Be Smarter than Your Phone

Get your face out of your device—without banning it from your life.

Illustration by Jason Lee

Put that phone away! It’s driving you crazy. Admit it. It is. At least a little, and maybe a lot.

It’s tough, though. A Pew Research Center survey shows that 82% of adults believe cell phone use at social gatherings hurts conversation. Still, many admitted to using their phone during a recent social gathering. Why couldn’t they disengage from what they recognized to be a hurtful behavior?

When a behavior feels good—e.g., taking a selfie and getting lots of comments on social media—“our brain lays down a memory so it will remember to do that again,” addiction psychiatrist Judson Brewer says. Might be bad, but it feels so good.

Here are a few tips for keeping your phone from interrupting your life.


  • When you’re working on a project, put your phone in another room—or turn off notifications. A Florida State University study found that even if people didn’t check their phones when they buzzed, their minds still wandered.
  • In a meeting? Don’t use your phone to complete a task just assigned to you (unless you’re asked). It may seem helpful and efficient, but it can lead to meeting bloat. Also, you ignore your colleagues who probably wanted you to participate in all aspects of the meeting.
  • Don’t slide your phone under the meeting table to text or email. Everyone knows what you’re up to.
  • Shonda Rhimes, creator of the TV series Scandal and producer of How to Get Away with Murder, has an email signature that reads: “I don’t read work emails after 7 p.m. or on weekends, and if you work for me, may I suggest you put down your phone?” Rhimes told host Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air that she receives 2,500 work emails every day but says since she instituted her email policy, “there’s never been a thing so urgent that I regret having my phone off.” Could you implement (or suggest) something like this in your workplace?


It’s 2018—you’re probably gonna use your phone while socializing. In that Pew study mentioned above, several respondents said they used their phone to “contribute” to social gatherings rather than escape them. If you’re not using your phone to contribute, or if it seems to bother someone you’re with, avoid dropping out mid-conversation to check your phone. If you must, try to designate a space away where you can scroll with abandon.

  • If one person takes out their phone, can you resist the urge to take yours out?
  • Plan an amazing Saturday for you and yours. Don’t check social media to see how amazing everyone else’s Saturday is.
  • If there’s one person you talk to a lot online who lives nearby, invite them out.
  • Binge on some other screen for a while. Watch Netflix. Do it with someone else. Make it a double feature.
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  • July 19, 2017