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How Do You Actually Reduce Smartphone Screen Time?

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Tech Lockdown Team
Updated March 19, 2024

Reducing screen time is often a goal that many people have at some point, but few are able to practically achieve it.

Not all Screen Time increasing activities are made equal: the problem is that people end up getting trapped in an endless cycle compulsively checking social media, email, posting updates, or other high-dopamine activities.

These kinds of activities reduce your attention span, and ultimately causing you to be less present with your friends, loved ones, or even yourself. 

We’ve spent countless hours learning the inner-workings of the modern smartphone to help people set up restrictions that allow them to break addictions.

This guide will walk you through practical steps that you can take to effectively reduce Smartphone screen time. 

Make Your Phone Less Appealing 

This is probably not a piece of advice you expected - but it's important. Dopamine is very easily triggered by bright colors, pop-ups, and notifications. Taking steps to make your smartphone less appealing can reduce the rewards your brain would normally get and start a proper dopamine detox.

Customize (or block) App Notifications

Depending on whether you have an Android or iPhone device, you might have a slightly different way to do this. You can usually find notification options in your phone's settings or by selecting the options for a notification where it is received.

We recommend only enabling notifications for critical apps. Instagram is not a critical app!

As an example, iPhone has notification settings for each installed app .

And on Android, you can also customize App notifications :

Enable Grayscale Mode

Grayscale is admittingly quite boring - so enable it! Bright and flashy icons, videos, and thumbnails are a lot less effective as a result.

You can search your smartphone's settings for "Grayscale." Both iPhone and Android support grayscale mode.

Make Apps Difficult to Find

Hide apps that you still need to have installed - such as a content filter .

Some smartphones allow you to hide installed apps from your phone's home screen, and you can usually change these under Settings.

With Android phones, you can take this a step further by using a minimalist App Launcher to use text instead of icons to represent your apps. Finding an app that isn't pinned will require you to search for it.

You can do something similar on iPhone as well by customizing app preferences so that they don't show up on home screen, app suggestions, or even in search.

This means that you have to put effort into finding these apps, which is ideal for reducing your screen time. 

Learn more about how to do this in our iPhone dumb phone guide .

Clear out your App List

The next step is to uninstall apps that you don't absolutely need. Most games, video streaming services, and other entertainment apps fall under this category. 

Another way to think about this is to find the apps that actively waste the most time. Both iPhone and Android smartphones let you track how much Screen Time you've spend sorted by app or category

If you have an iPhone, you can use the Screen Time feature to track app usage stats .

For Android users, you can use the Digital Wellbeing settings. 

Use a Browser to Access Apps

Instead of downloading apps from the App Store, try accessing the mobile version through the web browser on your phone.

This increases the "friction" required to access the app and can reduce the intrusiveness of those apps.

For example, if you use the Brave Browser to access in your browser, you'll notice that it blocks ads on YouTube if you have the "shields up" mode enabled:

You also won't have to deal with suggested video notifications, which is one less app that you have to customize notifications for!

Set App Time Limits

If you've ever had roommates, you know that it's important to establish some ground rules for your guests. Take this same idea and apply it to your smartphone.

iPhone offers plenty of tools for you to set daily app limits or a scheduled downtime with Screen Time. Android users also have the option set a bedtime or other focus features with Digital Wellbeing

If you find that you are compulsively overriding Screen Time, ask a partner to set the pin used to manage your Screen Time. Or, if you don't have a partner who can assist, use a pin that you won't easily remember and store it using a password manager or in a physical safe.

Schedule Screen Downtime

If you find that you are using your phone late at night, we suggest enforcing screen time downtime.

There are several ways to do this and we recommend combining these methods.

Limit Smartphone Features on a Schedule

Using the parental controls features on smartphones, like Apple Screen Time, you can schedule smartphone downtime which allows you to only allow critical apps or features on your phone while excluding everything else.

Search for "Downtime" in your phone's settings to customize this.

Schedule Internet Downtime

Another effective way to reduce screen time is by scheduling your internet to turn off at night so that you can't use WiFi or your phone's roaming internet. Learn more about how to automatically  turn off your internet at night

Block YouTube Thumbnails

You can also limit some kinds of content within apps and websites to reduce the associated dopamine.

For example, YouTube "clickbait" thumbnails can keep you in an endless cycle of browsing videos. Removing thumbnails makes YouTube less interesting!

In order to block YouTube thumbnails , you will need to be using a DNS filter to block online content. This filter could be set up on your smartphone device or on your home network.

Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Create and enforce a Content Policy on all your devices.

Use Facebook Messenger instead of the normal Facebook App

If you have a lot of friends or family who use Facebook, you might try using the Facebook Messenger app, since it's more focused on chat features and doesn't provide you with access to the social feeds.

Go Further with a "Dumb" Smartphone

If you want to prevent yourself from getting around the restrictions that you set up for yourself, you should consider going further with this setup by removing some of your smartphone features in a more enforceable way. Check out our dumb phone guide to learn more.

Go Beyond Beyond Basic Blocking

Elevate your content blocking and bypass prevention.