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I Broke Up With My Phone for 24 Hours. Here’s How I Handled It.

Recently, I posed this question to my friends on social media: “Are you addicted to your mobile phone?

It’s no secret that many of us are very attached to our phones — so much so that we’d give up many creature comforts and basic needs (like showering and eating) just to have our phones close by.

To test how connected we are to our own devices, my podcast co-host, Cris, and I decided to see if we could part ways with our phones for an entire day. We picked the day of the week we would take the hiatus and then invited our podcast listeners to join us for our “No Phone Sunday” Challenge.

So yes, I really did stop using my phone for 24 hours. Keep reading to hear how I handled it.

Smartphones have provided us with a virtually unlimited supply of social stimuli, both positive and negative. Every notification, whether it’s a text message, a “like” on Instagram, or a Facebook notification, has the potential to be a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx.

Source: Science in the News – Harvard University

What I Did to Prepare

Cris and I decided to do the “no phone” challenge on a weekend. We picked Sunday because it would likely be the best day for us to put our phones away for an extended period of time. Usually, there are fewer (or no) work tasks that would require picking up the phone.

Still, I knew that since I rely heavily on my phone for several personal and business tasks, it was important to come up with a game plan to make the 24-hour phone fast go as smoothly as possible.

Here’s what I did to prepare:

  • Turn it off. My plan included turning off my phone the evening before. That way, there would be no notifications to tempt me to even pick it up.
  • Put it away. Out of sight really can mean out of mind. I figured if I didn’t see my phone, I wouldn’t pick it up out of habit. So, my plan included tucking it away in a drawer the evening before the challenge.
  • Tell my people. I knew that I had to tell my core group of people about “No Phone Sunday” so they wouldn’t be worried if they didn’t hear from me.
  • Go old school. Could I still get things done with my phone? Absolutely! And that meant I would need to use paper and pen (just like I used to) to make a to-do list or capture ideas. I also knew that I wanted to identify and make a list of all the times I would instinctively reach for my phone and why.
  • Make a list. I made a list of things I could do without my phone. Yes, doing laundry was one of those things, unfortunately.

“No Phone Sunday” – How I Handled It

Overall, “No Phone Sunday” was a success! That said, I experienced a range of emotions and made several observations about myself as I navigated the world without one of my favorite pieces of technology in my back pocket.

The Good

The morning of “No Phone Sunday” started just like any other Sunday morning and it seemed to get off to a good start. I don’t usually set an alarm on the weekends so my first action was not to grab my phone.

And, I knew the night before that I wouldn’t be able to use my meditation app as I would normally. So instead of doing a guided meditation (which usually lasts from 5 -15 minutes) using the FitBit (App Store | Google Play) or Balance app, I had 1-2 minutes of quiet time and deep breathing on my own before I got out of bed.

I live with or am around most of the special people in my life, so my day felt like a regular Sunday. There was the usual flurry of activity and discussions about what we’d be doing and where we’d be going.

I was happy, especially during the top half of my day. I even found that without the distraction of my phone, I was able to start and finish tasks more efficiently. No phone meant no shiny, pretty apps could tempt me into getting sidetracked.

Could you give up your phone for 24-hours? #digitaldetox #phoneaddiction Share on X

The Bad

Well, perhaps not “bad,” but the day was not without its frustrations. I experienced phantom vibrations in my back pocket even though my phone was tucked away in a drawer. And, I found myself reaching for my phone (yes, same back pocket). A LOT.

Each time I thought about or reached for my phone, I wrote down what I would have used it for. Here’s my list:

  1. Practice deep breathing/meditate
  2. Record my weight
  3. Log my food
  4. Buy groceries
  5. Create a to-do list
  6. Add tasks to Basecamp
  7. Book a flight
  8. Listen to an audiobook
  9. See better (magnifying glass) *This app is a time-saver, especially when reading food or medicine labels!
  10. View health stats
  11. Check and send text messages and emails
  12. Use my language learning app
  13. Lock and unlock my car
  14. Turn on/off all home automations
  15. Check sports score
  16. Read the news
  17. Set alerts, alarms, and reminders
  18. Take pictures
  19. Browse social media
  20. Complete online purchases

And the (Sorta) Ugly

I also noticed that my mood changed toward the end of the day. To be honest, I was a bit salty and testy at times. I know at first glance it might seem that this was a result of not having my phone. But, perhaps that’s not the only reason.

