Three Steps to Quit Your Device Addiction

The legend has it that the average millennial checks their smartphone 150 times a day. If you subtract eight hours of sleep, that makes once every six and a half minutes.

In my own experience, producing something valuable requires a prolonged, uninterrupted, relaxed focus on a task or sometimes on nothing at all. Checking a smartphone every six and a half minutes interferes with that type of concentration.

As a result, device addiction reduces our ability to maintain concentration for a long time. That in turn reduces our cognitive capabilities. Nowadays, most of us work in jobs where we use our intellectual capacity. Reduced cognitive capabilities means reduced output and reduced quality of life.

Device addiction not only impacts our professional lives, it also impacts our private lives. Sometimes, we have to think about our lives, our futures, and make decisions. Reduced cognitive capabilities decreases our ability to make the right decisions and keep us from enjoying our lives fully.

Sometimes, we need to relax and empty our minds, so that our minds can process all the information we have consumed throughout the day. With the information overload nowadays, we don’t give our minds the opportunity to do that.

We check our devices the first thing in the morning and we keep checking them every six and a half minutes until we go back to bed. That impacts our performance at work as well as our overall quality of life. There’s a growing number of people who want to do something about this addiction.

Dr. Caitlin Faas documented her digital declutter experiment in her Medium post. That made me pay attention to my device checking habit and coming up with a formal plan to reduce it. I’m not at 150 times a day, but my number is still higher than what I want it to be.

My Experience in the Past

I have attempted to quit discretionary Internet usage multiple times. In some cases, I was very successful. Sometimes, I stopped paying attention and that habit crept in again. At the moment, I’m fine with my device use. However, I think there’s still room for improvement.

Having written 90+ blog posts in personal development, I feel obliged to hold myself to a higher standard. Moreover, I only live once, so why waste my time on something that doesn’t provide the most value?

Why not let go of a habit completely that reduces my intellectual capacity and therefore the quality of my life? I want to become all that I can be and optimizing my Internet usage is a rather easy challenge to make progress towards the right direction.

If you waste one hour a day on average, you are wasting 15 complete days a year, and a complete year in 24 years.

Even if you don’t check your smartphone 150 times a day, think about the time you spend on useless Internet surfing. We think taking a look at our smartphone is a marginal cost that doesn’t count, but the reality is more serious than that.

If you waste one hour a day on average, you are wasting 15 complete days a year, and a complete year in 24 years. That’s something I definitely don’t want to do. Think about all the things that you could do in those 15 days or in that year that you are wasting on useless Internet surfing.

Step 1. What’s Your Motivation to Quit?

If you want to quit or dampen your discretionary Internet usage and the reasons I have mentioned above didn’t convince you, you need to come up with your own reasons.

Maybe, your device addiction is in the way of you having a better relationship. Maybe, it is in the way of exercising and a healthy life. Maybe, you feel bad after surfing some specific content.

If you want to join me, please come up with your own reasons and write them down somewhere, because we will need these reasons when we are tempted to check our device in the middle of a boring day.

Step 2. Establish a Baseline

Let’s get real. We all need the Internet to some extent. We need to check our email, just not 150 times a day. In order to make a conscious choice about our Internet usage, first we need to determine our current Internet usage.

Determining our Internet usage is trickier than you might think, because most of our Internet usage is unconscious, almost on autopilot. We become aware of our Internet usage once we pay attention. For that reason, we need to establish our baseline, our starting point.

To establish a baseline, we are going to track our Internet usage for a week and write down every time we use Internet for reasons other than absolutely necessary for our work.

I will exclude my Internet usage for my day job and for my blog out of my baseline. Here’s my discretionary Internet usage.

