Your cell phone. It's like an extension of you — and maybe your friends have noticed.
And you're actually beginning to think that they may have a point: You might, in fact, have a cell phone problem.
Here's how to tell your phone that you need a little space.
1. Use an app to find out how many times per day you check your phone.
It seems counterintuitive to use your cell phone to, um, use your cell phones less. But this step is important. "The first thing is recording and awareness of your use and abuse — become aware of how much time you're spending on [your phone] and how many times a day you're checking it," Dr. David Greenfield, Ph.D., founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, tells BuzzFeed Life. "Most people are flabbergasted when they see they're checking it 300 times a day."
Checky, pictured above, is a super simple app that keeps count of how many times you've unlocked your phone in a day. It gobbles up a lot of battery life (and doesn't tell you what exactly you were doing on your phone), but it's a great way to get a sense of how often you use your phone. You can also take a smartphone abuse test from The Center For Internet and Technology Addiction for some perspective on how problematic your cell phone use is.
2. Set realistic limits for yourself: Vow not to use it for more than 90 minutes a day, for example, or for longer than 15 minutes at a time.
The app Moment (pictured above) should be able to help you with this. Moment tracks how many minutes you've spent on your phone, and it also lets you set a self-imposed limit for how much time you want to be spending. It'll then send you little updates when you get close to that time limit (or go over it). It'll also give you little nudges if you're spending more than 15 minutes in one sitting looking at your phone.
3. And if focusing on numbers isn't going to work for you, target the times that cell phone use is the most disruptive and/or lame.
4. Make a to-do list of real things you want to do during the day — and don't check email, Facebook, or Instagram until it's done.
5. Kill the notifications. Kill them!
On an iPhone, within Settings, tap on Notifications:
Then select the app that you want to turn off notifications for:
Then uncheck (untoggle?) where it says "Allow Notifications."
6. Take a social media vow of silence for a set amount of time and make it a recurring event.
Take a set amount of time — an afternoon, a day, a weekend — and vow that you won't post anything to social media during that period. Then make a habit out of it.
It might feel hard or lonely at first, but that's actually part of the process or unlearning potentially damaging behaviors. "There's this idea that if other people don't know you're doing something, it has no value," Greenfield says. And that's a major problem, because it means we spend more and more time documenting what we're doing, instead of living our lives. "When you become an observer of the experience, rather than an experiencer of the experience… you're not really present," he says. Research backs that up: You'll be less likely to remember things if you spend the whole time taking pictures, rather than taking it all in.
7. If you're feeling extra brave, go ahead and delete the social media apps from your phone altogether.
8. Get a hobby.
Felix says that the best way to think about using your phone is to think about why you want to disconnect. What are you missing out on by using your phone so much that you wish you could be doing instead? "As we carve out space by unplugging what do we want to fill that space with?" Felix says. "If you create space and you don’t fill it with anything then you’re going to be challenged."
Here are some ideas: Join a book club or bowling league. Learn to cross-stitch (some cool patterns above, from Etsy!). Get started working on that dystopian novel that's been bouncing around your brain for ages. Read all those books or back issues of the New Yorker you've been meaning to read. Try living your life according to Pinterest as a fun experiment. Whatever. Just fill your time with purposeful activities so that you have less of it to while away aimlessly. On your phone.
9. Unsubscribe from all of the email newsletters.
10. Carry a book with you. Or a magazine!
11. Put your phone on silent before every meal... and then put it away so that you can't see it and aren't tempted to look at it.
12. Don't bring it in the bathroom with you, either.
13. And definitely keep it out of your bedroom.
14. In fact, put it away at least an hour (or longer) before you go to bed.
An hour or longer before bedtime, go plug your phone in to an outlet in the kitchen or living room — somewhere away from where you are. Out of sight, out of reach, out of your damn head.
This will help your brain prepare for sleep, and just chill out in general. "Anything we do [with the cell phone] in the evening tends to elevate our nervous system and that can keep you awake," Greenfield says. "As you're expecting a message to come in, you go into a state of hyper-vigilance — and that elevates your cortisol, a stress hormone. It's a state of arousal that we're not wired to be in permanently."
15. And along those lines, don't send texts or emails, or post anything to social media, within a few hours of going to sleep.
16. If you're worried about being accessible at night, put it into Do Not Disturb mode.
Here's how to do it on newer Android phones. And if you have an iPhone, Do Not Disturb is kind of a magical thing: You can set a time period where you allow calls to come in from everyone, no one, or just people on your favorites list (this means that only the really important calls come through). And you can also enable a "repeated calls" setting within Do Not Disturb, which guarantees that if the same person calls you twice within three minutes that the second call will go through as intended. It gives you the peace of mind of knowing that if something terrible and important happens, you'll hear about it... but otherwise, you can enjoy your sleep, totally uninterrupted.
Access Do Not Disturb under Settings (pictured above, left). Then select your preferences, as shown above, right.
17. Don't bring your phone to work meetings, or to class.
18. Also, stash your phone in a desk drawer when you're at work.
That way you won't notice when someone has texted you and you won't be tempted to look away from what you're doing to respond to it. Make a conscious decision only to check your text messages at specific times during the day — maybe at lunch and again at 3 PM for a short break, for instance. Whatever makes the most sense. Reminder: It's easier to avoid temptation than to resist it!
19. Seriously, truly, honestly: Do NOT text and drive. Put your phone AWAY when you get behind the wheel.
Here's one idea: put the phone on silent and put it somewhere completely inaccessible without actually parking the car and getting out to grab it.
That can mean in your purse in the back seat; in the passenger's side door; in the trunk if you have to. There is absolutely nothing you need to look at on your phone while you're driving.
But what about GPS?!
If you can spring for it, you can buy a Garmin nuvi from Wal Mart for about $100. And if you rely on Google maps on your phone for GPS, then actually turn off notifications for messages, phone calls, and all social media accounts before you start driving. And do it every time!
But what about my MUSIC?
OK, look. If you've set up your phone to connect to your car speakers via Bluetooth, that's great. Just make sure that you have a playlist queued up before you pull out of the driveway… and then put your phone in airplane mode until you get to where you're going.
20. Download some apps to keep you from texting and driving, if you need to.
Apps worth looking into: AT&T Drive Mode; Sprint Drive First; and an app called Cellcontrol. These apps all work to keep text messages from showing up on your phone while you're driving.