I was in the middle of a music practice session this week and grabbed my smartphone to record an excerpt as part of my regular practice routine. I was a bit taken back when I suddenly realized (10 minutes later), that I had just checked my email, text, and even a social media account before hitting the “record” button.

It’s simple. Whatever you use your phone for, time spent on your phone is time you are not spending in the practice room (or wherever you are trying to put your focus).

I’m a music professor. I run a private teaching studio. I’m a freelance graphic designer. I’m a professional musician. Naturally my smart phone is integrated into my daily life with email, to-do lists, and online marketing.

Being of the last generation that didn’t have a cell phone before college, I always believed that I could put down my phone if I “wanted to”. However, when the time came to try, I couldn’t.

It appears the smart phone has become another substance that we can get addicted to.

How to Decrease Your Smartphone Usage

1) Track how much time you are using on your phone (and be honest).

I can’t even believe I’m going to publicly confess to this, but when I first started tracking my phone usage with the app Moment, I tracked 35 hours on my phone per week. That’s enough for an entire second full time job!

At first I justified it as being mostly “work”. Although this was true, this was not a justification of the hours spent.

I was surprised at where the time had accumulated. It was a little of everything and it added up quickly.

I immediately started to consolidate time that pooled in certain applications. Regardless, I was still picking up my phone to check the time and manage daily activities.

What is more detrimental is how many times you pick up your phone per day. If you decrease the number of times you reach for it, you will decrease how much time you spend on it.

Your business workflow can still be integrated into a digital, paperless system. I use Trello on my computer, Reminders as the hub of ongoing project tasks, and I have my calendar synced across all devices. The trick is to eliminate tasks that pull you in the most.

2) Turn off notifications

I was particularly curious how much time I was wasting on social media (even though I log on mostly for business).

Training your brain to skip the news feed isn’t the challenge, it is disconnecting from the emotional high of receiving a notification.

This theory was first introduced to me by the brilliant Todd Brison. He wrote a great article on this exact topic! Check it out here.

As a freelance business owner I rely on my phone to put out fires. On any given day there are multiple people that need me to respond right away. Lessons cancel at the last minute and projects have deadlines with feedback coming in quickly.

The only notifications I have left on is email (badge icon ONLY) and text messages. These are the channels where urgent communication comes in.

However, the key for me was to put my phone on silent when working on a creative task. This turned all notifications completely off for set periods of time. Even a little buzz on the table was enough to pull me back in.

I love the concept Todd Brison introduces, “Email is not work”. Even if you use email or social media for work, responding to these accounts is not work. They are a task.

3) Pick a system and don’t change it

It took about a year of experimenting with time management systems to realize the only thing I needed to do was pick a system and stick with it.

Ironically the more time I spent trying new combinations of apps and exercises, the more time I wasted.

This step isn’t complicated. Your time management system shouldn’t be complicated either.

The most important part of your time management system is repeating it on a daily basis so you can become efficient at the system itself.

4) Choose a “phone free day”

I haven’t taken a day off of my smart phone since I got one in 2010. I’ll be honest, as of writing this article I’ve only made it until about 5pm on my “phone free days”.

It’s basic human nature to build habits. As soon as we do something more then once, our brain starts to build a pathway towards that repetitive pattern.

Building in periods of phone-free time will help to disconnect those habits.

The less time I spend on my phone, the more I notice of the following:

  1. Better sleep
  2. More connected to my own creativity
  3. Improved focus on single tasks
  4. More productivity

There was a time when we spent 0 minutes a day on our phones. ZERO. So what have we replaced that with?

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