Digital declutter week 3 recap: A shocking stat skews my week

I started a 30-day “digital declutter” on Thursday, Sept. 1, as part of a long-term plan to better control how, when and where I use technology in my life. Here’s how my third week went. You can read the recaps of my first week here and my second week here.

Wins & Losses

I was feeling rather good about my progress during this digital declutter to date. I have cut down my social media use to nearly zero, and I’m not wasting hours every week scrolling through posts from people I never speak to in real life and watching videos of people I have never met. I also felt I had become more conscious of when and where I was using my phone, in general.

Then, I opened Android’s Digital Wellbeing app and looked at my phone usage data. I had expected to see a dramatic drop off both in the amount of time I used my phone each day as well as the number of times I unlocked my phone. I was, sort of, right about the former. I was not so right about the latter.

The data only goes back a month, but my daily screen time has definitely fallen. It’s now less than two hours a day on average, including phone and text message usage, down from three to four hours a day in the few days before I officially started the digital declutter.

The number of times I unlock my phone during the day is still way high though. I’ve been unlocking my phone anywhere from 45 to 85 times a day in the last three weeks. Before then, I hit more than 100 unlocks on a couple days. This isn’t a number I had ever personally paid attention to before, and I found it shocking. NPR cited a study by the company Locket that found users unlocked their screens 110 times a day on average. That doesn’t make me feel better, but at least I know I’m not alone. Factoring in 8 hours of sleep, I’m unlocking my phone up to five or six times an hour. Why?

I turned off nearly all app notifications, and I set my phone to automatically turn on “Do Not Disturb” for most of the day, so, for the most part, I am not being prompted to unlock my phone — I am doing it all on my own.

The Digital Wellbeing app shows Exchange (my work email), Gmail (my personal email), Chrome and Messages are the top culprits. Part of the problem here is me not sticking to the standard operating procedures I set for email and text messages. Since I don’t have notifications set on my phone, I have been checking email more often than I normally do to see if I have any new messages.

The other part of the problem is that checking my phone is a longstanding habit that’s hard to break.

Changes for Week 4

I want to see a change in how often I’m unlocking my phone, so that’s my focus going into week four. Given my proclivity toward unlocking my phone when it’s near me, the only solution I see to this problem is separating myself from my phone for longer intervals during the day.

I’m going to try to do this while I’m working to start. If I’m in front of a computer and near my work phone, I don’t need to have my mobile phone at my side all day as well. At least that’s the theory.

My Thoughts So Far

The data in the Digital Wellbeing app knocked me down a bit, but I’m glad I saw it now. The whole purpose of this digital declutter is to distance yourself enough from new technologies to reevaluate how you use them in your life. Then, if you choose, reintroduce them on your terms.

I see this really working with optional technologies, mainly social media. But I’m not sure how sustainable my attempts to limit usage for the stuff I have to use day to day (but that I don’t need to check five times an hour) will be.

I may not be a full-on digital minimalist by the time this is over, but I do think I will at least have better control over how I use digital technologies in my life.


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