On maintaining a healthy relationship with... our phones.

Drawing by Becky Rui

Drawing by Becky Rui

When I started properly reading fiction books a couple of years ago and had to keep looking-up what new words meant on my phone 🤔, I would find myself replying to messages that had popped up on my screen instead. So I’d stop reading my book for a while, get back to a friend, think about how to respond to something else, and then I’d go back to reading. Oh, and then look up what that word meant again! And then I'd try and get back in the flow of my book. Repeat.

I realised my peaceful reading time was getting all eaten up by distractions and requests every time I looked up a word, and it felt so wrong! I mean, the answer really is: get a dictionary babe. But it wasn't until I started Googling words when I was reading that I realised how often I must be interrupted by phone notifications day to day. I guess I just thought that seeing and responding to things on my phone was a totally normal thing, and for most people, it is.

Even though having a smartphone is super great for so many reasons, I am relieved that we’re all starting to become more aware of how our usage can also:

📱 Massively distract us from pretty much anything we’re doing
📱 Create an unnecessary feeling inside of urgency to respond to people immediately and be available to them at all times. (This is without saying anything on the effect that social media/the way we consume information online has on us emotionally and mentally. You can read my musings on this here.)
📱 Take us away from the initial reason we went on our phone and get sucked into the digital vortex (like, really)
📱 Create or feed into addictive behaviour and constant, unthinking phone-checking
📱 Act as an acceptable way to put a wall around ourselves when we're out and about, makes us appear unavailable when we're using them (so sad when that becomes a default way of being - yes there are often valid reasons for wanting to blockade yourself, but I think much of it is literally just phone addiction)
📱 Limits our observation of, and engagement with, the 'physical' world around us and our fellow human beings

This is not how it has to be.

And it's okay if we're choosing to 'browse' or scroll or look into things and go down those rabbit holes; that's part of what the internet is for. I just feel it's just a problem when it becomes an unconscious activity that is having a detrimental effect on our mental health, sense of presence, peace and community.

My aim is to protect myself, at least a bit, from the the negative impacts of it and increase my flow and productivity in my personal life and working day. Some of these ideas below for making that shift are obvious and common and you are probably already doing a lot of them, but for anyone else, here are some ideas!

Tips on managing our relationships with our phones as entrepreneurs:

  1. Switch on flight mode when you go to bed. (This way, when I check the time in the morning etc, I am not immediately drawn into messages from people, or what I might have to unexpectedly do that day, etc. If we’re able to take the time, our early mornings can be personal, sacred time to be chill, set our vibration for the day ahead and clarify our intentions, before opening ourselves to any media or communications.)

  2. Only go on social media/maybe news etc once you’ve gotten yourself grounded in the morning or set up for the day. Be patient. For me, this is def after my morning-pages-journaling and after getting clear about what’s most important for me to focus on that day. Then I can go online and see what's up. If I don't have my own clear intentions first, I can honestly get kinda overwhelmed with all the messages and swept into the current of seeing what other people seem to be doing and the troubling news. It's so much more manageable when I enter from a more centred place.

  3. I turned off notifications, except phone calls and SMS messages (which I have to actually unlock to open and see the content of, because... might as well make reading messages a conscious choice, too). Radical. So I just don’t see a lot of stuff until I choose to check my apps (admittedly probably every 1-3 hours most days). You might think you’ll miss out on potential work or things going on with your friends, and maybe you will, but people will call you or text you if it’s genuinely important or time sensitive. If you’re getting all FOMO about it, just tell your real life friends, family and clients to give you a call or text if they need to get hold of you.

  4. I keep my phone on silent pretty much all of the time, except when I’ve got calls booked with clients or something like that. Because, if I’m in the middle of something and I hear a ‘ding’, of course I look at my phone. And I have known myself to get distracted for a minute. Or ten, or twenty.

  5. I arrange set times to speak with my lovely clients. We check in to arrange a time to talk (I use the calendly site), so that we don’t play phone ping-pong and waste time (which you might spend on your phone). This wouldn't work for all types of businesses, but I’m okay with it and it has always worked for me.

  6. Turn off WhatsApp read receipts. Just, so much better.

  7. I tend to keep my phone out of sight and face down when I'm not using it. Because sometimes when it's in my peripheral vision, I get drawn to checking it out of interest. If we look to the science, it's obviously because we are itching for that little endorphin rush you get when a message has appeared. Over and over again. I don't want to be slave to that and I don't think we should allow ourselves to develop that habit, or set that example. I basically get shit done better if I'm not checking my phone every 15 minutes! And, my sense of validation is not dependent on people messaging me on my phone.

But, isn’t this what phones are for? Contact and sharing and staying connected with people? Why even have a smartphone if this is such a big deal for you?

I believe we should each have a say in how we interact with technology, and the freedom to engage with it on our own terms.

Some people might feel this is over the top and strangely controlling, to filter the way I do. But if other people are okay with being on their phones a lot, being constantly interrupted with updates and messages, and if that actually works for them, then I guess that's cool. It's not for me to say what is best for others.

Technology moves so quickly, and I personally want to keep being conscious about my own usage, about where my energy goes and the way it affects my life. If we can be aware of how our phones impact us and the people in our lives, we can consciously adapt our usage and notification settings to serve us.

P.S. I understand that not all of these things are available for everyone to do all the time (phone on silent etc). In certain situations, and for parents, for people who are working on-call, etc you need to receive the notifications. But we can still intend to bring awareness to it.

What do you think? How do you maintain a conscious healthy relationship with technology?

Have you tried any of these things? I’d love to hear from you!

Comment or email me at becky@beckyrui.com