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How to Break Free from Your Phone

Technology is addicting. It’s true.

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This story is part of our Summer Preview, a collection of features, guides and reviews to help you navigate warmer months ahead.

How much time do you waste looking at your smartphone each day? One hour? Maybe two? Even more? Tech companies have become increasingly aware that they need to help curb screen addiction before all our brains liquefy. With the built-in measures to stem these gadgets’ addictive nature and some committed mindfulness on your part, it is possible to start breaking free. Here’s some help.

Identify your hot spots

Pretty much every modern smartphone comes with a tool to help you look at its screen less. On the iPhone, it’s called Screen Time. On Android, it’s Digital Wellbeing. These apps deliver stats about your smartphone usage so you can stare at your bad behavior in the face.

Attack your worst habits
What is the worst offender in your screen time stats? Facebook? YouTube? Both Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing can set daily time limits for specific apps. Tackle your worst offenders and turn down the max time allowed bit by bit every day until it hurts — then keep going.

Consider a blackout
With features like Downtime (iOS) and Focus Mode (Android), you can set blocks of time where certain apps won’t work at all. Schedule daily blackouts — maybe first thing in the morning and right before bed — and plan an alternative activity instead. Books are neat!

Crackdown on the computer
If a laptop is your primary problem screen, free browser extensions can help reign in the internet. RescueTime tracks your browsing habits and calls out the most distracting trouble spots. StayFocusd lets you limit your time on certain sites like you can limit apps on your phone.

Set up bigger speed bumps

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Whether your biggest weakness is inhaling Instagram or feasting on Facebook, the easiest way to curb your typical timesuck is to make sure you never get started in the first place. By adding obstacles between you and your vices, you give yourself a crucial moment to stop, think and change your mind.

Lean into the lockscreen
Do you unlock your phone with a fingerprint scanner? Facial recognition? Turn it off. Set yourself a PIN — a long one, too. For hard mode, consider an arduous password. This will make you think twice about diving into cyberspace just because you have 15 spare seconds.

Log all the way out
Muscle memory may take you to your most troublesome app before you know what’s happened, but logging out will help you hit the brakes. If you don’t have two-factor enabled, turn it on for a double dose of security and login pain.

Prevent the pushing
Notifications don’t just keep you up to date; they also drag you kicking and screaming back into the app you just escaped from. Disabling notifications from ancillary apps lets you engage with them on your own terms.

Bring out the big guns

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The most drastic solution to a serious tech dependency may just be a little more tech. In the last few years, a new breed of hardware has emerged to help you disconnect when you can’t do it on your own.

Get a router that will take you offline
Scalable mesh Wi-Fi systems were designed to spread the internet to every corner of your house. But they also help you shut it off. Nest Wifi ($149+) and Eero ($99+), two of the most popular systems, let you schedule times to turn Wi-Fi off entirely or block certain sites through a smartphone app.

Treat yourself to a downgrade
We live in a world of folding phones and edge-to-edge screens but dumbphones still exist! The Light Phone II ($350), with an e-ink screen, does messages and calls but will never support social media. Meanwhile, modern cheap flip phones like the Alcatel Go Flip only go so far.

Get a literal lockbox
It may feel silly to drop your phone in a timed, locking kitchen container like the kSafe Mini ($60), but it will tear you away from Twitter. Yes, you could probably tear it out if need be, but the only thing worse than feeling like a toddler in timeout is knowing you couldn’t resist temptation.

A version of this story originally appeared in a print issue of Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today.

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