3 min read

How to use and arrange your phone to avoid burnout

How to not get sucked in by your phone
How to use and arrange your phone to avoid burnout
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

According to Screen Time on my iPhone, I spend around three hours a day using it and usually pick it up more than 100 times a day. This feels like a ton but it used to be way worse.

There was a night quite a few years ago I remember distinctly where my wife and I went to spend time with friends and I was scrolling on my phone, mostly on meaningless social media conversations. After we left, she turned to me and said something like, "wow, you were on your phone pretty much the entire time we were there." The horrifying part is I don't even really remember. It was like I looked down and then several hours later we were leaving. Sadly, this is what our phones are designed to do to us, by very smart people that know how to manipulate our attention.

I credit a lot of progress I've made in my phone habits to Catherine Price and her book How to Break Up With Your Phone. I've even led small groups through a version of this break-up plan after doing it myself.

The hardest and most important part of redefining the relationship with your phone and using it with intention is with what Catherine calls the 'slot machine' apps. These apps are the ones that just keep spinning and holding our attention. It varies a bit per person but usually includes social media, shopping, and email.

There's a huge mental tax lifted off our shoulders when we've organized our space in a way that makes it usable. There's no difference when it comes to our phone. We want to organize the apps to guide our decision-making around usage in a positive direction.

If you go deep enough down the rabbit hole, you'll learn about quite a movement of people moving back to 'dumb phones' that don't have all these powerful features we now take for granted. I'm not really a proponent of that. I advocate for using the tools and utilities on your phone to make your life easier while being extremely intentional about the apps that suck you in. You don't want to miss the big or little moments of your life like I did that night several years ago and many other times since. And you don't want to take away from time you could be in deep thought plotting your next big move.

Tactical ways to organize your phone so you can use it with intention:

  1. Organize your apps by the functionality they provide, not how addicted you are to them. I have all my tool/utility apps on my first screen. This includes things like banking, Spotify, rideshare, transportation, notes, etc.
  2. Put things you consider to be necessities that can suck you in on page two. This generally is things like work apps (email, Slack, project management apps) and messaging tools.
  3. Put your mega-distractors on page three or beyond. I try to make social media so out of sight and out of mind I put it on the last page on its own.
  4. Additional tip 1: Use folders to create an added layer of friction. I do this for both my work apps and social media apps. Additionally, I use this app to provide more time and space before I'm allowed to open my social media apps.
  5. Additional tip 2: Use a background image that makes you happy or calms you down. Some people like motivational quotes. It doesn't really matter.

Here is my first page of apps and my last page.

Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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