Rebooting is a biweekly newsletter about how we can use technology to take better care of ourselves.
Of all the complications ADHD has thrown my way, poor impulse control is the one I resent the most. Did I need to buy that $20 calendar app that swore it could bring order to my life? Why not spend a Saturday in Santa Monica when I’m on deadline and haven’t transcribed my interviews yet? I try to convince myself I’m just living life in the moment, and sometimes that’s true, but mostly I’m just forcing my future self into a pit of anxiety as the consequences of my irresponsibility creep up.
Apps like Twitter and Instagram don’t make this any easier. Sure, they won’t throw me closer to debt or anything, but they keep me away from things I care about, like my health and my writing. Yet I’m powerless to the instant gratification that comes from clearing those little red bubbles.
You’ve probably felt this way too! You’ve got a big project to finish, but you can’t pull away from the never-ending flow of bad takes and finely-curated pictures of food that clog up your feed. You can’t delete the apps without feeling like you’re losing touch with your pals, and missing some part of the Next Big Thing.
Companies like Apple and Google have been paying attention and have introduced features to manage how much time you spend on your phone. With Apple’s Screen time feature, you can have iOS automatically lock you out of any app you tell it to after a specified amount of time. You can also set up an option that locks you out of all but your essential apps at night. I hoped this would be a useful way to get me off my phone, but after living with it for a few weeks, I’ve found that it’s too easy for me to dodge.
Once you’ve hit your daily limit with an app, a screen comes up saying you’re out of time, encouraging you to close the app and move on with your life. But all you have to do to continue unimpeded is tap two buttons, “ignore” and then “ignore limit for today.” For some people, that little reminder might be enough. But when I felt my phone usage was really out of control, two taps couldn’t to get in the way.
I’ve tried several other ways to trick my brain into avoiding these time sinks, with varied levels of success. Going nuclear and deleting all the apps worked for a bit, but I caved to FOMO and redownloaded everything. Putting them in folders helped a little until my muscle memory adjusted to the new arrangement.
The only thing that’s actually worked for me is taking all of my apps out of folders and, aside from my first page of apps, placing each icon randomly—so my mind wouldn’t have any point of reference. This, combined with hiding all the distracting apps like Twitter and this game I can’t get enough of, Meteorfall, from Spotlight search and Siri suggestions (Settings > Siri and Search, and remove the most distracting apps you don’t want to show up), has mostly conditioned my brain to avoid putting the effort into hunting the apps down.
Maybe that won’t work for you! Maybe you do just need that blocking screen to put your phone down. But if the option to hit “ignore” is too tempting, find a way to make finding the app your lizard brain wants frustrating enough that it gives up before you waste too much time.
Editor’s Note: This gives me so much anxiety why why why why
City Pop: If you need some tunes to throw on your commute to work and feel like you’re living the big city life, this playlist will add a little spring to your step.
As always, if you have any questions, feedback, or just want to say hello, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.
My thanks to Daniel Varghese for editing this issue.