should I allow this app to interrupt me whenever I’m… (insert something really important to you)

#2. Use Non-Smartphone Alternatives

Actually, I will not call them “non-smartphone alternatives” but rather “the originals”. Long before we read news and ebooks on our handheld devices, we read them on newspapers and books. This is also the same for telling the time and writing notes; instead of using your handheld devices, use a physical watch and notebook instead. This will help you stay “in the moment”, as it reduces the amount of time you spend on your handheld devices and prevent you from being waylaid by other apps.

#3. (Re)Move those apps

Do you know how long you spend on apps on your handheld devices? One of the ways of starting to manage your app usage is to first gain an insight into the time you spend on them. You can get a good gauge by looking at the battery consumption and app-usage duration statistics in your battery settings of your phones. Once you have gained that insight, you can then decide if you really need the apps. Here are some tips:

  1. Uninstall apps which you have no need for and which are keeping you from what matters most e.g. relationships. In fact, challenge yourself to have access to a maximum of 10 essential apps.
  2. Keep to one messaging app rather than communicating with people on multiple messaging apps.
  3. Keep “in and out” tools on the first page of your screens; apps which allow you to quickly go in to get something done and then exit.
  4. Make it inconvenient to access all the other non-essential apps e.g.
    • moving them to the 3rd or 4th screens,
    • scramble the app placements once in a while to prevent what I call the “thumb memory” where your thumb just knows where to zero in to find an app without needing to look intently,
    • uninstall apps which you can access through the web browser. In addition to that, do not use the “remember password” option and close the tab everytime you finish using the website. In this way, it requires a little more effort to access them and it may discourages you from accessing it frequently and excessively.

#4. Managing Emails

I was a victim to constant checking of work emails even when I was on vacation with my family. Things got so bad for me that I reckoned enough is enough and I went on to remove access to my work email on my handheld devices. I reasoned that I will have access to my work emails anyway on my desktop/laptop and the easy access to my work emails is also giving work easy access to my personal life and mental health. And since I am unable to keep a tight rein on managing my time on work emails, the next best thing for me is to totally remove it from my handheld devices.

Here are some more tips for managing emails:

  1. Set certain time periods in the day for checking and working on emails.
  2. Unsubscribe from newsletters that do nothing but clutter your mailbox and which may cause you to spend more time and money
  3. Pick up the phone and call people rather than email; often times, a phone call would do the trick and avoid unnecessary email “ding dongs” for you and the recipient(s).

#5. Turn your devices grey

Some argue that by turning your screen to monochrome, it makes it less appealing for you to check your handheld devices frequently.

#6. Manage those feeds

We might be inundated with updates on our social media accounts. Again, with no stopping cue, we can go on and on checking on the latest updates on what is happening in other people’s lives while we miss out on our own. While some may take the drastic step of deleting their social media account altogether, you may choose to take a less drastic step (if you are yet to be ready for it) by managing your feeds and unfollowing people or accounts which may not be adding positively to your life. This will help us to manage the number of updates coming to our feeds and help us stay focused on those people and accounts that matter to us and which can build our lives and relationships.

#7. Go into the world

Another important strategy is to be intentional about spending time away from your handheld devices. For a start, you may set “device-free” time zones where you intentionally spend time with a loved one, share a meal with your friend, do something creative, develop yourself or just work out. Set your handheld devices on airplane mode, put it away, leave them in your bags rather than your pockets. The absence of your handheld devices in your meetups with your loved ones communicates deep respect and love for that person.

#8. Limit yourself

If you need help with setting boundaries for the use of your handheld devices, consider installing one of those apps to help manage phone addictions. Some of these apps allow you to set the max number of screen unlocks, or max amount of time spent on specific apps and/or the device as well as limit the timing you can use certain apps. The app that I use, for example, sets a maximum amount of time I can use my handphone before it locks me out of my phone for a specified period of time. However, in the meantime, I am allowed access to necessary apps during the lockdown.

If you have the tendency to act on a task whenever you think about it, consider using a To-Do app so you can “park” the nagging task there and work on it when you are next on your laptop/desktop.

Another way of limiting the use of your handheld devices is simply to not bring your chargers and portable battery packs. In that way, you will be conscious of how much time you spend on your devices so you can ensure enough battery to last you through the day.

#9. Implement the 3-minutes rule

For me, I try to implement what I call the “3-minute rule”. I will use my handheld devices and apps for a task if I can achieve it within 3 minutes of usage. If it requires a longer time, I will try to remind myself to work on it at a later time when I am at my desktop/laptop instead.

#10. Avoid the Zero-Sum Game

The internet is quite an ecosystem. I remember watching “Ralph Breaks the Internet” with my wife and son recently and there was a special post credit scene about Ralph stuffing a bunny with pancakes until it, well, explodes. It does remind me how an overdose of things we enjoy, including time spent on the internet and on our devices, might not be a good thing after all. And it is a zero sum game; our need to post will feed the need of another to read as it keeps them on their devices consuming content. So, in a bid to help ourselves and others, it might be wise to consider the need for the content we create/share, especially if they are unverified contents or if they do nothing to value-add to others’ lives. We can all be responsible and avoid the zero-sum game.

Imagine the time and resources you free up when you are not swiping or typing, imagine how much you will grow, how much relationships will grow, how your physical and mental health will be enhanced  and how stiff necks and strained eyes are kept at bay.

Here’s a wallet-sized infographic you can download to keep with you to remind yourself of the above digital detox strategies.

Found this article useful? Do share this with your family and friends so they can be blessed too. What others digital detox strategies do you have? Share them with the world so we can help each other keep our screen addictions away.

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How Not to Explode when using your Handphone

by James Lim
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