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I remember watching Steve Jobs’s keynote presentation for the original iPhone. I was a Palm Pilot user at the time, and Steve promised the iPhone would be a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), a phone, and an internet communication device all in one. This magical new device would revolutionize our productivity. 

And at first, it did. My first iPhone made me more productive.

But then, along came apps. Apps have a strong financial incentive to make you spend more time using their app. The more time you spend on the app, the more money the app makes.

Soon, user experiences were scientifically optimized to be as addictive as possible. For example, when you log in, Facebook always displays a number in a red bubble to notify you of everything you missed—even if there was nothing really going on. 

Many authors spend hours on their phones every day. The typical American spends 4.5 hours on their phone every day, which means many people spend half a workday staring at a tiny six-inch screen. Before you scoff, check your screen time stats on your phone. You may be stunned to see how much of your world is inside a little screen. 

What are we doing with those hours?

How can you spend less time on your phone and write more?

It’s easier to read an email than it is to write one. It is easier to watch a video than it is to make one. Mindless doom scrolling is easy; thoughtful content creation is hard. 

Writing is hard enough when you are on a laptop. It’s just about impossible when your world has shrunk to a six-inch screen. 

Now that we’ve had smartphones for 16 years, an author’s productive output is inversely correlated with time spent on the phone. Put another way, writers who spend less time on their phones write more books than authors who doom-scroll and complain about writer’s block. 

How do you spend less time on your phone and more time writing? 

Tip #1: Track Your Phone Time

Tracking your screen time use is easy on Android and iPhone. I get a weekly report saying how much time I’ve spent on my phone. 

What gets measured gets managed. 

Tip #2: Combine Phone Goals With Writing Goals

Many authors have writing goals, such as a daily word count or daily writing time goal. I recommend combining those with your daily phone time goal. You will find it much easier to hit your writing goals if you simultaneously spend less time on your phone.

Do you have a writing accountability buddy? Start sharing your phone time numbers as well as your word counts.   

Tip #3: Silence Notifications

Your phone is so addictive partly because it pesters you to pick it up throughout the day. Email, social media, alerts, badges, and other sounds, dings, and beeps are designed to interrupt you.

You should decide when you use an app. The app should not be able to interrupt you. Email should never ding on your computer or your phone. You decide when to open your email app.

A writer needs to concentrate, and you can’t concentrate when your phone is constantly dinging. Your phone is not your boss; you’r the boss of your phone.

Tip #4: Buy Real Things

Having a real alarm clock keeps you from needing your phone beside your bed. Smart alarm clocks(affiliate link) allow you to set an alarm by saying, “Wake me up at 6:45 AM.”

Having a real calculator at your desk keeps you from needing to use your phone.  

Tip #5: Get a Phone Box

Putting your phone in a box for a time forces you to get away from it. This can be as simple as a plastic shoebox or as sophisticated as a timed box. If I don’t get my phone back for an hour, I might as well write. 

Tip #6: Switch Your Phone to Grayscale

The tip that inspired this episode is setting my phone to grayscale. I did this last week, and it has been a game changer for me. The grayscale setting removes all the color from your screen.

A visual signal that the phone world is not the real world. 

What I love about grayscale mode is that it visually signals that the phone world is not the real world. While it’s obvious that what’s on the screen is just a digital world, spending four hours on the phone every day can make it feel very real. This can lead to delusions and other problems, which I have personally experienced.

Vibrant, saturated colors are rare in nature and naturally draw the eye, pulling you in. That’s why flowers are so beautiful and inviting.

There aren’t many things in nature with the red of a rose, but on your phone, that red can be as common as you want it to be. Those vibrant, saturated colors are everywhere on your phone, making the digital world feel more real and vibrant than the real world. This creates a cycle of addiction that pulls you in. Studies show that Americans are spending more time on their phones every year.

Creates a longing for real-world color. 

Switching your phone to grayscale makes it feel more like paper and more artificial. It creates a longing for real-world color. Since I switched my phone to grayscale, I’ve found myself spending more time outside, working out more, and moving more.

It’s made me a better person, which doesn’t make sense because it seems like such a minor change. The content is still there, so rationally, I should be spending just as much time on my phone as before. Yet, somehow, I’m spending less time on it. I can see it in my usage tracking.

