Stories & Features

Addicted? 10 ways to curb your smartphone addiction

Image of a woman using a smartphone
A new BC Hydro report shows just how addicted we are to personal electronics, with the smartphone at the top of the list. We offer 10 ways you can cut down on that screen time.

BC Hydro report shows young adults, in particular, worship their phones

Designed to be addictive, smartphones are delivering on that goal shockingly well. In the wake of headlines ranging from "Smartphone addiction threatens national security" to "Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine", a new BC Hydro report finds that adult British Columbians are anything but immune to the temptations of the devices.

The report – titled 'Constantly Connected: B.C.'s obsession with personal electronics and how it's shifting household electricity use' [PDF, 207 KB] – surveyed British Columbians 18 years of age and over. It discovered adults, on average, spend nearly a third of their time awake on the phone. It also shows that a significant number of younger adults, in particular, would give up coffee or heat in their homes on a cold day, rather than give up their smartphone for a day.

Nearly one in five between 25 and 34 said they're rather give up their salary for a day than their phone for a day, and 3 in 10 in middle age (45-54) find it easier to give up their social/family life than their phone. Nearly half of 18 to 24-year-olds always or often sleep with their smartphones, with social media (65%), texting (54%) and TV, videos, movies (45%) ranking as the top three ways they use their smartphone.

Ways to curb your curb smartphone use (and improve your life)

The report's results won't come as a surprise to those of us who are already aware of the mild panic that ensues when we reach for our phone in a bag or pocket and find it's not there. But there are ways to spend more time away from the phone without going into full digital detox.

Here's a list of things you may want to consider:

1. Put the phone away during meals

Sitting down to eat with family or friends, even during a weekday lunch with coworkers, is a rare opportunity to talk face-to-face. A recent study by Common Sense Media reports that more U.S. teens would rather send a text than meet up with people. We can still stay connected during a meal – just set up sound alerts for the important stuff – but keep your phone off the table and (at home) in another room if you can. Wonderful things can happen in conversation.

2. Make your last 30 minutes before bed a screen-free zone

A couple problematic things happen when we check our phones, sometimes for minutes on end, when we go to bed. One is that our mind starts churning (maybe even worrying) with every text, Instagram post or email we look at. The other is that any light tends to keep us awake – or wake us up – and that includes the phone screen. As for those sound alerts, you can sleep without them. Soundly.

3. Try to keep it to one screen at a time

We are multi-taskers, and that lull in the show we're watching is an ideal time to check our phones or fire off a text. Really? Unless you're watching live sports where you're forced to watch commercials – speed-watching recorded NFL games is the way to go – zero in on that great content in this supposed "second golden age of TV". We pay $12 or more to go to a place where we're forced to put your phone on silent – it's called a cinema – so why not do it at home?

4. Turn off all notifications, except from real people

Oh, they love you on Instagram! As ego-boosting as those 'like' notifications seem, they're also just another way to draw you into the phone. Limit notifications to the stuff that really matters. Use the "do-not-disturb" feature to schedule time away from your phone, and limit VIP access to close friends and family.

5. Take the family to the library

Slow it down, reflect, touch a book or sit down with a magazine you've never seen online. Put your phone on silent and drink in the calm.

6. Track your usage with an app

Yes, there's an app for that, too. Many, in fact. From Moment, to Flipd, to QualityTime, to SPACE, these apps track your smartphone activities and provide tools and training to curb that usage. You can even compete with friends – start by limiting checking your phone to once an hour – and who knows, down the road you may even form a book club. That would be weird (and wonderful).

7. Stop scrolling, resist clickbait

Scrolling beyond the initial content you selected is a massive time suck, filled with clickbait headlines designed to make you waste even more time. Do you really need to know what Kristen Stewart's 'Twilight daughter' looks like today?

8. Start a conversation with a stranger

Not online, in person. The next time you're early to a lunch meeting, in a lineup to get your driver's licence renewal, or in a bar waiting for friends to show up, see if a live-and-in-person conversation might kill some time rather than diving into your phone. The chance isn't always there, and there's an art to it, but it's a great skill worth developing. Sometimes the chat is brief, sometimes you learn something really interesting, and once in awhile, you make a new friend.

9. Go outside, do yoga or join a group fitness class

Walk, bike, hike, hit the gym, or just go for a walk. Trade an hour a day on your phone for an hour of some sort of exercise, and you're just going to feel better. The great thing about group yoga or fitness is that it's impossible to check the phone while you're doing it, and that frees your mind. How much better would you look (and feel) if you exercised an additional five to seven hours a week?

10. Test your brain rather than lean on Google or Siri

"Who's that guy who played Black Panther's rival? I think it's the same guy who starred in the last Rocky movie." With the smartphone, facts are literally at our fingertips. Before you opt for the phone, spend a minute or two racking your brain (or your friends') for the answer. (That guy, by the way, is Michael B. Jordan).