Meditating, walking, and reading combine to make a powerful mood-boosting cocktail for me. Without access to my app, I didn’t meditate as much as I would have normally on “No Phone Sunday.” And because I wasn’t able to listen to my audiobook (thanks to Libby or Audible) while I walked, I didn’t get as much movement in my day.

Either way, whether my mood soured because I was experiencing phone withdrawal symptoms or because I couldn’t tap into my happiness routine (or both), it was an interesting observation. And it made me think about how I could be less reliant on my phone for those two specific activities.

The Streaks and Loopholes

Not having my phone didn’t stop me from getting some things done. But it was next to impossible to practice Spanish without my app. This might seem like a little task that I could have just ignored for the day. But I have a pretty nice streak of over 365 days of regular practice. I was not about to break the chain!

So my loophole was my laptop.

I didn’t want to derail “No Phone Sunday,” so I followed some self-imposed guidelines around using my laptop.  I decided to limit my:

  • Activities. My first limitation was to pick only ONE thing to use my laptop for, and that was to practice Spanish only. No Google searches. Or checking email. And certainly no Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter surfing. Spanish was my focus and nothing else.
  • Time. I also decided I would only use my laptop for a short amount of time. That way, there wouldn’t be enough time for me to do anything else. I aimed for 10 minutes of Spanish practice and stuck with it.

Final Thoughts

Based on this one-day experiment — and with the “bad and (sorta) ugly” parts of the day — I would do “No Phone Sunday” again. That’s because we all need a “tune-up” every now and then.

We forget the lessons we’ve learned. Sometimes life gets in the way and we slip into old habits that don’t serve us well. Participating in challenges like this can help us to be more mindful and more productive in the long run.

So the next time I put my phone in time out, I’ll make a few changes.

Here’s what I would do differently:

  • Do some of the “I always use my phone for this stuff,” like buying groceries the day before. Of course, I could just take a trip to the supermarket. Novel idea, right?
  • Prep my peeps a little more in advance so that they could get used to the idea of me being unavailable by phone or unable to do some task for them that required my phone.

Here’s what I’d keep the same:

  • Stick with Sunday because there’s little to no work required on this day for me.
  • Use my “no phone” time to connect with other human beings. Particularly the ones who make me laugh.

What about you? Would you attempt to go a few hours or 24 hours (or more) without your phone?

Hey there, I’m Deb. I’m a Digital Productivity Coach and Consultant, Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, and lover of all things tech. I’m also addicted to apps and love helping small business owners leverage technology so they can be more productive.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Bravo to you, Deb (and Cris), for doing this experiment. Considering how much we all use our phones, it was fascinating to see how you managed and observed from being phone-less for 24 hours.

    Honestly, while I think I COULD do it, I’m not sure I want to. Like you, there are several ways I use my phone that I wouldn’t want to give up- meditating (Insight Timer,) taking photos, logging food journal (Noom,) task list (2Do app,) and communicating with my loved ones. While I spend some time using social media apps, that isn’t where the bulk of my time goes.

    At night, I put my phone to “bed,” which isn’t in my bedroom, but in my office. It’s also interesting realizing how integrated my phone has become in my life. Good food for thought.

    1. I love that you “put your phone to bed,” Linda. That’s a great way to start your own evening routine. And, yes, I think if you can put your phone to bed, you could probably make it through an entire day without it. 😊

  2. I love this post! Good for you for doing this and documenting it. I make it a point not to be on my computer at least one day during the weekend. My phone tends to be on the counter over the weekend so I can go and do gardening and putting stuff away / cooking during the day. Keeping busy doing physical things really does help keep me off the phone and the computer over the weekend. =)

    1. Glad you liked it, Sabrina! 😊 Love your solid boundaries around using your computer on the weekends — and that you have a set of activities to help keep you occupied and happy. Gardening can be cathartic and satisfying. You get to see your own handy work in action. Spending time with people (especially the ones who make me laugh) helps me forget about my phone and my laptop.

