Whether you realize it or not, your online behavior is heavily influenced by your device's configuration. By default, the settings on your phone and your social media apps are optimized to keep you staring at your screen. From the slew of notifications interrupting your day to the strategically placed reels in your Instagram feed to the color of the app icons on your home screen, every facet of the interfaces you interact with has been rigorously tested with the sole purpose of maximizing engagement.
You may not think much of this, but the truth is your environment is constantly nudging you toward certain behaviors and away from others.
"Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. Despite our unique personalities, certain behaviors tend to arise again and again under certain environmental conditions." - James Clear
Fortunately, you can regain control over your devices by moving beyond the default settings and purposefully designing your digital environment to support intentional use and minimize distraction. Here are three changes you can make to your phone to minimize mindless scrolling and win back some time:
Delete social media apps from your phone
Bear with me here. One of the simplest and most impactful changes you can make to your tech use right now is to start using social media sites such as Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, and Facebook through the web browser on your phone.
This has a number of benefits:
The interface is clunkier. Developers have much more control over your experience on a mobile app than they do in a browser, so every aspect of the platform is a little bit slower and less satisfying. That may sound like a bad thing, but it sure makes it more difficult to get sucked down a rabbit hole.
It requires you to search for the site. Most people mindlessly click on a distracting app icon when they are bored or uncomfortable. By forcing yourself to open the browser and search, you are far more likely to catch yourself chasing a dopamine hit before it's too late.
The user experience is often better. Most people say they use Instagram to stay up to date on what is happening in their friends' lives but get sucked into a never-ending stream of reels as soon as they open the app. On the web version of Instagram, there is no infinite scroll of reels, so you can spend more time using Instagram for its core purpose and less time watching the latest dance trend.
Although this may sound drastic, you don't lose access to any of the valuable parts of social media by making this switch. Try it out for a week, and I would be willing to bet you won't go back.
Download one sec
There are a lot of apps intended to help you reduce your screen time, but one sec is by far the most impactful. The concept is simple but powerful. All the one sec does is force you to wait for 5-10 seconds before you can open a specific app. By making it impossible to access distracting apps and websites without pausing to take a deep breath, one sec makes it far more difficult to use your phone as a means of escaping discomfort.
Set up scheduled notification summaries
Your phone should not have permission to interrupt your day unless something demands your attention. Unfortunately, social media platforms have figured out that one of the most effective ways to get people to spend more time on their apps is to bombard them with meaningless notifications.
In recent years this has gotten wildly audacious - does anyone really need to know that some kid from high school posted an Instagram story for the first time in a while? Do you really care that your aunt commented on your cousin's Facebook post?
Fortunately, there is a way to batch unimportant notifications into scheduled summaries, so that you can review them all at once. Here is a guide to setting them up on iOS. Unfortunately, this feature has not yet been added to android.