Changing Habits: How to Use Your Phone More Intentionally

As we head towards the end of 2019, I’ve started to think about my habits and those that I do, and don’t, want to take forward into the new year.

I recently picked up Gretchen Rubin’s habits book, Better Than Before, that provides an exploration and understanding of how and why we form habits, and what we can do about them depending on our personality types and how we respond to expectations. 

Rubin’s work has encouraged me to think about the habits I have, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and how I can stick to, or change, them so I can start 2020 with a new, more positive approach to my daily activities and thought processes.

As the leaves start changing colour and the icy weather sets in, it could be easy to huddle down into old routines and see out the rest of the year with plans to make a fresh start as January rolls around.

However, the changing seasons and promise of a new year approaching has given me a fresh outlook on the things I do day to day that have a wider impact on my lifestyle.

I love this time of year and will find any excuse to try out a new challenge so in line with my current reading inspiration and excitement for the next few months, I have decided to try and tackle my phone and internet usage.

I know a lot of people will resonate with this fairly common issue of how to reduce the time they spend online. That’s why I’m sharing some of the things that I’m trying, or that have worked for me, to help me start using my phone (and in particular, social media) in a more conscious and intentional way.

Rather than completely cutting out phone usage, I’m seeking to create postitive habits that mean I can consistently and sustainably use my phone in a way that adds to my life, makes me feel good and is an addition to, rather than a regular feature of, my daily life.

Move your phone

Out of sight, out of mind. Rather than keeping my phone in my pocket or moving it around the different rooms of the house with me, I put it somewhere and leave it there so it’s much harder to mindlessly pick up and start scrolling.

For example, if I’m in the lounge watching something, I leave it in the kitchen. This helps me to focus on the programme and if I want to use my phone I have to get up to find it – which usually means I don’t bother, and instead I focus my attention on what I’m doing instead.

This can work really well if you use your phone for your morning alarm and have it next to your bed. Try moving the phone somewhere else in the bedroom so you’re still able to use the alarm, but you have to get up to turn off the nagging alarm sound. Or you could invest in a proper alarm clock and keep your phone in another room altogether!

Track your actual usage

Don’t wilfully ignore your usage or try to guess how much you’re using your phone, take a look at your usage statistics to really understand how often you’re using it and how you spend your time on it.

By tracking these figures you’ll be able to set real targets on how much you’d like to reduce your screen time by and the apps or sites you need to focus on.

Set restrictions

A lot of phones now have useful setting options that mean you can enforce limitations on yourself for how and when you use your phone and the apps that you can access. You can set time restrictions on particular apps so you only allow yourself a set amount of time each day or you can set blocks of time out to reduce total phone usage.

I recently set up a restriction on my phone between 6pm and 12am where all of my apps become restricted and I have to actively choose to extend the time I spend on them. This helps me to think about why I’m using them and whether I really want to.

Replace scrolling with another habit

When you decide that you want to cut down on your phone and social media usage, it’s a good idea to identify when you’re most active on your phone and why.

If you instinctively start scrolling first thing in the morning or you mindlessly flick through people’s Instagram stories at night, you could try to implement different habits during these times.

Personally, I have started to replace evening phone usage with reading. I love reading and it’s something I want to prioritise so I keep my book handy and try to remind myself that it’s time better spent than not really doing anything in particular online.

Could you try replacing your morning scroll with a 5 minute meditation or listening to some of your favourite music whilst you have breakfast?

Consider how you want to use apps

For some people, going cold turkey and setting a blanket ban on things will help them to stick to it more easily. Although this typically works well for me, I don’t currently want to entirely cut phone usage and apps out of my life. Instead, I want to make sure I’m using them to be inspired, creative and productive.

By understanding this, I have been able to recognise when I want to use Instagram to post a new photo that I’ve taken or share about a new place I’ve visited, rather than to aimlessly scroll through my feed. I can also prioritise using the podcast app to listen to interesting and useful episodes that help to keep me motivated but require little face-to-screen time, rather than glazing over whilst sticking on another YouTube video.

Think about the apps you currently use and how you’d prefer to use them. It might highlight ones that you could delete in the future or encourage you to make positive changes to how you engage with social media that you enjoy.

Tell people about your changes

Another great way to implement change is to make yourself accountable – whether that’s to yourself or someone else.

If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to create – or stick to – these changes, then perhaps let your friends or family know about your plan to reduce your phone usage. That way, if they see you on your phone they can remind you about your goals and help to keep you on track!

Create little roadblocks

The problem with phones and social media is that they are so easy to use – too easy, in fact!

One way to help yourself break the habit of picking up and scrolling on your phone is to create little blocks along the way that make it more difficult to use without a real intention. This could be keeping it in another room, setting restrictions, logging out of your accounts or deleting the app.

Anything you can do to elongate the process of using the app or a particular feature will create more time and space for you to think about whether you really want to do it.

Use your wallpaper to remind you

This is a really simple one but the first thing you see when you grab your phone is your wallpaper or background, so use this as an opportunity to remind yourself of your goal. I have currently chosen a new, plain background that just says: “I would rather be ____”.

Now, when I pick up my phone it encourages me to think about what I would rather be doing with my time, whether that’s reading, writing or speaking with a loved one.

What changes are you making?

I hope some of these suggestions help you if you’re trying to cut down on screen time.

Let me know which ones you’re going to give a go, and share your own suggestions below! I’d love to hear what’s helping you so I can give it a go too.


  1. These are good ideas. I’ve used something similar to your wall paper tip. Fall is a good time to be outside hiking and exploring, or eating, or drinking dark beer, or spending time with a real person. Anything online is a poor substitute.

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