You’ve had all you can take from your smartphone.
Every day, it causes you grief.
The digital clutter makes finding what you need stressful, it always seems to beep and vibrate when you’re trying to concentrate, and it’s even brought about an addictive need to constantly be checking it even when you know there’s little worth checking.
You may have even thought about getting rid of it and not having a smartphone at all.
That would certainly solve some of your problems. But in a world where smartphones are genuinely useful in many ways and are found absolutely everywhere, it’s easier said than done.
What you really want is to be able to use your smartphone in ways that bring you value while at the same time, eliminating the stress that comes from being constantly connected.
If this describes you, then I’d like to share with you a system you can use to simplify your smartphone.
While this approach is a little unconventional, here’s what you can expect from your smartphone if you apply it;
• The apps you use most will be easier to get to
• The effort required to organise your apps will reduce to practically nothing
• Using your smartphone on the move will be easier
• The amount of distractions you deal with will be reduced
So if you’re ready to make your smartphone simpler, let’s begin.
Note: While I use an iPhone, most of this should apply to Android as well.
Step 1: Remove what you don’t use
Take a look through the apps on your phone for a moment.
Are there any that you haven’t used within the last thirty days? Are there any that you’ve never used at all?
Having excess apps not only takes up storage space, but it often makes it difficult to find the apps you’re actually looking for. While this may seem like a small problem, mentally it can be burdening and stressful.
Go through your apps and delete anything that you haven’t used in the last thirty days.
You’ll not only free up storage space, but you’ll likely feel relieved with having less things to organise.
If there’s any part of you that’s uncomfortable doing this because you feel you might need certain apps someday, here are some things to keep in mind;
• If you haven’t used an app in the last thirty days, chances are slim that you’ll use it in the next thirty days
• Many of your accounts can always be accessed through the web (safari, chrome, firefox, etc)
• You can always download apps again if you happen to need them in the future
(Don’t worry too much about the apps you don’t use that can’t be deleted. We’ll deal with those soon enough.)
Step 2: Identify what you use most
Now that you’ve removed the apps you rarely use, let’s move over to the apps that you use all the time.
While you may use a great number of apps, chances are the apps you used most are only a small handful. Therefore, it makes sense to put them in the easiest place to reach.
Find the four apps you use the most and move them to the bottom row of your home screen. If your smartphone has quite a big screen, this should make your best apps easily reachable even when holding it with one hand.
Of course, if the number of apps you use most is less than four, that’s fine too.
Tip: If you’re having trouble figuring out which apps you use most, try opening up your battery settings and see which apps are consuming the most power. This might give some insights into what you tend to use most (as well as what you might want to use less).
Step 3: Hide what you use less often
Now that you’ve identified the apps you use most (the ones that you placed on the bottom row of your home screen), it’s time to do a quick clear out.
Take all of your remaining apps (the ones you use less often) and place them in a single folder. Every single one of them.
Don’t worry too much about organsing this folder. When we’re finished, you won’t ever have to open it anyway. (If you’re using an Android phone you shouldn’t have to do this as your apps will likely be in tucked away in the App Drawer anyway.)
Once all your remaining apps are in this folder, drag them to the right onto a separate home screen so that they’re out of sight and out of mind.
Your home screen should now be completely clear, leaving only the few apps you use most often.
Step 4: Use search to find what you need
With the rest of your apps hidden away a single disorganised folder, you may wonder what you’re supposed to do when you actually need them.
The answer: search for them.
Whenever you’re on your home screen, swipe straight down to open Spotlight Search. Spotlight Search can be used to find not only the apps you’re looking for, but also the content within them.
For example, instead of trawling through your contacts to find the person you want to call, you can simply search the persons name and Spotlight will give you the options to reach them (as long as their details are saved in your contacts).
One thing that’s worth mentioning, is that if this is your first time using Spotlight Search, chances are you’ll get an abundance of results most of which are likely irrelevant to what you’re looking for (such as films or news articles from the web).
For some, this won’t be a big deal. But if you find it to be confusing or overwhelming, fear not for there is a way to simplify your search results.
First open Settings > General > Spotlight Search
If you want to keep your search strictly for content on your phone, uncheck the following boxes;
• Suggestions in Search
• Suggestions in Look Up
If you’re still getting a lot of irrelevant results for your searches, the next step is to prevent Spotlight from searching the apps you don’t want it to search
In Spotlight Search settings, uncheck the individual apps that you don’t want to be searched. Remember that this does not prevent you from finding the app with search, only the content inside it.
You may find yourself having to make little tweaks and adjustments along the way, but eventually you should be able to reach the vast majority of what you’re looking for all within Spotlight without having to trawl through dozens of icons.
Beyond its convenience, another massive benefit off using search is that it helps you to use your smartphone more mindfully.
So often, we unlock our phones purely out of habit without any conscious intention of what we plan to do with it. Usually from here, we’ll follow our habits and touch the apps that we’re most addicted too.
