Save Yourself from Your Phone!

Lara Savory
4 min readMay 20, 2021

I know I’m not the only one who spends more time on my phone than I would like. It’s such a useful tool but can so easily become a complete and utter waste of time!

I discovered earlier in the year that Android phones like mine have some really useful tools to help users have a bit more self-control when it comes to screen time. This is almost counter-intuitive as you would think that phone companies would want to encourage increased usage. I think this may be partly to counteract potential negative reports about phone overuse but also I can see that encouraging us to make good use of our phones rather than mindlessly scrolling could actually make our phones more valuable in the long run.

Phone taking a shot of a tunnel of lights
Image by Thúy Lâm via Unsplash

My phone is a Pixel 3a — not a fancy model at all. But its Digital Wellness tools are actually excellent in my opinion. These appear to be available on Android phones from various manufacturers, not just on Google phones; Apple also has a similar feature called Screen Time.

Initially I used the app timers. I worked out the apps that I felt were taking too much of my time for too little benefit (social media, addictive games etc.) and set daily timers on these. Once the time had run out for the day, the app closed automatically and was greyed out. I even set timers on some websites that I wanted to spend less time of like news sites.

This was certainly a good starting point. My usage definitely decreased and I was far more aware of when I’d disappeared into a black hole of wasted time. But ultimately I could just go in and change the timers and it didn’t quite fit for what I was trying to achieve.

The magic of Focus Mode

It was then that I discovered the focus mode option. You can switch focus mode on according to a schedule or just when you need it. I actually have it on all the time, even when I’m not particularly trying to focus.

To use focus mode you select all the apps that you don’t want to be able to access when you’re trying to focus. Then, when focus mode is enabled, all these apps are automatically greyed out. If you click to access one you get a reminder that you are in focus mode and can choose to enable the app for five minutes if you want.

I find five minutes is nearly always enough time for anything I NEED to do on a distracting app — like check in on one of the Facebook groups I manage. And is definitely long enough if I just want to go and have a quick catch up on what some of my friends have been doing — this pandemic isolation would have been far more difficult for me without the virtual connection social media can bring.

Sand timer with grains running out
Image by Aron Visuals via Unsplash

One minute before your time is up the screen changes to monochrome and you get a notification that focus mode will be resuming. You can extend the time if needed (very useful if you are in the middle of writing a post) but generally I use this as a ‘quick get it all done’ reminder and then let the app close when the five minutes are up.

I can turn focus mode off at any time but actually I never do this. However I do use the ‘take a break’ option which lets you turn it off for 5, 15 or 30 minutes. This is particularly useful when I know I have a longer task or several apps I want to check (I’ve put my email as one of my off-limits apps as I am a little obsessed with ‘inbox zero’ so was finding myself accessing it far too often just to check it was still empty or to action and delete anything that had come in.)

The thing I’ve found most valuable about using focus mode is that it acts as an ‘Are you sure?’ prompt. I’ll click on an app and get the reminder and that’s enough to make me consider whether I really do need to access the app at that point or not.

Has it completely resolved the problem? No! One of the other things you can do is look at your daily screen time for individual apps or your phone use in general. (You can also see how many times you’ve unlocked your phone!) Some days I’m still shocked at how much time I’ve spent on my phone. But there are also lots of days where it’s at a much healthier level.

The importance of awareness

I think the key is that my awareness of my phone use is much greater now than it was, and that has to be a good thing. Not being aware of the amount of time poured down the phone drain is definitely not good on any level.

Anyway, I’d definitely recommend looking to see what options are available for your phone and trying them out to see what works for you.

Focus mode is one of the Quick Settings you can access on Android phones (if available) by swiping down the top of the screen. Swipe down again to access all options.

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Lara Savory

Reviewing the way I live, the choices I make & the things I discover. Sharing in case my thoughts are useful to others. Publishing a couple of times a month.