Phone Screen Experiment

Recently the hype has been growing surrounding the removal of various social media apps from cell phones. Whether the action is due to social pressure, personal resolution or otherwise the outcome is the same – reduced social media usage. I’ve read story after story of people doing this either as an experiment or as an attempt to overhaul their time spent on social media.

In fact, most recently I was excited to hear my good friend, Dries Buytaert also started a blog series outlining his process in replacing his social media posts with more relevant and meaningful posts on his own blog. Personally I think this is the best approach I’ve heard of so far.. Studies have clearly shown that removal of one social media app merely causes a corresponding rise in use of a different one. Dries’ approach carries many benefits not only in the decrease of social time spent but possibly the greater value lies in the increase of quality content that he is now placing on his blog. I’m also a huge fan of the furtherance of an open web mentality that comes as a result of his decision.

I removed the various social media app from my own phone late last year and have found it to be an excellent decision. I’m spending more time on what I consider meaningful activity. But as I’ve progressed this year I’ve continued to read blog posts (like this one) that would suggest the replacement principle is still at work even in my phone usage and even in the absence of social media. And so I am going to continue on my own journey of exploration and hopefully self improvement. Let me explain.

Many individuals like to share the home screen of their phone. It tells everyone what apps they deem most important and what apps they want to be able to access quickly. Here’s my current home screen.

That’s not a mistake. Not only is this my home screen (because I know some of you will think I’m cheating and using screens to the left or to the right) this is my only screen.

My current phone of choice is a Google Pixel 2 XL . I’ve been using the Pixel line for 2 years and love it This means I’ve been using the Android OS for a while and it allows this level of customization. Let me explain my thinking and the reason behind this change.

I should begin with the problem I wish to solve. Too many times I have found myself grabbing my cell phone and tapping an icon simply to occupy myself. Whether that’s out of boredom, awkward shyness, or habit. None of these are acceptable reasons and yet countless times a day these feelings would trigger my action to grab my phone, unlock it, and tap an app. I believe this is a complete waste of time, and more importantly a waste of brain power.

Secondly I’ll share my idea around a solution. I found that 9 times out of 10 my mindless phone usage was begun by opening an app on my home screen. Now, I’m sure you can already guess why I made the adjustments to my home screen that I did and although drastic I’d like you to read about my observations before coming to your own conclusions that I’m crazy or pointlessly radical.

By taking this drastic action I now had to click the home icon (the middle button in the screenshot above) and then scroll down to the app I wanted to open.

Side note: In addition to changing my home screen I also downloaded and applied an icon pack to all of my icons. This keeps the apps from looking familiar and forces my brain to actually look at each app’s name to find what I’m looking for. I may write a subsequent post on this due to some additional interesting finds.

Now I know you’re thinking that I’m wasting valuable time by forcing myself to jump through the hoop of opening up the app screen and scrolling for the app I wanted to use but the truth is actually quite different.

I discovered that the majority of my legitimate phone usage came from responses to notifications. Keep in mind that I’ve removed social media apps from my phone so the notifications I see are now mostly surrounding email, Slack, text, or other personal and relevant communications. So first observation: I was not significantly hindered in my interactions with others as a result of this home screen decision. In fact, my engagement levels were the exact same on tasks that involved actual phone tasks (as opposed to the mindless phone usage).

Secondly and perhaps even more alarmingly I discovered just how frequently I would grab my phone and unlock it without having a purpose to do so. I’m sure everyone knows this is obvious but now that my apps were a two step process further away from my finger it broke the mindless app tap that normally existed after opening my phone up. Instead now I found myself staring at my blank home screen unsure what I was actually doing. This was amplified by the times that I actually tapped the home screen button and found myself staring at a list of apps with no idea why I was there. Wow. For me this was a huge wake-up call. I had no idea the overwhelming number of times I was mindlessly opening my phone.

There are all types of excuses for not doing something drastic like this but I’d suggest ignoring your dopamine-addicted tendencies and consider radical action. 😉 I can tell you from personal experience that so far this experiment has been an incredibly eye-opening opportunity and one I plan to continue. I’ll share further observations in future posts as I continue this journey into proper phone usage and how to take back control of my time and my mind. And of course I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions in the comments below regarding your own phone decisions and radical action.