Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 17, 2020

Do You Need to Cut Back?

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A number of apps can tell you how much time you spend on your phone and how long you’re in each app. Even if you don’t think you’re on your phone too much, seeing the cold, hard numbers may inspire you to put it down.

Turn Off Alerts

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It’s easier to ignore your phone if it doesn’t buzz every few seconds with a text, email, or social media update. They’ll all be there, no matter how long you wait to you check your phone, and you might feel better and more productive if you let them linger a bit. If you can’t afford to miss some things -- say a message from your spouse or kid -- you can set your phone so only certain texts get through.

Put a Rubber Band on Your Phone

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It’s a little reminder to turn off the part of your brain that does things without thinking. If a rubber band is too annoying, try a screensaver that asks “Do you really need to get into your phone?” It might save you that 45 minutes of mindless scrolling through pictures of farmhouses before you remember that you don’t really like farmhouses. 

Get an Alarm Clock

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When you use your phone’s alarm to wake up in the morning, you’re more likely to get sucked into checking your email, texts, and social media. An alarm clock keeps the phone out of your hands at least a few more minutes. Other ideas include charging it overnight in another room and setting a specific time to look at it in the morning. 

Go Cold Turkey

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Some experts suggest going without your phone for 3 days. That can help you kick bad phone habits and find new, healthier things to do instead. You can ease your way back into using it -- say, just calls and texts at certain times -- then gradually start to do other things if you decide you want to again.

Tech-Free Time

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If you can’t imagine life without your phone for 3 days, set aside certain times that are phone-free in your household. (You may want to include other digital devices, too.) That might be an hour or so each evening before dinner or every Sunday afternoon. Go for a walk, or play cards or a board game -- anything that gives you a chance to talk and engage with one another.  

Plan Some Offline Fun

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Try something simple like reading a book or going to the park with your dog. No need to post pictures about any of that on social media. Instead, invite some friends to meet you for coffee or a jog and see them in person. Tell them you’re turning your phone off, and they may decide to do the same.

Create Phone-Free Zones

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It’s not a great idea to take your phone out in the bathroom. Mainly, for reasons of basic hygiene, but also because it can be good to keep your phone out of certain parts of your life. Those also might include meetings, playtime with your kids, and driving. It’s a healthy way to get used to short amounts of time without it.

‘Do Not Disturb’

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Some smartphones have a setting that lets you limit certain parts of your phone during a set time every day. For example, you could stop all calls and aler­­ts between 5 and 9 p.m. and after midnight. 

Get Rid of Apps

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Those games are designed to keep you coming back for more, but they can’t if they’re not there. You just might be able to get by with phone, text, and email on your phone -- you can check social media when you’re on your computer.

Helpful Tools

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Some apps can help limit the time you spend on your phone by locking you out of certain things during set times of day or after you’ve spent a specific amount of time on them. Others offer encouragement or reward you with time after you’ve done things like take 5,000 steps in a day.

Talk the (Right) Talk

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You’re more likely to leave your phone in your pocket if you say “I don’t check my phone at dinner” than if you say “I can’t check my phone at dinner.” It might be because “can’t” suggests you’ve been denied something, but scientists don’t know exactly why that one word can make a difference.  

Manage Expectations

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If you want to spend less time on your phone but are concerned that people will think you’re rude or get upset if you don’t respond quickly, just tell them. Say you’re trying to break the phone habit and it might be a while before you get back to them.

Trade Your Smartphone for a ‘Dumbphone’

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If the temptation of a pocket-sized computer is just too much, a cellphone that can only call and text might be a solution. It can’t download apps or access the Internet, but it's much less expensive and might be just the thing that sets you free. 

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