Smartphones are a huge part of our lives, but it’s easy to find ourselves spending more time on our devices than we’d like. If you’re feeling drained by the way you use your phone, read our page on how to cut back on your screen time and make your smartphone work well for you.
How much screen time is too much?
Statistics from Statista show that people in the UK spent an average of four hours per day on their smartphones in 2021.
While some experts recommend no more than two hours of screen time per day (outside of work or school), there’s no real, definitive answer to the question of ‘how much’ screen time is bad.
To judge the ideal amount of screen time for yourself, it’s best to start by examining your own habits and how you’re feeling. And it might be more helpful to look at how you’re using your phone, rather than how much time you’re spending on it.
After all, you may be using your phone for plenty of positive purposes, such as watching educational videos, following useful tutorials, or catching up with friends and family.
On the other hand, you may be experiencing a negative effect on your mental health, productivity, or physical wellbeing. For example, there’s been plenty of research on the link between social media usage and depression and loneliness. And you might be finding that your attention span is shorter, or you’re forgoing more important activities in favour of using your phone.
At any rate, if you’re feeling drained, anxious or concerned about the amount of time spent on your phone, it may be time to set some boundaries between you and your device. And in many cases, you can use features on your phone to help you cut down on screen time.
How to check the screen time on your phone
It’s quick and easy to check your screen time on your smartphone:
- iPhone – go to Settings > Screen Time. From there, you can tap ‘See All Activity’, and see summaries of your weekly or daily use
- Android – open Settings, then tap on ‘Digital Wellbeing and parental controls’. Here, you can see a chart showing your phone usage for the day. You can tap on the chart for more information
Both iPhone and Android can offer plenty of data and stats that help you monitor your phone usage. As well as the time you spend on your phone every day, you can check which apps you use the most and compare your usage on a daily and weekly basis.
Even if you don’t think you use your phone a lot, it’s still worth checking your screen time – it’s good to be aware of how much time you’re spending on your device.
Set timers on apps
Find yourself being sucked into certain apps? You can set timers that restrict how much time you can spend in a particular app.
In fact, you can use your smartphone to your advantage here. Most smartphones will let you set time limits on apps – you can normally do this in the ‘Settings’ of your phone.
For example, you might want to limit the amount of time you spend on Instagram to thirty minutes a day. You can set a timer which lets you browse Instagram for up to thirty minutes a day. Once the timer is up, you’ll no longer be able to access the app for the rest of the day, and you won’t receive any notifications from it.
App timers reset every day, and you can easily adjust or remove the timer whenever you want.
Turn off notifications for non-essential apps
It can be hard to ignore your phone when it’s constantly buzzing with notifications. As well as the immediate motivation to check the alert, there’s also the rabbit hole of unlocking your phone, only to get side-tracked by something else. And chances are that the majority of push notifications aren’t even useful or relevant to you.
Luckily, it’s easy to control the notifications you receive. For a quick fix, you can mute all notifications using your phone’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.
For more customisation, head to the ‘Notifications’ section in your Settings. Here, you can manage the notification settings for all your apps. You can change the type of notification that pops up, how often you receive certain notifications, or turn them off completely.
Schedule time away from your screen
Want to limit distractions from your phone, but don’t want to miss important calls and messages? Rather than turning off your phone completely, you can schedule downtime on your device.
This typically lets you disable apps on your phone – meaning you can’t access them or receive notifications for a certain period of time. Both Apple and Android devices let you schedule time away from your device – you can do this in the ‘Settings’ app – or you can download third-party apps from the app store.
If you’re focused on an activity, such as working, socialising or doing a hobby, it’s well worth scheduling time away from your phone so you can concentrate better.
You could also use this handy feature in tandem with some changes to your habits. For example, if you’re normally on your phone during break times, you can schedule downtime to allow you to focus on something else, such as going for a walk or reading.
Avoid using your phone before going to bed
Looking at a bright screen before bedtime can negatively affect your sleep. As well as keeping you awake and alert when you should be winding down, the blue light emitting from your phone screen can decrease your melatonin levels. This is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle – disrupting it can make it more difficult to for you to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed the next morning.
So, it’s best to keep your smartphone out of reach before you go to bed. What’s more, both Apple and Android devices have dedicated built-in modes that help you develop a regular sleeping pattern and get better-quality sleep:
- iPhone – head to the ‘Health’ app, then tap Browse > Sleep > Get Started, where you can launch Sleep Mode
- Android – go to Settings > Digital Wellbeing & parental controls. Here, you can select Bedtime Mode
These modes will turn on ‘Do Not Disturb’ to silence notifications that might interrupt your sleep. With Android, it’ll also turn your phone display to greyscale. With iPhone, you can choose to customise your lock screen to only feature apps that will help you wind down.
With both, you can set a schedule that suits your daily bedtime and wake-up patterns, and tailor your options (for example, if you don’t want to miss a call from a particular person).
Change your phone to greyscale
Smartphones are designed to be addicting, after all. App developers typically follow the idea of ‘persuasive technology’, which is tech that’s designed to capture your attention and keep you constantly engaged.
One way to make your device less addicting is to turn the screen black and white. This way, it’ll look far less appealing, meaning you’ll less likely want to scroll through social media feeds or watch videos.
You can do this in the ‘Settings’ of your device:
- iPhone – go into Settings > General > Accessibility. In the ‘Vision’ section, you can select the greyscale option
- Android – first, turn on developer mode by going to Settings > About Device, and then press ‘Build Number’ several times until it’s enabled. After, go back to Settings, where you can now select ‘Developer Options’ above ‘About Device’. Tap ‘Simulate Colour Space’, where you can pick ‘Monochrome’ for greyscale
Get a lower data deal
Cheap SIM deals from budget networks usually cost around £5-£6 a month for anywhere between 1GB-4GB of data. As well as saving you money, it’ll stop you from endlessly scrolling on your phone as you would with an unlimited data plan.
If you want to challenge yourself even more, you could see if your network offers a pay-as-you-go plan where, instead of paying every month for a data allowance, you top up with credit. This way, you’ll have to pay for every MB of data used – which may help you be more mindful of how you’re using your phone when you’re out and about.