How to stop your phone from driving you crazy (and why)

Waking up at midnight

Last August, I got my first smartphone to support running my business while traveling. Despite my initial concerns, it’s working out okay—except for startling midnight chimes.

“I started using my phone for an alarm clock,” I told a friend recently. “But sometimes I get notifications at night, and they wake me up.”

He looked at me a little funny. “You can turn those off, you know.”

“You can?”

“Sure. You just go into settings and use the blocking mode. Set the time of night you want notifications to stop and what time to start again.”

“Oh!” What a revelation!

At bedtime, I’m now content in the knowledge that I’ll only be woken at the time I chose. Now I have the control over better sleep, rather than my phone.

Step back and notice

On the highway just this morning, I passed a guy in a Prius looking at his phone screen and poking at it. While driving. I can’t know his story; maybe he was lost and looking for directions. But the story I make up is that using his phone was so innate for this guy, so unconscious, his actions seemed reasonable to him. “I can handle it,” I imagine him thinking.

Seeing him with a phone at 65mph made me realize how I could be that guy if I didn’t pay attention to how I use my own phone.

Stepping back to notice how you use a tool is a great practice. It helps you determine whether it’s serving you (or the other way around).

Notice. How often does your phone:

Interrupt you?

Exasperate or stress you out?

Take you away from those around you (unintentionally)?

Distract you during creative work?

Stop you from being present?

If you don’t like the effect your phone has on you, loved ones, important work, or your heart, you can take back control.

12 ways to stop unnecessary phone interruptions

  1. Set up “night mode” or call blocking during your sleeping hours. (Yesss!)
  2. Turn off automatic tones for typing, screen tapping, etc.
  3. Turn off haptic feedback/vibrations for all settings including ringing (the unexpected buzz/tactile sensation can escalate stress by setting your limbic system into alert mode).
  4. Choose ringtones that make you feel happy or calm. Research shows that birdsong and soft music are the least stressful for people waiting on hold.
  5. Unless you live in an area prone to tornadoes or flash floods, turn off emergency tones (one jolted me in Hawaii at 2:45am and I was awake, heart pounding, for an hour afterward).
  6. Turn off message alert repetition (if you get a text, it will otherwise keep beeping until you check it).
  7. Set your phone to the lowest brightness you can tolerate.
  8. Avoid looking at your phone at night or in bed. The amount of blue light it emits puts your brain into full-wakefulness mode.
  9. Set up contacts so when you get a call, the person’s name displays. This prevents you from staring at the number, trying to figure out who is calling you and whether you should answer.
  10. Block robo-calls so you never hear from them again. (I wish my land line did this!)
  11. With the Prius guy in mind, consider using an app that turns off notifications while you’re driving.
  12. I know this might sound crazy, but turning it off sometimes is also an option.

The benefits? Priceless.

Simplifying and limiting how your phone communicates with you does so many great things:

  • Minimizes interruptions
  • Increases focus
  • Decreases irritation (yours and others’)
  • Lowers stress
  • Allows you to be more present to the world around you
  • Increases creativity (keep reading)

A word on flow and interruptions

Flow is a state that all creative people seek. Writers, teachers, musicians, and creators from every discipline seek that magical moment when everything clicks and work is easy, energizing, and joyful. Flow is an elusive creature. You can toil for hours or days before it alights, singing, like a tiny bird on your shoulder.

You can’t plan flow. It just shows up. If your phone buzzes in the middle of a satisfying flow, you might lose it completely.

If you’re engaged in an activity that is more satisfying with your full attention—writing, art, conversation, making love, hiking—try experimenting with turning off your phone completely until you feel complete with your efforts.

Your thoughts

What do you to do minimize the phone’s negative aspects or interruptions in your life?