I am riding the “what’s my intention” wave. 

I mentioned way back in my 1.48 post, “Social Media with Intention and Awareness,” that I had limited my Instagram usage to an hour a day. I can say that I stick to that about 90% of the time. This small shift to my Instagram use has had great affects my relationship with the app, but I’m now starting to question how technology works in my life in general.

In order to decide what kinds of changes I actually wanted to and would be able to institute in my tech usage, I spent last week reflecting on and collecting data about how I was interacting with the four devices I use the most: my laptop, iPad, iPhone, and AppleWatch. I’m blown away by how much I learned about my relationship with my technology, and I have made some important shifts in my perspective, and thus my actions. Let me walk you through my process, complete with a four-step method you can adopt to use your tech mor intentionally.

What Is Your Relationship? (Numbers)

I utilized a combination of my phone’s Screen Time tracker and reflective journaling throughout my week to track my use of my four devices. 

Screen Time

If you have an iPhone, you can check your usage from the last week in the Screen Time application. This will show you how many times you picked up your phone, what your average daily use of your phone was, how that time breaks down per app, and what apps you used first when you picked up your phone. Here are some of the things I found for the time period of Monday May 13th-Sunday May 20th:

I spent around 2 hours and 44 minutes on my phone each day. I had on average 80 pickups per day (my max was 121 on Thursday). My most “first used after pickup” apps were Messages, Instagram, and Mail. In total, my most used apps throughout the week were Instagram (5 hours (h), 49 minutes (m)), Messages (3h, 52m), Pinterest (1h, 6m), Safari (1h, 4m), Spotify (1h, 4m), and Mail (50m). I also saw which days I used these apps the most, which provided context to help me think about why those days called for more usage than another.

 

What Is Your Relationship? (Reflection)

In order to really understand my relationship with my technology, I had to take a step back and investigate how I currently use my devices and how I feel about that use. To figure this out, I developed and answered nine questions:

  1. What is my relationship with my phone?
  2. What is my relationship with my other technology (watch, laptop, iPad)?
  3. When do my technology tools make me feel stressed out?
  4. How do I feel when I think about not having access to my technology for a week? A day? Half a day? An hour?
  5. What does that teach me?
  6. How do I feel about my use of social media, email, and texting?
  7. What would a healthy relationship with my tech look like?
  8. How does my technology help me?
  9. What would my ideal way to use my technology look like?

I answered these questions in this specific order because I assumed (and I was right) that I would have a “whoa” reaction to my answers to questions 1-6 and that I would answer questions 7-9 to specifically respond to my previous answers.

Notice Patterns

Once you’ve answered the nine questions, look back over your answers and identify any interesting patterns or interesting findings. Here are some of mine:

I have anxiety around being unavailable. I want to be able to step away from my phone/watch and not feel anxious about missing important information. I want to resee my technology as tools that make my life easier, not as things I am beholden to.

Identify Any Changes Yet?

You might have already identified ways you want to change your relationship with your techonology just from answering those nine questions and reflecting on your patterns of behavior and mood. You might also be speculating on new tech use experiments you could try out. Identify and write all of these down under your patterns. Here are some of mine for examples:

  • Should I try taking my email app off my phone? What about not checking it before 9am or after 9pm (maybe 5pm)?
  • I could put on Screen Time limits for certain apps, but I worry I would do microchecks multiple times a day, which doesn’t line up with my goals.
  • I should look at the Do Not Disturb app and see how it works.
  • I should talk to my Sweetie about my anxiety around being unavailable; maybe she has sugestions.
  • Maybe I can leave my phone plugged in and treat it like a landline I have to physically go to if I want to use it? Would this be like “out of sight, out of mind”?
  • Should I limit the times I check social media to X times a day?
  • I should definitely write in a notebook as much as possible and see if I miss typing on the laptop.

Track Your Relationship for a Week

Dedicate a whole week (or another set amount of time) to tracking your relationship with your tech use. Throughout the week, reflect on your actions, emotions, and perspectives on how you’re approaching technology. You can keep track of all of these notes in the same place you used for answering your nine questions.

Here are some of the reflections I wrote in my notebook throughout the week:

Email: I noticed that I immediately went to open my email on my phone in the AM upon waking, so I decided to try not opening it until 9am. I took my email app off the main screen and put it alone on a screen three swipes over. I want to just delete it from my phone entirely, but feel anxious about this (and that itself shows me that I need to ask why I’m anxious and just try it). Do I really want to set a precedent that I respond to work emails after 5pm? What if I only answer and respond at set times a day?

Social media: It’s easy for me to waste time tweaking things like text size on Instagram stories; I need to remember that people just glance at these. I am intentionally breaking my habit of checking Facebook as soon as I open a browser window. I’m thinking about how I should act when I use Instagram as a business tool and when I use Instagram for personal connection, and how I want (or don’t want) those purposes to overlap. While I used to check an Instagram post multiple times after I posted, I am becoming more aware of the “slot machine” function of social media providing us “likes” to keep us on the app as long as possible (Marlee Grace talks about this in her research, and there’s a good Instagram TV episode about it here). This helped me choose to post and walk away. I don’t want to feel chained to social media.

