Do you spend a ton of time on your phone or computer? Does it get in the way of doing other things? Have you ever tried to use technology less but failed? You might have a difficult relationship with your devices. These are some screen time apps and techniques you can use to better control your relationship with the screens in your life and fight tech addiction.
Screen Time (iOS)
In iOS 12, Apple released Screen Time. This application is designed to specifically help with tech overuse. It monitors app use and can control or limit the amount of time a user spends in a particular application or class of applications. For example, if you find you tend to while away your hours on social media, you might set a 2 hour limit on social media applications each day. When you have five minutes to time left, Screen Time will notify you. When you run out of time, Screen Time will close the application. You can override this behavior with a tap, but it’s the little nudge that often helps people change their habits.
Screen Time also captures a ton of data about how you use your phone. Of special interest is the “pick ups” category. This tracks how many times you pick up your phone each day. This number might be far higher than you expect it to be: I know my number was. Screen Time will also track the amount of time spent in apps of all kinds, even if they don’t have specific time limits. Just seeing the amount of time you spend on your device each day can sometimes be enough to encourage changes in your habits.
Forest (iOS and Android)
There are many apps like Forest, but Forest is the best one. It encourages users to put down their phone by growing little plants.
When you open Forest, you set a timer and begin growing a tree. Until that timer runs out, you cannot exit the Forest application or switch to another application. If you do exit the application or switch to another application, the tree you’re growing will die. You will see the dead tree, bare branches hanging forlornly, and Forest will tell you that “you can do better.” It’s a tiny dose of empathy for a digital tree and a tiny dose of shame for yourself. Can you really not put down your phone for 30 minutes to let a stupid digital plant grow? And that’s how you end up getting away from your phone for a little while.
Space (Android and iOS)
Space is an awesome app that provides Screen Time features for Android. Space also exists on iOS, but in a much more limited form that isn’t particularly helpful. The Android version of Space is where the power resides.
When you start Space you’ll be prompted to take a short quiz to identify the kind of smartphone user you are. Do you use your phone primarily to battle boredom, or do you try to obsessively stay connected to social media? With the answer to that quiz, Space will lightly personalize its functionality to help you use your device less.
Inside of Space you’ll find a ton of data about how you use your phone. These insights can be helpful as well as troubling. Discovering you spend thirty hours a week on your phone can be a bit of an eye-opener. You can set specific app limits and app category limits, just like iOS’ Screen Time. Uniquely, you can also get prompts after using your phone for a specific amount of time. For example, after using your phone for ten minutes, Space will give you a notification suggesting you put down your device.
You can also collect achievements and receive motivational messages. If you want to work together, you can invite friends to participate in the app with you. It’s the little nudges and tiny rewards that push us in the right direction, and Space provides plenty of those.
Smartphones are incredibly effective devices. The problem is that they’re too effective. It’s hard to use a smartphone every day without developing problematic use patterns, and many people accidentally find themselves in that position. The apps above can provide the nudge you need to get back into “tech/life balance.”