I Broke Up with My Phone

As some of you might know, I’ve been doing monthly self-improvement challenges. In January it was daily journaling and a quick workout routine (both of which I abandoned pretty quickly after the month ended).

In February I decided to follow the 30-day plan in Catherine Price’s How to Break Up with Your Phone. Compared to a lot of people, I thought I was already reasonably good about not constantly reaching for and scrolling through my phone, but I knew there was room for improvement.

This was an … interesting experience, to say the least.

The problem isn’t smartphones themselves. The problem is our relationships with them.

Catherine Price, How to Break Up With Your Phone

Week 1 – Technology Triage

Setting intentions and gathering data are the theme for this first week, which makes sense — there’s not much point to adjusting your phone usage if you aren’t sure exactly why you want to adjust it or what you want to adjust it to.

To be honest, I wasn’t immediately sold on these exercises; they reminded me a lot of those writing prompts they would give you in school, and it felt a little bit like there was a right answer which I wasn’t getting. But I had resolved to give it a genuine chance, so I persevered. 

Some exercises are actual actions to take (such as downloading an app to track how long and how frequently you use your phone) and some are journaling/thinking prompts.

Here’s a few excerpts from my Phone Breakup journal (which I kept in a Google doc, because apparently I substituted extra computer-screen time for the phone-screen time I anticipated giving up):

What do you want to pay attention to?

I want to pay attention to the in-between moments, to fully experience this period of my life since time is a non-renewable resource. I want to pay attention to what my professors are saying, what I’m reading, what I’m thinking about, what I’m feeling.

If you had to guess, how many times a day do you pick up your phone?

Honestly, it could be as few as 20 or as many as 100; I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never really thought about it. Maybe 50? [It turned out to be about 25.]

How much time do you estimate that you spend on it per day?

Hm. Typically it’s just a few minutes at a time (waiting for the bus, checking in with friends) but I’m sure it adds up quickly. Maybe 3 hours? [It turned out to be about 2 hours 20 minutes.]

If I had more time, I would like to

  • Build projects that I can proudly share
  • (Re)connect with loved ones regularly
  • Finish another novel

Week 2 – Changing Your Habits

Actually, several of these were things I already do or did, which made me feel better about myself (though less so about the 30-day plan): turning off notifications, not charging my phone next to my bed, not checking my phone when I should be paying attention to someone like a professor or a friend I’m talking to. (This last one is apparently called “phubbing”, which is a term I hadn’t previously heard of!)

But I did get some new ideas to incorporate into my daily routine, perhaps most notably among them was setting No-Phone Zones (my bed and my desk) and deciding the hours during which I’m actually allowed to use my phone, barring extenuating circumstances (between 10 am and 10 pm).

What really sold this week for me were the reminders that habit change is hard, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. There were nights I stayed up until 2 am on my phone, or sneaked onto Discord during a boring club meeting. Still, I felt like it was a net improvement — and, perhaps more importantly, a sustainable one.

Week 3 – Reclaiming Your Brain

Oh, man. This week really challenged my dedication to the plan. Not because the exercises were especially difficult, but because I’ve tried and failed meditation (at the repeated suggestions of a well-meaning therapist) and it felt … weird to consciously “stop, breathe, and be” in the middle of a busy day.

And then came the Trial Separation. Unfortunately I forgot to warn my parents that I would be turning off my phone for 24 hours, and they understandably freaked out when they couldn’t get in touch with me. (Since obviously I wasn’t picking up calls, and also I am bad at checking my email.) Oops.

Guilt over worrying my parents aside, though, I barely noticed the absence of my phone

Honestly, it’s not new for me to not touch my phone over the weekend — since I’m on my laptop and Kindle already (studying, reading, or streaming shows) I don’t really feel a need to constantly check my phone. 

But it did feel like a relief to not worry about missing notifications, ironically. I didn’t feel more focused, but I did feel less anxious. More in control.

So while I appreciated the idea of having a little weekly or monthly ritual of putting away your phone for a set period of time, apparently it was already something I unconsciously did?

Week 4 – Your New Relationship

This last week moves into the long-term: digital organization and mindset changes. Again, there were some that I already used: separate emails for subscriptions/online accounts and important communications, unfollowing people I no longer have personal relationships with, not multitasking, etc.

But it was helpful to have them listed out, and to check in with myself. To jot down habits I want to keep or build or break. To notice how I had redefined my relationship with my phone over these 30 days.

Although this 30-day plan certainly hasn’t totally changed my life, and a lot of the items were things I already do or previously tried, I feel more equipped to take charge of my phone usage going forward. I don’t expect my progress to be linear or only upward, especially since it certainly hasn’t been so far, but I’m proud of the progress I have made and will continue to make

The key is to keep asking yourself the same question, again and again and again: this is your life — what do you want to pay attention to?

Catherine Price, How to Break Up With Your Phone

How Am I Doing Now?

I think the 30-day plan has been effective in the long-term because it didn’t create a drastic shift in the way I use my phone, but rather nudged me to be more aware of it and of my offline life. 

While I do still use messaging apps to keep in touch with friends (especially now that I’m home for the rest of the semester) and occasionally redownload Hearthstone to pass the time, these feel more like deliberate choices than reflexes arising from boredom. I’ve read more books per month this year than I did last year; I’ve also gotten back into writing original fiction and plan to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo next month.

Now I just have to complete a similar breakup with my laptop …

  • Are you ever concerned about the quantity and/or quality of your daily screen time?
  • Have you considered “breaking up” with your devices (smartphone, laptop, etc)? Or at least taking a substantial break from using them?
  • What would you have time for if you cut down on your screen time?

5 thoughts on “I Broke Up with My Phone

  1. One of my favourite things to do when I was younger was to disconnect from everything digital for a bit. It was a little luxury that I could afford while being a teenager or not having a job. Checking your phone or just scrolling through social media can be a good distraction from time to time, but it eats so much of your time without you even noticing it.
    As an expat, having the only daily connection to my family and friends being my phone or some social media sites, this is hard and I resent it sometimes. My mom is usually always checking on me and, especially these days, she’s constantly worried and I am too since she is alone and I wanna keep her company as much as possible and make sure she’s ok. However always having to check my phone is exhausting. I have talked to everyone and have fought to make more time to be disconnected, while not losing touch and not having anyone worry for no reason. Everyone has been understanding and respectful, but I still wish I could just forget about it for a day here and there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that sounds really rough, and I understand some of your frustration – even when I got to meet up with my friends, digital connection was such a huge part of our dynamic (not to mention what it’s become now) and it feels almost inescapable 😕

      it sounds like you’re moving towards a better balance of communication and offline time, which I’m glad to hear – I wish you the best in continuing to make progress on that front, and in hopefully getting to take a day off in the near future 💕


  2. I’ve been thinking about the quality of my screen time a lot recently, since I’m right in the middle of a social media detox! My screen time has still been a bit high because of how much I’m texting friends right now, but I agree with what you said – that’s a result of our situation, and kind of important to stay connected. Overall, I’ve been a lot more productive over the past month, and have gotten a lot of writing done. I actually wrote a blog post on the topic about a week ago, too, so I have a lot of thoughts! 🙂 Good luck with the rest of your 30 day experiments!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never had the self-discipline for any kind of social media detox, but I’m glad to hear yours is going well! and I totally agree, we’re presently in extenuating circumstances for increased screentime – though at the same time I think it’s still equally important to make offline time for yourself 💕

      Liked by 1 person

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