Weekly roundup: Tips to stop checking your phone so often

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This week we’re exploring how to stop picking up your phone so often. It’s a modern-day problem, but many of us can’t leave the room—let alone the house—without our phones in our pockets. We even have new gadgets to wear on our wrists to help us keep our phones in our pockets more—but without missing out on anything.

Having a computer in your pocket is amazing. There’s no denying that we’re incredibly lucky to be able to afford these powerful machines and to take advantage of how fast technology is advancing.

But I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to spend a little less time with my phone and a little more time with people, nature, food, and anything else not involving screens.

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Keep your phone out of reach

If your phone is always nearby, it’s easy to pick it up more often than you’d like to. Making it harder to give in to that temptation will help you break the habit of picking up your phone anytime you can.

Adam Alter, professor of marketing at NYU and author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked , says to think about designing your environment to help you avoid your phone:

So if there’s something that you keep doing obsessively, make sure that it’s not in your environment and you’re less likely to do it. That’s a much more effective way of preventing yourself from using it than say keeping it nearby but trying to just suppress the desire to use it.

Turn off notifications

We’ve all heard this one before, but turning off your notifications is a classic way to ease your reliance on that little box in your pocket that’s always vying for your attention.

Alter says turning off notifications is a way to take back control :

Turn off the “ding” sound when you get a text message so that instead of your phone saying, “Hey, check me now,” you decide when it’s time to check. You’re removing the control from the phone and you’re bringing it back to yourself. You can also take the apps that are most addictive for you, and bury them in a folder on the fourth page.

Replace your phone with something else

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It sounds easy to keep your phone further away so it’s hard to get to, but in practice that’s quite difficult. The trick, according to Alter , is to replace your phone with something else:

What you want to do is you want to find a behavior that is a stand-in for the behavior that you don’t want to be doing. You replace the bad thing that you shouldn’t be doing with something good that you should be doing.

So you start leaving your phone in your home office or in your entrance hall. When you’re in bed or chilling on the couch, what do you do? Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Leave a book on your bedside table
  • Leave another book or a stack of magazines next to your couch
  • Keep a bag of knitting or crochet, a coloring book, or a sketchbook and pencil next to the couch
  • Leave a deck of cards or a puzzle toy on the table by your couch
  • Get out that musical instrument you keep meaning to play and store it next to your couch
  • Keep a journal and pen by your bed
  • Keep a set of small weights by the couch
  • Keep a yo-yo or a set of juggling balls by the couch and learn a few party tricks
  • Put reading apps on the main screen of your phone or tablet and move all other apps into hard-to-reach places
  • Keep a letter-writing pad and a pen by your bed and catch up on some old-fashioned correspondence

What techniques have you tried to cut down how much time you spend looking at your phone? Let us know what worked and what didn’t in the comments.

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Weekly roundup: tips for reading more

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We’ve been publishing research-based articles every week about meaningful work, being productive, and finding work/life balance for the past few months.

Today we’re started an experiment. Every week, alongside our longer, research-based articles, we’ll also publish a short roundup of tips relating to one theme.

For our first roundup we’re looking at tips to help you read more.

1. Stop trying to speed-read

It turns out, speed reading doesn’t actually work. It might seem like you’re reading faster, but the only way to do so is to not absorb the information as well. So you can “read” more quickly, but you won’t remember much of what you’ve read, so there’s not much point in doing so.

The truth is, speed reading isn’t much better than skimming:

You can flash as many words as you like in front of your eyes, and though you may be able to understand each word on its own, they won’t mean much as a collective whole. Language processing just doesn’t work that way.

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2. Improve your vocabulary

Though speed reading doesn’t work, some people can read faster than others. But researchers say the reason isn’t that they can take in more at once or silence the voice in their heads (which doesn’t actually slow you down, anyway).

No, faster readers simply have a bigger vocabulary:

As Treiman and her co-authors write in their Psychological Science paper, “the factor that most strongly determined reading speed was word-identification ability,” which means that an individual’s reading speed is more about their language skills than where or how quickly they move their eyes.

Knowing more words means you can more quickly understand what you’re reading. And of course, the way to increase your vocabulary is simply to read more.

3. Make it easy to read a lot

When reading is difficult or uncomfortable, you’re more likely to avoid it, as writer Patrick Allan recently found:

I realized I wasn’t buying into reading because I had made it difficult to access it. My reading light was in a bad position where I couldn’t comfortably reach the switch from my bed. I would have to get up out of bed to turn it on or off. Also, my bed was too tall and against a window sill so I couldn’t prop myself up when I didn’t feel like holding a book above my head. And worst of all, I had a giant TV in my room. Why read when I can fall asleep to Bob’s Burgers every night instead?

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Allan’s solution was to adjust his bedroom to be a perfect reading environment. When reading was one of few things he could do in bed, and it was easy to get started and stay focused on his book, he started reading more:

I moved my reading light to a better spot and got a Kindle Paperwhite with a decent backlight. I fixed my bed so it was more comfortable for laying upright and holding a book without worrying about dropping it on my face. And I moved my TV out of my room. The TV removal alone was a huge game-changer for me. I also moved my handheld gaming systems and stopped keeping my phone near my bed so there weren’t any other temptations around when it was reading time. Now there are only a few things I can do in my room: I can read, listen to music, or sleep—that’s it. The perfect reading environment makes picking up a book your easiest choice.

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4. Race two books against each other

Productivity expert Mark Forster recently shared a tip for getting through your existing stack of books. The trick is to read two (and only two) books at once.

Choose two books that are close to the same ease of reading and length, and make sure they’re either both digital or both paper books.

Then, you race them:

If you are reading with a Kindle or similar device, it will tell you what percentage of the book you have read. On each reading session, read the book which has the least amount read. So if one book is 35% read and the other 38% read, you read the one which is 35% read.

It doesn’t matter whether the book you are reading catches up with the other one or not. Just read for as long as you want and then apply the rule again the next time you read.

If you’re using paper books, each time you read, choose the book with fewest number of pages read, rather than working out a percentage. “This is why the books need to be reasonably compatible in length,” says Forster. “When the shorter book gets finished, you’ll still be in sight of the end with the longer book.”

If you find sticking with one book at a time too boring, or you’re constantly worrying about the huge pile of books on your nightstand waiting to be read, try racing two books at once to give yourself variety and get through that stack.


What’s your best tip for reading more? Let us know in the comments.

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