Phone: When my phone is in my hand, I tend to want to check multiple apps. Keeping my phone plugged in and in one place that I need to get up and walk to helps me to be more considerate about how I’m using it. What if I put my phone somewhere that would require me to stand or squat down to use it versus reclining ot sitting? Would I be as likely to be distracted by it? What if I use my “phone box” to store my phone more often?

General reflections: I chose to write in a notebook by hand as often as possible versus defaulting to my iPad or laptop and I really, really liked it. I am trying to resee my tech devices as tools and I want to break addictive habits and instead use them only with intention and awareness. I thought deeply about why particular apps or tools called to me at certain times and places. I noticed how I felt in my mind/body/spirit in those times. I like that I’m developing awareness about what I need to do right now and what can wait until later. Pomodoro really helps me to stay off tech when I don’t need it. I use social media as a distraction when I feel upset: sometimes it’s okay to do this, but I want to be intentionally aware of making that decision.

 

Set New Intential Goals

After a week of reflectively using your technology and taking notes on that process, you’re ready to check in and set some new goals for moving forward with intention. Check your Screen Time for the past week and compare it to the previous check in. What does this tell you? Look back over your notes from the week. What lessons have your learned? What blew you away, disappointed you, or made you feel curious, determined, or proud?

Here’s some of what I learned from my new check in:

  • My use of my phone went down 34% from last week.
  • My pickups per day went down from 80 to 61, with the most “first used after pickup” apps being Messages, Instagram, and Calender.
  • Biggest takeaway? My phone email use went down from 50 minutes to 19 minutes and from 52 pickups to 15 pickups! This shows me that with intention I am able to make meaningful changes to my tech use.

Set New Rules

Make a set of rules for using your techonology tools in the future based on your answers to the previous check in questions. Here are some of the goals I’ve set for myself:

  • Do not check apps or websites or send messages just because I have a device in my hand. Put down my phone when I finish using the intented app and exit out of the internet when I’ve finished searching what I needed to search. Ideally, shut my laptop entirely if I don’t need it at the moment..
  • Keep my phone away from me when I am working. Make it so I have to stand or squat down to use it, so I’ll remember that it’s a tool for usage and not for just browsing aimlessly as procrastination (especially important because I work from home alone a lot, so no one but me is here to hold me accountable).
  • Every time I go to check social media, ask myself what my intention is and choose whether or not it serves me in that moment. If I feel sad and am looking for a distraction, try things like walking the dog, drinking some water, seeking human connection via conversation or a hug, or practicing mindfulness.
  • If at all possible, choose writing by hand in a notebook over writing on a laptop or iPad. I enjoy this so much, and the quality of my thoughts is truly more creative and curious.

 

Use the steps above to develop your own set of rules for using technology with more intention and awareness. Here are those steps condensed for you:

Step 1: Check your numbers

Use the Screen Time app for your smart phone (iPhone has a build in one, and there are a number of free downloadable apps) to examine your usage for the last week or so. Jot down your usage or take a screen shot so you can compare this to future usage. If you’re able to track usage on your other technology, do so, too.

Step 2: Reflect on Your Relationship with Your Tech

Answer the same nine questions I asked myself, and feel free to tweak or add as you like.

  1. What is my relationship with my phone?
  2. What is my relationship with my other technology (watch, laptop, iPad)?
  3. When do my technology tools make me feel stressed out?
  4. How do I feel when I think about not having access to my technology for a week? A day? Half a day? An hour?
  5. What does that teach me?
  6. How do I feel about my use of social media, email, and texting?
  7. What would a healthy relationship with my tech look like?
  8. How does my technology help me?
  9. What would my ideal way to use my technology look like?

Once you answer the questions, reflect on any patterns you identify. If you have any immediate plans for how you want to shift your tech usage, note them!

Step 3: Track Your Usage and Relationship with Your Tech

I suggest doing this for a week so you can see how your usage shifts on days you work and on days you have off. Track your reflections and questions every day. You can do this by having a section for each day’s notes or by separating notes out by each tech tool. I chose the day-by-day option so I could see how the flavor for each day affected my tech use (was I busy? upset? overwhelmed? calm?).

Step 4: Set New Intentional Goals

Once you’ve completed your week of intentional reflection, evaluate your screentime usage and your week’s notes and reflect on differences from the start of the week and the end of the week. Using this data, set new rules and goals for how you want to improve your relationship with your tech use moving forward.

Recommended Reading on Intentional Tech Use

I’m almost done with Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism on Audible, and I’m learning a TON. I’ve implemented some of his suggestions into my tech usage, and I plan to try his month-long “digital declutter” sometime this summer.

Check out Marlee Grace’s IG TV episode “DON’T LET THE APP GET YOU DOWN” and her zine “how a photo and video-sharing social networking service gave me my best friends, true love, a beautiful career, and made me want to die.”

I haven’t read Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing (mainly because I listen to audiobooks and I’ve heard that hers is illustrated so I am waiting on it at my library), but I enjoyed what she shared in her interview on the podcast, Call Your Girlfriend.