Productivity Hack: How I stopped my phone from controlling me

Sophia Yang, Ph.D.
4 min readFeb 12, 2022
Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Do you spend too much time on your phone and wish you would stop? Yep, that’s me. I check my phone all the time and I’m on my phone when I’m working, eating, sleeping, and even exercising. I know I have to make a change and take control of my life from my phone. I tried the various methods and I’d like to share with you my journey towards a more productive life.

You may just wonder: great, it’s just another story of someone who doesn’t have any self-control. Well, I do have a Ph.D., so I can assure you that I have some basic level of self-control. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my Ph.D., I guess! So I think it’s something more than merely a self-control issue.

  • We are fighting against algorithms and mental stimulations that are designed to provide us immediate gratification and to get us hooked. Engineers and data scientists like me run thousands of experiments every day, just to get people’s attention and time.
  • As you can probably tell, it takes a lot of effort to fight against those carefully crafted temptations. Research shows that “willpower is not an unlimited resource. Resisting repeated temptations takes a mental toll.” Other research shows that even having a phone nearby can reduce our mental capacity because of the cognitive cost of avoiding temptations.
  • In addition, the pandemic reduces our real-life human interactions and forces us to rely on social media to feel connected with people. I have a desire to connect with people and the world, and my phone is one of my very limited options.

Knowing myself, I know I needed some tools and methods to help me overcome the temptations of using my phone without using up my willpower.

Phone timer lockbox

Image by author

Let’s start with the most extreme I have tried — a phone timer lockbox. I have to tell you that this tool is a lifesaver. During my work hours, I set it up for 2-hour chunks during the day because I occasionally need my phone for authentication. After work, I set up a timer until the next morning. During the weekend, I would…