The NoSurf Smartphone Guide is a way to set up your phone so that you have all the essential conveniences of modern life such as Google Maps, Uber, Venmo etc. while reducing or eliminating the effects of addictive time sinks and mindless distractions such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. The methods outlined in this post have helped me cut my smartphone phone time by more than half, from an average of 3-4 hours a day down to about 1.5 hours a day.

I’ve divided this post into two parts. Part 1 is for those who want to adopt a mindfulness based approach to smart phone use. Part 2 is for those who would like to go completely minimalist with their use.

The steps in part 1 mainly focus on eliminating triggers and making your phone easier to moderate.

Part 2 will allow you to flat out block anything on your phone that you don’t want to have access to. It allows you to design a system which creates constraints on your devices so that all your use is positive use. Once you set up the system, you’ll never have to try and moderate yourself again, the system does the work for you.

Part 1

Step 1: Track Your Time

I recommend getting some baseline statistics on how much time you spend on your phone and how many times you unlock it. When you implement the later steps, you should see these numbers start to go down. Once they’re at a normal level, you can let these apps run in the background and check in every once in a while to see that you’re on track.

Step 2: Do Not Disturb

Every iPhone and most new Android devices come with do not disturb mode. Do not disturb mode allows you to set up a schedule where notifications are automatically silenced. You can configure it so that the people in your life who are important, family, significant others etc. can reach you.

  • For iPhone got to Settings then General then Do Not Disturb Mode
  • Set it to run via schedule
  • Turn allow second calls from the same caller off
  • Add contacts who should be allowed to reach you
  • Set it to turn on automatically while driving
  • Turn it on manually when working

On Android the process will be similar but will vary depending on which phone you have

Step 3: Set up NightShift or install Twilight

The better you sleep the more willpower you have. So you definitely don’t want your smartphone emitting melatonin blocking blue light at night.

  • On iPhone go to Settings then General then turn on Night Shift
  • Android: Install Twilight

Step 4: Stop Syncing Email & Set A Schedule

Most of the mail you get on a daily basis is completely meaningless. Cut down on the “busy work” and get back to real work.

  • On iPhone, change your email settings from Push to Fetch
  • On Android, turn off Account Syncing

These steps ensure that you have to manually refresh to check email. This tiny amount of effort slowly reduces total number of email checks everyday and ensures that you’ll check when you really need to.

Also consider abandoning email on the phone altogether and using a service like Inbox When Ready. This allows you to batch your emails so that they’re all delivered at a specific interval, like once every hour.

Step 5: Go Gray

Our brains love bright and shiny things. By turning your screen to black and white you make your phone boring.

iPhone:

  • Enter Settings then General then Accessibility
  • Select Display Accommodations then set Color Filters to Off
  • Go back to Accessibility and scroll all the way down to Accessibility Shortcut. Select Color Filters
  • Now by tapping the home button three times you can toggle grayscale on and off.

Android:

  • Enter Settings then scroll down to the bottom and select About Phone
  • Press Build Number 7 times
  • This should enable Developer Mode
  • Return to Settings and scroll down to the newly enabled Developer Options
  • Select Hardware Accelerated Rendering then Monochromacy

Step 6: Group Chats

Group chats are a great way to stay in touch with friends. They’re also really easy ways to get sucked into meaningless discussions.

  • Keep them on silent
  • Turn off notifications except for direct mentions with the “@” symbol.

Step 7: Manually Turn Off Notifications & Eliminate The Visual Cue

Notifications aren’t just harmless annoyances to swipe away. They’re how companies train you to use their app. You definitely want to eliminate all notifications from social media apps if you insist on using them.

Note: optimal notification settings will vary based on app. For some apps I turn off all notifications. For others, I selectively turn on some notifications and others off.

  • Go into iPhone and Android notifications settings and turn off notifications for individual apps
  • On iPhone, open Settings then select Notifications.
  • Turn off “banner” notifications, the ones that pop up while you’re in another app.
  • For some apps, consider turning off the badge icons, the red notifications on the corner of apps are a powerful trigger.
  • Move apps into a folder far away
  • Put your phone somewhere you can’t see or reach easily

Part 2

The advice in the previous sections are for people who want to maintain some level of connection. If you want to take a bit more minimalist approach and really cut down on screen time I recommend doing the following. It prevents you from engaging in ANY and ALL mindless browsing.

Step 8: Identify Tools, Delete Distractions

There a few apps that make life easier or solve a problem. Then there apps that cause mindless browsing and compulsive checking. Keep the former and delete the latter.
Install tools like:

  • Google Maps
  • Uber
  • Yelp
  • HeadSpace
  • Banking App

Delete or disable:

  • Social Media
  • Games
  • Web Browsers
  • News Apps
  • Video Streaming Apps

Step 9: Lock Yourself Out With Software

Lock yourself out so that even if you are tempted you can’t access the apps you know you shouldn’t be using.
Prerequisite: You need a friend to set a PIN or passcode for you and then write it down somewhere they won’t forget. You’ll need to get back in your phone occasionally to update your apps or install new ones.

iPhone

  • Go to Settings then General then Restrictions
  • Get friend to enter PIN and save it
  • Disable Safari, News, Apple News, and the App Store
  • Also disable anything else you want to

Android

  • Install AppLock by DoMobileLab
  • Enter the app and set an unlock pattern when prompted
  • Once inside select “Advanced Protection” to install
  • Enter settings again and change from an unlock pattern to a numeric password
  • Have your friend enter the password
  • Lock Chrome, Google System, YouTube etc. (Only 5 locks for free version)

Step 10: Lock Yourself Out With Hardware

This is my kSafe. It’s a cool little device that let’s me lock up my smartphone when I need a break. All you do is turn the dial to set a time. Then place your phone in and hit lock. The kSafe will now lock up your device until the timer runs out. It’s meant for use with junk food but I found it works just as well for smartphones. It’s a bit pricey but if you’re a student or a professional it’ll pay for itself in less than a week.

Hope you guys found these tips useful. Also feel free to share any tips you guys have too!

Hi I’m Nik Kochath. I like write things on the internet for people who want to spend less time on the internet. Some people say this is ironic. Others say it’s genius. If you’re in the latter, feel free to check out my full archive.