But if it’s not YouTube, the drama that unfolds is on Reddit or a TikTok For You page that continues to serve up the hits. And whichever app is responsible for sucking up my attention, the result is usually the same: I jump back into the real world a few hours later, wondering where all that precious time has gone.
I’m sure I’m not alone here either — a 2021 study from the Pew Research Center found that about 30 percent of adults in the United States reported being “nearly constant” online. Enough, I recently decided.
Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems come with tools to curb our screen time, although they sometimes feel a little half-baked. Still, they helped me get rid of my phone and explore my new home a bit. This is what helped me detach myself from a world of content when the weekend rolls around.
After a pandemic that’s free for everyone, parents struggle to reinstate screen time rules
By now, this has become a pretty well-understood trick: forcing your smartphone screen to display things only in shades of gray aims to tone down the visual stimulus that keeps you coming back for more. And so far it’s worked well for me: streaming shows don’t look great in black and white, and I can’t think too much about Wordle’s guesses over the weekend, because I can’t get a yellow square from a green one. distinguish.
The settings to make the switch from colorful to colorless are a little out of the way, but don’t worry – we can set shortcuts to make the whole thing faster.
- Open the Settings app, then tap Accessibility
- Under the “Vision” heading, tap Display and Text Size
- Find the Color Filters option, tap the switch to turn it on and select Grayscale
Now all the color should be gone from your iPhone’s screen. To make switching back and forth easier, find the Accessibility Shortcut option and select Color Filters – after that, triple clicking the power button should be enough.
- Open the Settings app, then tap Accessibility
- Under the “Display” heading, tap Text & Display
- Tap Color Correction and select Grayscale
To enable an on-screen shortcut button, locate the Color Correction shortcut option and enable it. You should see a small colored button that you can move around your screen as needed.
In addition to making my phone less visually appealing, I also wanted to restrict — and sometimes temporarily disable — certain apps I know I shouldn’t blow up on Saturdays and Sundays.
There are a few ways to accomplish this on an iPhone, but some of them require you to manually change some settings every time you want to disconnect from the world. That feels a little too picky; instead, we’re going to tweak iOS’ screen time and downtime features to do most of that work.
For starters, we need to decide which apps we want (or need) to keep using.
- Open the Settings app, tap Screen Time and turn it on if it isn’t already
- Once Screen Time is enabled, tap on the Always Allowed option.
- Find the apps you want to make sure you can still access and tap the green button next to their name to add them to the list of allowed apps.
Now you can manually enable and disable Downtime. When it’s active, it warns you that you’ve reached your time limit when you try to open an app that’s not on the allowed list. If you’re thinking of using this mainly on weekends, like me, we can schedule Downtime to work at specific times.
- From the Screen Time menu, tap the Schedule switch to turn it on
- Tap Customize Days and set the schedule that works for you
In general, Screen Time is not a perfect system for blocking your impulses; for example, bypassing an app’s time limit takes just a few taps. Still, I’ve found that the act of asking whether I’m sure I want to open a particular app gives me just enough time to consider whether I really wanted it, or whether I was acting out of a time-consuming impulse.
If you’ve made an Android phone in the last four years, it probably has a range of “Digital Wellbeing” tools built in. Fortunately, in some ways it’s easier to set and schedule app limits.
- Open the Settings app and tap Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls
- Tap Focus Mode
- Tap the checkboxes next to each app you want to restrict access to.
- To set when you want Focus mode to run, tap Set a schedule at the top of the screen and select the times that feel right for you
Once Focus mode is active, you’re essentially locked out of the app altogether unless you press the button which gives you another five minutes. Again, it’s not a perfect solution, but it was helpful to wean myself from screens as the work week comes to an end.
Note: Some Android phones, such as certain Samsung Galaxy devices, allow you to set multiple Focus modes. If you try and enjoy this feature on the weekends like I do, it might be worth exploring during the week.
Got a better way to make your phone less distracting? Let the help desk know.
What about distraction-free phones?
Over the years, some companies have even tried to solve the problem by building phones that are dumb.
A Swiss boutique hardware company called Punkt makes stylish handsets that are good for calling, texting and using mobile hotspots, but not much else. Then there’s the Light Phone II, a credit card-sized cell phone with an e-ink screen that can still play your podcasts and give you directions.
The idea of a phone that takes away all but the essentials is appealing, at least to a former professional phone geek like me. But even I couldn’t bring myself to buy any of these, mostly for one reason: they’re a bit at limited.
None of these distraction-free devices allow you to install additional apps that you may already be relying on, which can make them non-starters like people’s only phones. It doesn’t help that these devices aren’t exactly cheap either: the Light Phone II costs $299, while the latest Punkt model starts at $379.
If you’ve got the cash to spare, sure – maybe one of these would make a great weekend companion. (Some people really enjoy using these minimalist phones as their daily driver, though many can’t wave at it.) But for me, the best game here is using your phone’s built-in tools to avoid distractions on the right side. reduce times and unleashes its full functionality when needed.
Or you could do what a few of my colleagues suggested: just leave your phone in a drawer or in another room so you can’t be glued to it. You’re a better person than me if you can pull that off.