7 ways to make your phone less enticing

7 ways to make your phone less enticing

Your phone is designed to be enticing. Here’s how to cut down on screen time and get more done.

BY Stephanie Vozza

How many times have you picked up your phone today? Ten times? 20? 30? Keep going. The average American checks their phones 144 times per day and spends four hours and 25 minutes looking at its screen, according to a survey by Reviews.org. What’s more, 57% survey participants say they consider themselves addicted. 

Startling? Yes. But one of the reasons you check your phone is likely because it’s designed to be enticing. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to lessen its siren call, making it less of a distraction.

1. Review Your Phone Screen Time

The first step is understanding how much you use your phone. Carefully review your weekly usage report to determine how you’re spending your time. Learning how many minutes you really spend on social media, for example, can be eye-opening. 

Lucas Ochoa, CEO and founder of Automat, an AI workflow automation startup, recommends using a tool like Screen Time to set reasonable limits. Meant for parents who want to monitor and restrict their kids’ phone use, it can be helpful for changing your own behavior.

“You can use Screen Time to impose time limits on particularly distracting apps,” says Ochoa. “For instance, I have a 15-minute limit set for Instagram, ensuring I don’t exceed 15 minutes a day on the app, allowing me to enjoy it without excess.”

2. Turn Off Notifications 

A good next step is to turn off notifications, says Steven Athwal, founder and managing director of The Big Phone Store, a cell phone distributor in the United Kingdom. “Most of those notification settings can be managed from your app settings menu, though you might have to set each app’s notification permissions individually,” he says. “Now, the only app on my phone that I allow notifications from is WhatsApp, which I use for anything urgent.”

Turning off sounds and banners is smart, but don’t forget that little red counter icon that shows how many emails and text messages you have, adds Fawaz Naser, CEO and tech leader at Softlist.io, a productivity optimizing tech platform. 

“The color red often acts as an immediate attention grabber, useful for important notifications,” he says. “However, a lot of notifications come from automated sources, not real people, pulling you back to your phone repeatedly for no critical reason.” 

Remove the number counter from apps that aren’t important and keep those in place from tools that do require your attention.

3. Edit Your Home Screen

A lot of people add a favorite photo as a background on your lock and home screen. Mitchell Creasey, executive coach and principle at leadership development firm The President’s Coach, also advocates for choosing a black phone background. 

“I learned this from Kashmir Hill’s piece in The New York Times and it really works,” he says. “It makes your phone a lot less cereal aisle and a lot more meat and potatoes. You’d be shocked at how uninteresting social media becomes when all the images look the same.”

To make this update on an iPhone, go to Settings. Select “Wallpaper” and “Add New Wallpaper.” Choose “Color” and then select black. 

Athwal also changed his app images to black and white. “I discovered an app called Minimalist Phone, which replaces the app icons with much more boring ones, to stop them from grabbing my attention,” he says.

4. Edit Your App Display

If social media is a problem for you, consider deleting the apps from your phone, says Naser. “Social media can be a major drain on productivity,” he says. “Removing these apps from your phone is one of the most effective ways to cut down the time you spend on them. You can still access social media on your computer, but the goal is to make your usage more intentional.”

Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, likens problem apps to other detrimental habits. “If you’re trying to quit smoking, it’d be pretty dumb to carry a pack of cigarettes around in your pocket,” she writes on her Substack. “The same is true for apps on our phones: If you know that Instagram is a problem for you, why is it on your home screen? Or, for that matter, on your phone at all?”

If you think it would be too hard to delete an app, Price recommends trying it for a few hours or a day or two. 

5. Be Intentional 

Take advantage of your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” mode to silence notifications during focused work or study sessions, says Emily Guerra, productivity life coach. “You can customize this setting to allow calls from specific contacts or to only receive notifications from essential apps,” she says.

But let yourself have fun, too, says Ochoa, who suggests being proactive about when to use certain apps instead of denying yourself. 

“Setting aside ‘cheat moments’ can be really effective for sustained success,” he says. “These are the times when you can do whatever you want on your phone, like scrolling through social media, constantly refreshing your newsfeed, or sharing memes. Planning these ‘cheat’ moments has been really effective for me.”

6. Gamify Not Using Your Phone

A lot of apps get us hooked because they gamify their usage with badges or rewards. Ochoa, who formerly worked at Google’s Creative Lab, suggests using Forest, an app that makes not using your phone more engaging by gamifying it. 

“With Forest, you decide on a specific duration to stay off your phone,” he explains. “Succeed, and you’ll see a tree grow in your virtual ‘forest,’ adding a fun element to the challenge. Using such blockers is an easy way to maintain focus, as it takes the reliance off your willpower and lets the technology do the work.”

7. Consider it a Home Phone 

Finally, think old school. If you remember a time before smartphones, you know that having a landline wired to a wall or counter and not within reach made it less appealing. Creasey suggests treating your cell phone as if it were a home phone. 

“Ask yourself, ‘Where might the home phone go if I had one?’” he asks. “Put [your phone] there and leave it there until you need or want to use it. And when you’re done using it, put it back in its spot.” 

Creasy recommends picking a spot in your house that’s in the main hub, such as the kitchen, but far enough out of the way that you’re not passing it every time you move through.

Price says adding friction to a behavior, such as removing your phone from a place that’s easily accessible is a good strategy. “I also recommend getting your phone out of your bedroom and putting something on your bedside table that you want to spend time on instead, like a book or a journal or a project,” she writes.

Breaking up with your phone will likely be challenging. Imagine what you could do with those hours you take back, though, even if you reclaimed just one each day.




Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer who covers productivity, careers, and leadership. She’s written for Fast Company since 2014 and has penned nearly 1,000 articles for the site’s Work Life vertical 

Fast Company