  3. Reading your list reminded me of how many things I now do with my phone. It’s a pretty incredible list, especially when I think about how I used to not have a phone at all! In general, I used to use a variety of tools that I no longer need because I can perform their functions on my phone.

    Nevertheless, I am making an effort to use my phone less, primarily because I feel it affecting my vision. As in, my eyeballs actually itch. Also, when I look up from my phone, my distance vision is worse. I hate this!

    So, could I walk away entirely? Probably, but it would be hard. I think notifying my people would be the biggest step to get right, as my kids both live away and primarily contact me digitally. I could definitely enjoy a few hours each Sunday, though, without too much trouble. I typically do not check my phone when I am with clients, and I find this break to be very refreshing.

    Thanks for sharing about your experiment!

    1. Okay, friend, itchy eyeballs are not good. Will you need glasses now? Perhaps you could try a modified version of the phone fast? The good news is that you don’t have to step completely away from your phone. You can do a mini-break, say 20-30 minutes, and then sprinkle a few mini-breaks throughout your week. I’m sure your eyes will thank you. 😊

  4. You can lock and unlock your car with your phone?! And since we’re both on Duolingo, I think it’s funny that you used your laptop as your “backup” while I only ever use it on the computer and don’t even have the app downloaded!

    I did this challenge along with you, as you know. I do far less with my phone than you do, probably because my default location is in front of my iMac. I only really use my cell phone when I’ve left my house and need to connect — I use it for discounts in stores, but (shockingly) mostly as a telephone so that I can talk to people. In other words, I use it to have the connections with other people while you’re avoiding it so you can make connections with other people!

    But I’m not sure why you wouldn’t use it to order groceries from the comfort of your home; it would be far less labor-intensive (and germ-filled) than going to the actual store, and assuming you could stick to just using the grocery app (or JUST the meditation app, or JUST whatever you decide in advance to use), it seems like the key is balance, not eschewing the phone altogether. (Like, no social media or news, but yes to meditation and audiobooks; no to taking photos (if you’re trying to stay in the moment) but yes to using the magnifying glass.) To each her own!

    1. It’s interesting how we’re both on the same-but-different paths. Same tools, different uses. 😊

      You make all good suggestions about variations to “no phone” day. But for this first attempt, I wanted to go “all in” and experiment and see how easy or not so easy it would be to take a sabbatical.

      Though it’s not the first time I’ve put my phone out of reach (I do this on family vacations for two to three weeks!), this was the first time I severely limited my access. My goal wasn’t to gain balance for one day but to test and tinker with the way I usually do things. I wanted to gain a true awareness of what doing this would be like. I also know how easy it can be to “just do this one thing” and end up being distracted by something else.

      I’ll likely keep adjusting my rules for each hiatus until I come up with the “right” formula for the day. Still, I like the idea of being less dependent on my phone (if only for a day). Why not take the opportunity to learn how to meditate without an app? Or attempt for the gazillionth time to stay awake while I read a paper book? LOL I don’t mind taking a few minutes to grab some fruit and veggies at the store especially since sometimes the grocery store sometimes sends some questionable items. Besides, I can get more steps in! 😊

    1. “Useful but not always pleasant” sounds like medicine. LOL I really wanted to give a full picture of my “no phone” and not sugarcoat anything. Think you might try taking a break from your phone, Katherine?

  5. I definitely wouldn’t be able to go without my phone AND laptop in one day. I, too, would use the laptop as a loophole.

    Still, it would be interesting to try going one day without the phone, just to break some bad habits. For example, I always read emails or Facebook while eating my breakfast, which I think prolongs breakfast time. And don’t get me started on what a time waster some of the games I have on my phone have been. LOL

    1. We should compare notes on games! They can be very fun time-wasters. So I usually use them as my reward for practicing Spanish. Thanks for stopping by, Phaedra. 😊

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