  • Checking my private email whenever I feel bored.
  • Checking the Bitcoin and stock market prices whenever I feel bored.
  • Twitter. Mostly during the lunch.
  • News. Mostly during the lunch.
  • YouTube. Mostly during meals and cardio. Unfortunately, sometimes, when I feel down and don’t feel like doing something else.
  • Spotify. Classical music and relaxing playlists are OK, but sometimes, I switch to pop music to cheer things up at work, but then those songs keep playing in my mind for the rest of the day.
  • MailChimp. This is an ego thing. I check how many people subscribed to, read, and clicked on the links of my email newsletters.
  • Instagram. I follow only four people. They don’t post often. I don’t use it that often. This is not a big problem at this moment.
  • Facebook. Actually, I should check Facebook more often. I don’t even check once a day. Sometimes, people post my blog posts and there are comments on them. It’s nice to answer those comments and like the posts and comments.
  • Google Images, Bing, Bing News. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I enter a funny query and check the Google Images.
  • Podcasts while working out in the gym.

Following Internet usage is no problem at all.

  • Everything that is related to my day job.
  • Working on my blog.
  • Engaging my readers and other bloggers via my blog, Medium, and Twitter.
  • Using Evernote.
  • Online shopping for books, audiobooks, supplementation, and other useful stuff.
  • Reading a blog post or an article with the intent to learn something useful.

Step 3. Target Line

I was tempted to call this step the ideal line, but then I remembered all of my previous attempts on such perfectionist goals. This time, I’m not going to take the extreme option and stick with my 1% improvement strategy.

Here are my targets for each bullet point in the baseline.

  • Private email. Check once a day. More than enough.
  • Bitcoin and Stock Market Prices
    • Come up with a weekly game plan.
    • Check the prices once a day.
    • Execute an action if required by the game plan.
  • Twitter.
    • Once a day.
    • Check the notifications and engage with my blog readers.
    • Check the main page for three page scrolls maximum.
  • News, not necessary at all.
  • YouTube
    • Add informational videos to Watch Later.
    • Watch only the videos in the Watch Later.
    • Watching during cardio or doing home maintenance is OK.
    • Use the timer if watching while eating, because I tend to keep watching after the meal is finished.
    • I’ll remove the app from my smartphone right away.
  • Spotify. Get rid of all upbeat popular music. That’s sad, but it’s too distracting. Classical music, relaxing music, relaxing acoustic pop and rock is OK.
  • MailChimp. Check once a week, because I send my newsletter once a week anyway. So, I’ll remove the app from smartphone right away.
  • Instagram. Once a day. This is not a real problem, as I follow only four people at the moment. Actually, I’m going to remove the app from my smartphone right away.
  • Facebook. Once a day to see if my posts are shared. If so, engage with the people.
  • Google Images. Not at all. Complete distraction.
  • Bing. I like the images on their homepage. Once a day is OK. I’ll switch off their news and don’t check them anymore. News are complete distraction without any added value to me.
  • Podcasts in the gym. I’ll continue with this habit, because I have a difficult time focusing on serious audiobooks when training heavy and with the loud pop music playing in the gym. Some podcasts provide good value with the right balance of information and entertainment. Nothing to listen at all would bore the hell out of me. Maybe, that’s the ideal, but I’m not there yet.

I’m quite happy with my target line. It’s not ideal, but it’s much better than my current baseline. I’m going to print it out and read it every morning and every night to remind myself the rules that I will play by, at least for the next 30 days.

Once the first 30 days are over, I can make another iteration to move closer to the ideal line. There is still room for improvement even in the targets that I have set above. However, it’s better to make a successful step forward than attempting three steps at a time and failing altogether.

Summary

Device addiction and discretionary Internet usage have serious adverse effects on our cognitive abilities, performance at work, and overall quality of life. It’s not an easy habit to quit and requires some preparation.

  • The first step is to write down your motivation to quit your discretionary Internet usage.
  • The second step is to determine your current usage to establish a baseline.
  • The third step is to determine a target line.

Make sure not to make your target line too idealistic to avoid failure. You can always set new targets once your target line becomes your baseline, typically after a month. That’s a how you build world class self-discipline, one step at a time.

From my experience, I know that I will have some withdrawal syndromes when times become difficult. I will be looking for a distraction. In those cases, I will need strategies to deal with those withdrawal syndromes. Tomorrow’s post will be about two strategies to deal with the withdrawal syndromes.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.