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3 Creative Ways To Redefine Your Phone Habits & Combat The Mindless Scroll

Marlee Grace
Updated on August 21, 2019
Marlee Grace
Written by
Image by @elisall / twenty20
August 21, 2019

Happy first day of Scorpio season! Welcome to the watery tides of autumn. As we delve into these seasons of change, what better time than now is there to do a deep reflection on what's getting in the way of nourishment?

It has been my experience that my work and my life is greatly affected by my phone, and I'm always considering how to mend my social media relationship. It is my hope that some of these tactics will help you put down your work and quell the obsession, the forever comparison, the mindless scroll. It is my hope that you take radical care of yourself—not just for the sweetness of a hot bath but so that you can be strong and malleable in an attempt to show up to the movements, people, and communities who need us most.

Be gentle to yourself, be soft with your love, and be strong with the way you fight. Sign off to sign in, sign in to make waves, and ride the waves to sign off. 

Get rid of apps.

No apps. Delete all apps. Even if it's just for the day. Or for a week. Do not have a Facebook app on the phone. You truly do not need this. You might want it, but let Facebook be the one social media thing you just do on a damn computer. Let's collectively allow ourselves the time and space to wait and do the thing later.

A note on apps and travel: Sometimes it is better to work smarter, not harder, when you are traveling. If this is the case, by all means have the Facebook app on your phone. But if you are experiencing a typical workweek with access to your browser, I would say delete the app.

A note on weather and maps: Geoffrey Holstad, a designer at Patagonia, facilitator of the Cabin-Time creative residency and deep inspirational friend, suggested to me to have only the weather app and Google Maps available—so if you want a true social media detox, this is an option.

Create a phone box.

This is an idea borrowed from my incredible friend and publisher Caroline Paquita. Get a box. It can be really simple. A shoe box works, but it's fun to get like a really beautiful wooden box or a plain box that you collage or paint or something. Make it a temple. Not a temple for the phone but a temple for your spirit, which will have a lighter load upon using the phone box.

You decide how long you'd like to not look at your phone. I like to go longer than feels comfortable. Let's start with three hours. It's OK if you've literally never gone three hours without looking at your phone. Let's try it.

Put the phone in the phone box. Now go do something: work, write, walk, all of the above. Whatever makes you feel alive. Use it as a break from talking to people. You don't have to have a real or deep or meaningful reason for using the phone box. When it's time, it's time. Or when it doesn't feel like it's time, this could also be a really great time.

Stick to your time. Don't take the phone out of the box until it is time to take the phone out of the box.

This in many ways reminds me of the Miranda July short film A Handy Tip for the Easily Distracted, in which she puts all of her technology under bowls and then holds a white dress she loves hostage by placing a shallow pan of grape juice on it. It might feel wild to have come so far that you need a box. This is OK. This is OK. This is the world we live in, and it's OK to need a box for your phone.

App suggestions.

It might seem counterintuitive to use an app to moderate your phone usage, but these are some I have found to be useful:


Moment is a free app that tracks your screen time, how many times you pick up your phone in a day, and how much time you spend using each app. It's terrifying. And it's totally beautiful. It can be really surprising to see how many hours a bunch of five-minute scrolls and two-minute texting bouts add up to. You get to set your goal for how much screen time you'd like to use in a day, and it makes you a nice chart so that you can see if you've gone over or not. Green for great job, yellow for close, and red for going over. Do you go on red every single day? That's OK, but maybe make your screen time allowance bigger and work down from there. Let yourself see some green.

It's not meant to punish you. It's meant to be information. This is all just information. What you do with it is a process, and it is gentle, and it is soft, and it is OK if some days you hit six hours. Or maybe that's a lot, but maybe that day you wrote a book on your phone.

Navigating all of this is so incredibly personal. But if you are really struggling, that is OK.


This is another app with which you can have a free trial (again, lots of free options—but this could be good for some). You can block apps from your phone for anywhere from an hour to 24 hours! Super helpful. It also blocks you from going into your phone web browser. Because we have all had that moment when we've deleted an app and then just gone to its website...


This is an app for your computer, and it has been my go-to for almost a decade. SelfControl lets you make a list of websites you don't want to be able to access on your computer while you are working, like seriously blocks you so hard. It feels great to know I can be working in Google Docs and Gmail but have no access to Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

This one feels especially important because even when I get my phone out of the room or turn it off, I often have so many emails and so much writing to do that they weigh on me and I wind up distracting myself online. I think sometimes I get afraid I will just get sucked into an internet vortex, so I don't even want to try to sit down and work. I have an inner voice named Roger that tells me I will fail before I even start based on previous experiences of failing often. This is usually the moment he makes a grand entrance.

ROGER IS NOT RIGHT. Knowing these distractions are blocked makes it easier to try again and put Roger in his place. Thank the inner voice for its noticing of your patterns, download this free tool, and show up in a better and brighter way.

Turn it off.

The app that came before all others—the off button. Seriously, just turn your phone off. It will feel great. Better yet, turn it off and put it in your car in the driveway.

Excerpted and adapted from How to Not Always Be Working: A Toolkit for Creativity and Radical Self-Care by Marlee Grace, available today.

Marlee Grace author page.
Marlee Grace

Marlee Grace (Instagram: @marleegrace) is an improviser and writer living on the rural coast of California. She has been profiled by the New York Times and tours the country giving workshops on work-life balance and creativity. She works with improvisation as a method for navigating being alive and making work through dancing, quilting, writing, and podcasting. Marlee also runs a community space and public studio in Inverness, CA called CENTER (Instagram: @___center___).