I used to do exactly the same thing.
Now, when I unlock my phone out of habit and see the near blank home screen, I stare for a few seconds thinking what I wanted to do with my device. No thoughts come to mind, no words I can think to search for.
I then lock my phone, put it away and get back to enjoying the moment.
Step 5: Make your phone easier to use on the move
Back when mobile phones used buttons, they were arguably much easier to use on the move. The buttons would allow you to feel what you were doing and you didn’t always need to be looking at your phone.
Touch screens on the other hand aren’t as generous. You can’t always feel what you’re doing and you almost always have to be looking at it.
This makes them difficult devices to use on the move while at the same time considering safety.
While the widget screen may not be the most prominent feature of iOS, it can actually be very useful for displaying certain information and functions when you need to access them quickly.
Although I try not to look at my phone at all when walking, I also appreciate that there certain situations where the need to use your phone on the move is inevitable.
In my experience, this is what the widget screen in iOS is best for. It’s quick and many things can be accessed without having to unlock your phone.
Note: This tip applies to walking and I certainly would recommend using your phone while driving. It’s dangerous to yourself and others and it’s also illegal in most countries.
Step 6: Schedule your boundaries
One of the greatest drawbacks of a device that’s constantly connected, is that it creates a false impression that you are available and willing to be contacted at all hours of the day.
If you’re like me, having somebody contact you during time you like to spend resting, playing or just being alone can be extremely stressful.
Thankfully, most smartphones have a Do Not Disturb feature that makes preventing this easy.
On an iPhone, when this feature is active, only contacts who are listed in your favourites will be able to call you and all other numbers will go to voicemail. Not only that, notifications are silenced so you’re far less likely to have your phone beeping and vibrating during your leisure time.
My personal preference is to schedule Do Not Disturb to activate at 8PM and to deactivate at 8AM the following morning.
But feel free to choose your own schedule for the hours that you do not wish to be contacted. There’s plenty of time in the day for people contact you. Your leisure time is your own.
Step 7: Reduce your notifications
Push notifications are possibly the most distracting thing created in the last ten years.
Sometimes you can be notified for something totally insignificant such as a Facebook ‘like’.
Fortunately, there are ways to disable notifications like these and reduce the amount of distractions your phone throws at you.
First, you’ll want to find the apps that are bombarding you with notifications and adjust the notification settings within the app itself so that it only notifies you of something you find important.
Once you’ve reduced the amount of incoming notifications, you can take it one step further by adjusting your phone’s notification settings so that even when you do receive them, they’re less likely to be so distraction.
Here are my preferences for dealing with notifications;
• Phone calls and text messages – All notifications allowed as these have a little more urgency
• Email – No notifications at all and I check my inbox once a day
• Instant messaging apps – Notifications on the lock screen and notification centre are allowed. Badge icons disabled.
• Social media apps – All notifications disabled. (It’s rare that I ever use social media these days)
• Productivity apps – Generally all notifications allowed.
Step 8: Be mindful of your screen time
While smartphones have the potential to make your life simpler, studies suggest that excessive exposure to screens can cause headaches, eye strain, narrowed vision and can impact the quality of your sleep.
You want your smartphone (as well as every device you use) to bring you the most value while at the same time minimising any health risks they may pose. If most of your waking hours are spent staring into screens (whether for work or for play), it’s important to be mindful of your screen time and reduce it if you feel it’s effecting your health.
My favourite way to do this, is to listen to audiobooks. If audiobooks aren’t your thing, you can also listen music or podcasts.
Not all entertainment must take place through screens, and audio can be just as engaging. It can also be a much healthier thing to do in the evening just before you go to bed as opposed to watching TV until you dose off.
One of the things I love most about audio entertainment, is that it gives your mind the opportunity to imagine, an exercise that has been largely taken away from us through television and film.
Use your smartphone with intention
Your smartphone is a device that has great potential to simplify your life.
Thanks to my smartphone;
• I no longer have to own certain physical things yet I still reap the benefits of having them
• I no longer have to carry paper other documents around with me because I can access them from my smartphone
• I can be productive or entertain myself no matter where I happen to be
But in order for your smartphone to bring you such value, you must use it with intention.
If you have a habit of unlocking your phone out of habit and addiction, you need to stop.
If you spend hours consuming time wasting content that makes you feel numb inside, you need to stop.
And if you feel a wave of anxiety and discomfort hit you every time you’re away from your smartphone for just a few minutes, something needs to change.
Setting up your phone in this way should help you reduce this.
If you find out this approach is not for you, that’s fine. You can simply go back to what you’re used to or find another approach.
But if you decide to stick with it, it may be one of the biggest things you do to simplify your digital space.
Craig Link is a minimalist and technology enthusiast with a passion for finding and sharing practical ways to live a simpler life with more time, money and energy for what’s most important to you.