Your smartphone is a window into an endless supply of games, movies, thought-provoking articles, social media posts, music, literature, art, and everything else you can find on the web or through an app. It’s no wonder we’re now checking our phones more than 50 times a day.
The sheer amount of time we spend with our devices is a good reason to ask if all this information and distraction is actually good for us. Even Apple and Google now offer tools designed to help us take a break—to rest our eyes and minds, and to focus on something that isn’t a small, glowing, rectangular screen.
Google just pushed out six different apps for cultivating a healthier relationship with your phone and other companies and manufacturers are following suit. It might sound counterproductive, but these are the best tools and apps you can install on your smartphone to get you to spend less time on it.
Kudos to the person who thought up the idea behind Paper Phone, because it’s crazy enough to work. Instead of taking your phone out with you for the day, this experimental Google app lets you print out a paper substitute with all the contacts, notes, maps, and appointments you’re going to need. And that’s it—that’s your phone for the day.
You’ll get some cool extras too, such as puzzles to complete on your new paper phone and a handful of foreign language words and phrases that could help you on a vacation or a business trip.
None of us are seriously going to be able to live like this every day, and printing out your daily needs may not be the most eco-friendly move—but Paper Phone works better than you might think, and really makes you consider what you actually need from your phone and what you can live without. Definitely one to try every so often.
Paper Phone is free for Android.
This is another experimental app from Google and yet another intriguing idea. Post Box manages all the notifications coming into your phone, retains them, and delivers them only one to four times each day. You can review your notifications inside Post Box, too, so you won’t waste time idly browsing around inside apps.
It’s a weird feeling at first, not knowing whether people are trying to contact you or not, but we’ve found Post Box to be really effective. You might be surprised at just how many non-urgent pings and pop-ups show up on your phone screen every day, each one temporarily distracting you from what you’re really supposed to be doing.
This app is definitely not for everyone, it’s still only an experimental app for now—you can’t customize which notifications show up, which would be useful for important contacts and emergencies. But even in its current prototype form, Post Box’s drastic approach can reset your relationship with your smartphone.
Post Box is free for Android.
Space is a suite of tools for monitoring and managing your smartphone usage—it lets you set limits including how much time you spend on your device and how many times you unlock it a day, then challenges you to stick to those goals. Everything’s wrapped up in a beautifully designed interface, too, which makes it easier to keep going.
There’s a Focus Time mode as well, which works like Google’s Post Box: muting notifications until you’re ready to get to them. If you prefer, you can set Focus Time to start automatically at certain times rather than launching it manually.
Besides that core tracking functionality, Space comes with an impressive number of extras too. It lets you compare your progress with friends or with the average Space user, and it pops up with the occasional tidbit of information about how staying off your phone can improve your productivity (and avoid pain in your neck).
We like the gentle user experience and simple approach of Flipd, which tries to slowly wean off your habit of checking your phone every five minutes. You start by timing sessions where you aren’t checking your phone, and the longer you keep it locked, the more points you earn inside the app.
The app lets you track and build on this behavior over time, and it comes with a variety of additional tools to help you improve your well-being: breathing exercises and ambient sounds to help you relax, for example. It takes a more holistic approach than simply blocking out your other apps.
Pay for a premium subscription (currently $34 a year) and you can do a whole lot more with Flipd: set up custom schedules for taking a break from your phone, access more mindfulness resources, and get access to your stats over a longer period of time. You get a free trial of the premium features when you first sign up.
Moment acts like a proactive coach who wants you to spend less time on your phone, and it will push you with daily challenges to reach your goal. If you think you’ll need a bit of extra help curbing your smartphone addiction, give Moment a try.
You can try it free for a week, but the full Moment experience costs $8 a month. For that price, though, you’ll get specific instructions and encouragements for cutting down your smartphone time, spread out over several days. One day you might be challenged to spend 30 minutes without your phone, while on another, the challenge might be to not take your handset to bed with you.
If you don’t want to pay for Moment, you can still use the app to track how much time you’re spending unlocking and staring at your phone, and try to cut down without any help from the app.
If you’re serious about locking down your phone and restricting access to your apps, give Stay Focused a try. It’ll show you how much time you’re spending on your phone and in your apps, and give you the controls to do something about it.
What we like about the app are the different levels of customization it offers. You could set unlimited access to the Calculator app on your phone, for example, while limiting the amount of time you spend diving into Twitter or Facebook. You can also quickly block access to apps if you’ve got something else that needs doing urgently.
As well as setting time limits on your access to apps, Stay Focused can manage your notifications too, stopping them from appearing until you’re ready to check them. It’s one of the most comprehensive options we’ve come across.
Stay Focused is free ($5 to remove ads) for Android.