It’s not your fault. The stuff you click on is designed to be addictive. The business models rely on it. It’s called “attention harvesting” and it’s led to all the stuff we don’t like about the internet: massive data collection, advertising following you around, breaches of privacy, and even sophisticated disinformation campaigns. We've rounded up practical tips to take control of your device use.
Check your stats regularly using Screen Time in iOS or Digital Wellbeing on Android. Set limits by adjusting Downtime, App Limits, or Focus Mode.
An old-school wrist watch doesn’t have notifications to distract you.
Go into your phone's settings and turn off notifications for all but a select few things (like just text messages and phone calls).
Sort your apps into three categories:
primary tools like calendars, maps, and the library app — apps that help you accomplish specific things
aspirational tools like meditation, yoga, exercise, or podcasts
“slot machines” — apps you get lost in, including social media and even email
Put only primary tools and aspirational apps on your home screen. Move everything else to other screens. If any app causes you to mindlessly check your phone, move it off the home screen or consider deleting it altogether.
Concerns about privacy and disinformation are reasons some users are leaving Facebook and Twitter behind. But if you’re not ready to pull the plug altogether (whether for business or personal reasons), there are still ways to regain control and reclaim wasted time:
Todobook: Replaces your news feed with your to-do list; you won't be able to unlock the feed until you've completed your tasks. Works on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and others.
DF Tube (“distraction-free tube”): A free browser extension that works on YouTube to stop suggesting videos and ads on the side of the screen, allowing you to focus while using the video platform for work, education, or recreation.
Find another source of headlines: The PressReader app lets you tailor a “For You” feed of articles from popular newspapers worldwide — with no fake news and no paywalls. Free access when you log in with your library card.
Scroll through a magazine instead of a feed. Occupy your mind without the disinformation or comments section: The Flipster app lets you instantly access 70+ popular magazines including Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Money Magazine, The New Yorker, People, Prevention, Real Simple, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Time, and Vogue. Free access when you log in with your library card.
Rediscover the pleasure of getting lost in a story. Need a recommendation? Your library can help:
Rebuild your attention span. Choose an activity that makes you happy: make music, write, meditate…and do it for a 30-minute stretch. Focusing on a single complex task improves your ability to focus on other tasks, and making a habit of these activities can result in “attentional state training” — strengthening your ability to get into a relaxed, focused state on command.
Writers: try the monthly Writers Support Group at the library for feedback and community
Try making music: Learn to play the piano with a little help from an instructional book
Research shows that bilingual speakers are better at maintaining focus and attention than monolinguals. Learn a language with the highly rated Mango app. Free access when you log in with your library card.
Studies show older adults who volunteer can stop or even reverse age-related shrinking of the brain. The library benefits from the help of adult volunteers year-round and from teen volunteers in summer. Having a purpose also helps us feel part of something bigger.
It's easier to spot and let go of distractions when they're not moving you closer to your personal goals. So, for example, if you're learning a language, having the Mango app on your home screen makes sense since it helps you achieve what you set out to do. If you're a runner, having access to Runner's World magazine in the Flipster app may be a good use of your time since it allows you to conveniently get the latest training and well-being tips.