Free to Choose

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By Katie Dutcher


I have a confession: I spend 2.5 hours on my phone each day. Often much longer.

Is that surprising? It was for me! For a month or so, I’ve been having an app track my usage (it’s called Moment), and it has been shocking to me, not only how long I spend on my phone, but how many times per day I pick it up an average of 45 times each day!

And of course, I’m not alone in these habits. In Catherine Price’s new book, “How to Break Up With Your Phone,” she begins with some statistics which show that the average American spends 4 hours a day on their phone and picks it up 47 times...and that most of us start picking it up right after we wake up. Maybe you’re thinking this sounds familiar…


Unintentional Use of Time & Attention

It’s not that I think my phone is bad. I use my phone for many interesting and useful purposes, and I feel happy to have this tool. What bothers me, however, is how often I find myself using my time and attention unintentionally.

For example, I wonder if I should wear a jacket today, so I pick up my phone to check the weather. Next thing I know, I’m deep into a friend's vacation experience on Facebook...and I have no idea what the current weather in my own town is...and whoops! 15 minutes have elapsed! Or I’m all cozied up and ready for sleep, but then I think about tomorrow and I can’t remember what’s going to happen in the afternoon. Let me check my calendar quickly...and oopsy-daisy! Now it’s 11:00 pm and I’m “exploring” on Instagram, looking at these amazing cheese boards. So many cheeses! Um…


Attack of the Email!

Here’s another very common one. Lots of my work happens over email, and lots of wonderful and exciting opportunities come in through email. So for probably 30 of those 45 times that I pick up my phone, I’m opening my email to quickly check if anything fun is in there, or maybe any urgent thing that I need to focus on. Well, no problem, except that I keep on checking...first thing in the morning...late in the evening...and sometimes, when I least expect it, I will see an email that gets me anxious. Maybe it’s an issue that I need to think about...but not now, while I’m off work for these evening. Too bad! Now that I’ve looked at it, I’m in work-mode. Now i’m focused on this issue, which could have definitely waited until tomorrow’s work day began. But I want to respond? Should I? Or maybe wait…but I’m just going to keep thinking about it… Ahhhh!



What Do I Want to Pay Attention To?

So what to do if we’re not quite comfortable with how we use our devices? Price writes that if you want to spend less time on your phone, it’s important to ask yourself first: What do you want to be doing? What do you want to be paying attention to?

The answer may be different depending on the context. When I’m driving, I want to pay attention to the road. At home, I want to pay attention to my husband, or to my work, or to a book. Or maybe I’d like to take one of those previously unintentional phone hours and learn to play my grandpa’s accordion! (I really do want to do this!) Basically, once we know what we actually want to be paying attention to, we can start to find ways to interrupt the habit of looking at our devices, and start paying attention intentionally.


Taking Baby Steps

Any habit takes time to change, and it takes baby steps. I’m following a lot of the tips in Price’s book. I first heard about this book on the podcast, 10% Happier with Dan Harris. Give this episode a listen!

Right now, I’m working on how I use email. My new email mantra is “Don’t check your email unless you’re ready to work.” Basically, don’t check it just to check it, because you have no idea what’s waiting for you there. By being more intentional about how I use my email, I am allowing myself to have actual breaks from work, which I know is good for me and for my family. I’m allowing myself to pay attention to what I actually want to pay attention to.

What about you? Maybe you've started to put your phone to bed in a different room than where you sleep, or leave it the trunk when you drive. Or maybe you're still using a flip phone because of these very phenomena! I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas.


Let’s Grow Together!

I’m excited to keep working with my own phone habits and to share this journey with our community in the upcoming course, “Breaking Free: Engaging Intentionally with Your Devices.” We’ll be drawing deeply from the book, “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” If some of the nutty examples above resonate with you, I hope you’ll join me! Until then, I’ll just be over here playing the accordion. ;)