Self-Control on a Phone

Today I discovered that a lot of people feel alone in how they feel chained, in one way or another, to their phones. I started the fight against that recently and thought my findings might help other people.

I’ve wanted to stop using Slack while at home for a while. Sadly it’s in the “things to check” time-suck life-steal loop (email, work email, slack, discord, twitter, facebook, start again.) I figured the best way to resolve this would be to find one of those things parents put on their kids phones to monitor usage etc, but put it on my phone.

After trying a few of those things I landed on Boomerang, which has the ability to set an allowed schedule (as opposed to simply maximum duration) within a week. I installed it and it works perfectly, though I was hoping for some kind of slightly annoying overide and this can’t be disabled very easily. That’s ok though, if I need to talk on Slack I can use my laptop.

I’m interested in using it to limit Twitter usage too, maybe, though I don’t feel like I go too crazy with Twitter so I’m not at the point where I feel like I should do that.

I wouldn’t have even considered writing a post about this except that I mentioned it to some coworkers over lunch and all of them expressed that they could relate. One of them was surprised that he wasn’t the only one with the issue.

Another (a C level exec at the company) expressed that he’d been working really hard to reduce usage of his phone, sounding like it was bordering on addiction (which really, it is for all of us.) He talked about how similar the tactics are for apps on phones to the tactics game makers use to addict players. I’ve read before that these app makers use the same tactics at casinos who try to keep people gambling.

In any case this is a serious issue that I think many feel powerless to solve and alone in their struggle. Apple and Google have made a tiny bit of progress in building features into the operating systems to help, but I suspect it is against their main directives to solve it well so the features will forever be insufficient to be much help.

I can say that for me at least Boomerang will help break the habit. We’ll see if I keep it after the free trial is over, but the other app limiting abilities are attractive to me. Frustratingly the tool is mainly built for parents and thus requires more tracking than I would rather to even enable schedules of apps. I made a feature requeset but don’t have high hopes that it will get implemented.

To be clear, I don’t actually think that any of this stuff (email, twitter, facebook, etc) are inherently bad. It’s mostly that Slack tends to stress me out and the last thing I need is more stress at home; I already have two small children underfoot, afterall.


Given that this topic is barely technical, I think linking to less technical material is appropriate. First off, as a parent I’ve really appreciated How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Some of it seems obvious to me but there are a lot of things I’ve found helpful with my very small children.

In a similar vein, Crucial Conversations has been helpful both at home and at work in navigating the difficult conversations we have all the time. I highly recommend it.

Posted Thu, Jan 10, 2019

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