Use grayscale and other built-in phone tools to reduce screen time


I’ve lost many Saturdays to long YouTube binges. I would like to joke.

Usually it’s the lovely guys at Sorted Food giving cooking tips. Other times, that waste of time is caused by surprisingly long game reviews or HD video footage somehow pressed onto tapes in the early 90s.

But if it’s not YouTube, it’s drama unfolding on Reddit or a TikTok For You page that continues to serve up the hits. And no matter which app is responsible for catching my attention, the result is usually the same: I come back to the real world a few hours later, wondering where all that precious time has gone.

I’m sure I’m not alone here either – a 2021 survey from the Pew Research Center found that around 30% of adults in the United States said they were online “almost constantly”. Enough, I recently decided.

Both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems come with tools to help reduce our screen time, although they sometimes feel a bit half-baked. Still, they helped me get rid of my phone and explore my new home a bit. Here’s what helped me get away from a world of content when the weekend rolls around.

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By now, it’s become a fairly well-understood trick: forcing your smartphone screen to render things only in shades of gray is meant to dampen the visual stimulus that keeps you coming back for more. And so far it’s worked well for me: streaming shows don’t look great in black and white, and I can’t think too much about Wordle’s guesses from the weekend because I can’t make out a yellow square of a green.

The settings to change from colored to colorless are a little out of the way, but don’t worry, we can set up hotkeys to speed things up.

  • Open the Settings app, then tap Accessibility
  • Under the “Vision” heading, tap Display & text size
  • Find the Color Filters option, tap the toggle to turn it on and select Grayscale

Now all colors should be gone from your iPhone screen. To make it easier to go back and forth, find the Accessibility Shortcut option and select Color Filters – after that, triple-clicking the power button should do the trick.

  • Open the Settings app, then tap Accessibility
  • Under the “Display” heading, tap Text & Display
  • Tap Color Correction and select Grayscale

To enable an on-screen shortcut button, find the color correction shortcut option and enable it. You should see a small colored button that you can move around your screen as needed.

Beyond just making my phone less visually appealing, I also wanted to limit — and sometimes temporarily disable — certain apps that I know I shouldn’t be blowing on Saturday and Sunday.

There are several ways to achieve this on an iPhone, but some of them require you to manually change some settings every time you want to disconnect from the world. It seems a bit too difficult; instead, we’ll tweak the Screen Time and Downtime features of iOS to do most of that work instead.

To start, we need to decide which apps we want (or need) to keep using.

  • Open the Settings app, tap Screen Time and toggle it on if it isn’t already on.
  • Once Screen Time is enabled, tap on the Always Allowed option.
  • Find the apps you want to make sure you always have access to and tap the green button next to their names to add them to the list of allowed apps.

Now you can manually enable and disable Downtime. When running, you will be notified that you have reached your time limit whenever you try to open an app that is not on the allowed list. If you plan to use it mostly on weekends like me, however, we can schedule downtime to run at specific times.

  • In the Screen Time menu, press the Schedule button to activate it
  • Tap Customize Days and set the schedule that works for you

Overall, Screen Time isn’t a perfect system for blocking your impulses; Bypassing an app’s time limit takes just a few clicks, for example. Still, I found that being asked if I’m sure I want to open a certain app gave me just enough time to figure out if I really wanted to or was acting on a time-killing impulse.

If you have an Android phone made within the last four years, it probably has a suite of “digital wellbeing” tools built into it. Fortunately, it is in some ways easier to configure and schedule app limits.

  • Open the Settings app and tap Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls
  • Tap Focus Mode
  • Tap the checkboxes next to each app you want to restrict access to.
  • To set when you want Focus Mode to run, tap Set a schedule at the top of the screen and select the times that work for you

Once Focus Mode is running, you’re essentially kicked out of the app unless you press the button that gives you five more minutes. Again, not a perfect solution, but it’s been helpful for weaning myself off screens when the work week ends.

Note: Some Android phones, like some Samsung Galaxy devices, give you the option to configure multiple focus modes. If you try this feature on weekends like me and enjoy it, it might be worth exploring during the week.

Got a better way to make your phone less distracting? Inform the helpdesk.

What about distraction-free phones?

Over the years, some companies have even tried to fix the problem by building dumb phones by design.

A Swiss boutique hardware company called Punkt makes sleek handsets for calling, texting and using mobile hotspots, but not much else. Then there’s the Light Phone II, a credit card-sized phone with an e-ink display that can still play your podcasts and offer directions.

The idea of ​​a phone that strips out all but the essentials is appealing, at least for a former professional phone nerd like me. But even I couldn’t bring myself to buy any of these things, mainly for one reason: they’re a bit too limit.

None of these distraction-free devices allow you to install additional apps that you can already rely on, which can make them unstarter as people’s only phones. It also doesn’t help that these devices aren’t exactly cheap: the Light Phone II costs $299, while the latest Punkt model starts at $379.

If you’ve got the cash to spare, then sure – maybe one of these would make a great weekend companion. (Some people really like using these minimalist phones as daily drivers, though many can’t turn it around.) But for me, the best play here is using your phone’s built-in tools to cut down on distractions on the right. times and releasing all of its functionality when needed.

Or, you could do what a few of my colleagues have suggested: just leave your phone in a drawer or another room so it doesn’t get stuck on it. You’re a better person than me if you can pull this off.

About Madeline Powers

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