Use Your Phone Smartly

Becoming overly attached to your smartphone can interfere with real life.

by Beverly Burmeier

October 2016

Are you a compulsive smartphone user? These devices may seem miraculous considering all they can do. But if you can’t resist the urge to check out every buzz, ding and jingle, or if you feel lost and depressed unless your phone is accessible on a moment’s notice, it’s possible the device has become overly important in your life.

“It’s all about finding your ‘digital sweet spot,’ that magical place where you are still plugged in but have carved out time for the things that really matter,” says James Roberts, PhD, a marketing professor at the Baylor University School of Business. In his book, Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone (Sentia), Roberts reminds readers, “You, your relationships and community are the bedrocks of living a happy and meaningful life. They are also the first things that suffer when our lives get out of balance.”

With the capability to monitor every aspect of our lives—exercise, appointments, friendships, maps, sleep, even cell phone use itself—it’s easy to think that our devices are indispensable. But when constant checking, tweeting and updating become the norm, real life may be out of whack.

If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to reduce cell phone use, Roberts suggests asking yourself: Does your smartphone interrupt or compromise activities, conversations or sleep? Does it contribute significantly to pleasure in life? Is your use constantly increasing? Does using your phone cause conflict with others at home, school, or work? Do you feel stressed and anxious if your phone isn’t at your fingertips?

A National Safety Council report estimates that in 2014 cell phones were involved in 26% of all motor vehicle crashes, which included texting and talking on either handheld or hands-free phones. Accidents also happen when pedestrians are distracted by their phones.

Ira Hyman, PhD, a psychology professor at Western Washington University who studies the effects of divided attention, says: “It’s not what the hands are doing but what the head is thinking. When people multi-task, they become less good at both things.”

“How much productive time is lost due to people fiddling with their phones?” Roberts asks. “Turn the phone off while doing homework or in a meeting. You will survive.”

Your personal life can also be affected by overzealous phone use. “When smartphones take over relationships, person-to-person skills deteriorate and bonds with others are weakened,” Roberts says.

To tame your phone usage while driving, put the phone out of reach (in the trunk!). If you use the GPS feature, set it up before your trip so you’re only listening to, not looking at, the phone.
Roberts recommends establishing zones in your home—bedroom, dinner table, bathroom—where smartphones are off-limits. “No phones within sight or earshot,” he says.

At the movies? Turn the phone off (not just silenced), or leave it in your car. If you have trouble sitting through a movie or dinner without checking the phone, it’s time to rethink usage.

“Don’t use your smartphone as an alarm clock, or you might be tempted to check stuff on it before you’re even out of bed,” Roberts advises. “Smartphones are designed to capture our attention, and who wants to be awakened during the night by a ding or light from a phone?”

Instant connectivity has blurred the distinction between when we should be accessible to the world and personal time. Try tracking how much time you spend on your smartphone; then consider what you’re giving up or could be doing instead such as playing a game with someone in person or taking a walk with a favorite person or pet.

Roberts suggests making a contract with yourself to encourage changing habits, but including a partner for accountability. Set limits for cell phone use with self-imposed penalties for breaking the contract.

“Society is constantly evaluating rules regarding how people use smartphones, and standards of acceptability vary greatly,” Hyman says. Even more, the “pushback” trend to resist constant online connectivity is gaining traction, according to a University of Washington study.

Returning to the past simply isn’t possible, but self-awareness will allow you to use your phone to improve rather than hamper lives. “Once you break the habit, you’ll find more meaning in real life and improve personal relationships,” Roberts says.


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