Evidence of Color Saturation

The current big trend in fashion and interior design is what critics call “sad beige.” Beige decor, beige clothes, beige toys. When you are bombarded by vibrant colors on your phone for four hours every day, you naturally want your home to be a colorless backdrop for your life in the digital world. 

Once I switched my phone to grayscale, suddenly, I crave more color in my real life. 

How to Switch Your Phone to Grayscale

photo of phone displaying in grayscale, a setting to help you spend less time on your phone

To switch your phone to grayscale, go to Settings, then Accessibility. If you can’t find the setting, a quick Google search will point you in the right direction. Just search, “Where is the grayscale setting on iPhone (or Android)?”

You’ll also want to turn on high contrast mode. It makes the phone a bit easier to use in grayscale mode, but the combination of grayscale and high contrast will help you realize that this world—this sixth-sense world—is not real. It will create a desire in you for real things, and that can really make a difference.

Tip #7: Set App Limits

Setting time limits on apps works for some people, but I found it to be completely ineffective for me. On the iPhone, you simply type your pin to get 15 more minutes, and the “limit” did not change my behavior at all, whereas switching to grayscale did.

Tip #8: Remove Addictive Apps

Removing addictive apps is a surefire way to ensure you’re not wasting time on them.

The core apps that come with your phone, such as your calendar and email, are productivity apps. These apps are not particularly addictive and encourage you to do work and stay productive. However, in the 15 years since you first got your phone, you have installed many other apps, many of which are highly addictive.

The most addictive categories of apps are those whose primary interface involves scrolling through content, such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. These “doom-scrolling” apps are very addictive and detrimental to your mental health and productivity.

Another type of addictive app is any game with real-world timers and notifications, for example, games that remind you that four hours have passed since you last played, and you can get more gold coins if you open the game again. These games are harmful to your productivity and aren’t even real games since they don’t require talent; you can win by spending money or time.

I recommend uninstalling these types of apps, along with any app you haven’t used in a month.

When in doubt, uninstall. Reinstalling an app is easy.

Tip #9: Install Deep Apps

With all that freed-up space on your phone, you can install deep apps.

Deep apps are non-addictive and add value or substance to your life, allowing you to have the meaningful content experience your phone was originally intended for. These include podcast apps, audiobook apps, and ebook apps. Unlike addictive doom-scrolling apps, deep apps enrich your life.

Reading an ebook in grayscale mode is like reading a regular paper book.

Tip #10: Find Things to Say Yes To 

Saying no to a bad behavior is not enough. If you don’t replace that bad behavior with a good behavior, your phone addiction will only get worse. Consider replacing your time-wasting habits with the following more productive habits.

Switch Screens

Switching your screen time from your phone to your laptop can be transformational. The phone is primarily a consumption device. The laptop is a creation device, and its design invites you to lean forward and make something. A phone’s design invites you to lean back and consume the creation of others. 

You may switch screens for work, but you can also switch screens for play. Watching something with my wife on the TV is more enjoyable than watching something alone on my phone. Playing a PC game with my brothers is more fun than playing an iPhone game alone. 


The typical talking speed is between 110 and 150 words per minute, which is anywhere from 6,600 to 9,000 words per hour. If you spent an hour every day dictating your book rather than doom-scrolling, you would have roughly 50,000 words drafted by the end of the week.

That is a NanNoWriMo’s worth of writing in a week, and it only costs you one hour per day of time-wasting apps. If you currently spend four hours on your phone every day, you could still have three hours to cuddle your phone and write a new rough draft every week!

Apple’s dictation tool comes with your phone. Authors who use their phones to dictate their books rather than doom-scrolling can often write a book a month. 

Your phone is just a tool you can use for good.

Deep Learning

You can also boost your productivity by using your phone for deep learning. Audiobooks, courses, and podcasts all provide an opportunity to learn. If you spend an hour a day using your phone for deep learning, you can master so many subjects.

This is how I try to use my phone. Most of my recent knowledge comes from engaging with long-form educational content on my phone. 

This is episode 420 of the Novel Marketing podcast. At this point, we have episodes on just about every aspect of publishing and marketing your book. People who binge the Novel Marketing podcast often go on to have productive writing careers or leverage their knowledge to get a job in the industry. 

How about you? 

I spend more time on my phone than I would like. 

So, let me ask you: What tips do you have for limiting phone use? How do you maintain a healthy relationship with your phone? Leave a comment below this episode or on, and let me know what you think.

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