I Tried 5 Hacks to Reduce My Screentime

Can a bunch of random tips help me call time on my phone addiction?
A woman looking at her phone and frowning
The author loo. Photo: Ruchira Sharma

Phones are great. Thanks to these palm-sized electronic bricks, humans don’t have to be bored for a microsecond. From checking an ex’s last seen on WhatsApp to forming parasocial relationships with dogs on TikTok, we can now oscillate between constant communication and endless online content until death. But just how healthy is it?


The short answer is: It’s not, and scientists have long been concerned about our ever-growing reliance on these rectangles of pleasure. It turns out “smartphone addiction” isn’t a term boomers invented to shame young people, but a problem some of us definitely have, with stats to back it up. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that Americans check their smartphones 50 to 80 times each day, whilst a 2021 King’s College London study states that 39 percent of 18-30 year olds surveyed met the criteria for phone addiction, feeling panicked and distressed when denied it. If this wasn’t bad enough, experts said those with smartphone addiction struggled to sleep. 

Clearly, being too attached to our phones is a problem. Thankfully, the internet (ironically) offers a litany of listicles, podcasts and books with tips on “phone fasting” and digital detoxing, but are they just bullshit? I tried five of the top tips to reduce screen time to find out. 


Switching notifications off for ‘problem’ apps

One of the most common top tips for reducing smartphone use is turning off notifications for apps you love most. Since Elon Musk took over Twitter and turned it into a visual hell reminiscent of my Hotmail junk box, my dirty phone habit has been visiting Instagram throughout the day. My fingers are now trained to open the app on autopilot and double tapping all the little tiles that come up. 

I’ve clearly got a problem, and cutting off the source (i.e. blocking notifications) would clearly implement a healthy boundary. Right now, all notifications do is whisperingly croon into my ear to come back to the app. 

In all honesty, I was kind of worried about carrying out this step. For no explainable reason, I suddenly feared that an incredible life-changing opportunity would present itself through my DMs and I’d miss it, lose out and regret it for the rest of my life. It didn’t matter that nothing like this had ever happened to me throughout my 10 years on the app. It hit me: I was feeling the panic mentioned by smartphone addicts. I had to turn notifications off.

I’m sad to say this was an incredible experience. Facing my fear head-on paid off and I stopped anticipating events to miss out on. I learnt no notifications are ever really urgent on that app – at least for me – and it felt good to mindfully log on and look through all my notifications in one go. A week later, I’ve not turned them back on. 


Rating: 4/5

Trying Hold, an app to reduce screentime

There’s an app for any interest and/or issue, and screentime is no exception. I sourced a listicle of the best apps to tackle smartphone addiction and came across Hold, with a manifesto of “stop distractions and make it happen”. Yes! Let’s make this happen. 

Admittedly, I was also drawn to this app because it offers an incentive for the gruelling work of reducing screentime. For every 20 minutes you leave your mobile alone, you get a point that can theoretically be exchanged for coffee, cinema tickets and online codes, among other treats. It sounded too good to be true.

The 20-minute timer is a great feature, especially if you’re prone to checking your phone mindlessly and need to get some work done. It turns out 20 minutes feels like a reeeeally long time when it comes to leaving my phone alone. This was a particularly helpful realisation to have, as it’s now clear to me how abnormally often I must look at it.

The huge downside was the rewards – a devastating conclusion, as this was the thing that excited me most about Hold. I only used the app for a few days, but the reality is the rewards – including a paltry ASOS discount or a goodie bag from a random brand – just weren’t appealing. You may feel differently, though.


Rating: 3/5

Doing a phone ‘fast’ 

This was the step I was least excited for. A phone “fast” required me to leave my phone alone completely – the digital equivalent of jumping into a pool of ice water and hoping for the best. 

While many experts recommended doing this for an extended period of time – some said a whole month – I went for a measly but gruelling six hours. (I had plans later that evening, so I had to use my phone, OK?) 

Obvious disclaimer: I did not fast for long enough. But it’s clear doing this for an extended period of time would take some prior planning, including warning friends and work you’ll be off your phone. I began to feel the benefits of dodging the pressure to reply to messages instantly, and it felt good to take a long while (long for me) away from notifications. My brief introduction to phone fasting definitely made me want to try it again for longer. 

Rating: 4/5

Leaving my phone in another room

Of all the tips I tried, I thought this sounded the most underwhelming. What about leaving your phone in a different room would stop you using it? Surely the force within would compel you to enter said room and retrieve the device again?

Turns out the joke’s on me. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” really does work when it comes to phone use. I left mine in my bedroom and worked somewhere else in the house. Throughout the day, I felt my hand reach for it next to me, meet nothing but air, and then just go back to the task at hand. A lot of my phone use clearly came down to convenience, so simply moving it away and forgetting about its existence was enough to reroute my behaviour. 


Rating: 4/5

A phone on greyscale mode

On greyscale mode. Photo: Ruchira Sharma

Using greyscale mode

Most phones allow you to implement greyscale mode in their settings and essentially strips all colour from the display. Experts claim that by making your phone less appealing, you’ll feel less of a craving to use it. 

Well, give those academics their flowers because they’re completely right. When I glance at my phone, all I feel is a mixed bag of dread and existentialism by the greyed-out screen. It subsequently went untouched throughout the day. I even let WhatsApp messages go unanswered for a few hours, while a monochrome Instagram went from dopamine factory to depression-inducing. 

It’s clear the glittery, jewel-coloured tones of all my apps must play a gigantic part in why I like using them. Even with the same functions still available, just stripping the colours away transformed my mobile into something functional, rather than fun.

Rating: 5/5

In conclusion

Initially, I felt pretty defensive about peeling away something that offers me a tiny thimble of pleasure in my mundane day. How bad could my phone habit be, right? But this experiment highlighted just how passive and frequent my phone use is. I feel much more intentional about using apps now, and I’m going to keep using some of these techniques to try and consciously uncouple from my phone. You could even call it a factory reset.