Beta yourself: The Stuff guide to mindful tech use

How to stop tech taking over your life and instead make it better

Worried you’re frittering your life away, staring at ephemeral nothingness on a glowing screen? Concerned that Slack has taken over your working life? We show you how to be more ‘conscious’ on phones, tablets and computers.

The basics

Be creative

One way to ensure you’re not wasting time on a device is to make something. If you’ve always had a novel in your head, or ambitions to be an artist, the digital realm now offers more help than ever. Instead of defaulting to social networks, spend downtime writing a novella, learning to paint or working on that nu-ragtime chart-topper.

Get educated

Although it’s true we never stop learning, most people rarely do so in a structured manner post-school/college. But your phone can be a great way to get useful stuff into your head. Try Duolingo to learn a new language, or Khan Academy for lessons in just about anything.

Learn to relax

Taking time out is vital, but it’s useful to approach relaxation mindfully, rather than spending all your spare time on things that may end up making you more stressed (such as endless news feeds). Instead, fill this time with chill-out activities like meditation, ambient audio noodling in Bloom: 10 Worlds, or a spot of virtual colouring.

Yo filter

Most email is junk you mindlessly wade through prodding ‘delete’. Focus on messages that matter by using your email client’s filtering and VIP functionality. When you do dig into your inbox, go all Marie Kondo and unsubscribe from anything that doesn’t bring you joy – or at least isn’t relevant to your life and so is merely sucking seconds from your existence, like a rubbish digital vampire.

Tame your indulgences

So you enjoy catching up with your social feeds and playing games. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t squeeze such things into odd moments that rapidly expand – instead, schedule time for them, and avoid them elsewhere during the day. You’ll claw back hours and appreciate those planned spells all the more.

Put it out of reach

There are times when tech is inappropriate – or even harmful to wellbeing. If you can’t trust yourself, put your devices out of reach. Get an old-school alarm clock for the bedroom and leave your phone to charge overnight elsewhere. When watching TV, put your phone in another room so you can concentrate on the right screen. And when you’re out socially, keep the effing thing in your pocket.

Count the minutes

Use time-trackers

Android has Digital Wellbeing; iOS has Screen Time. Use them to monitor your app and game usage on mobile. The stats will show how often you’re picking devices up, and whether you have an Instagram problem.

Be wary on desktop

If you track app usage on desktop, ensure the system you work with is intelligent enough to understand apps you’re actively using, rather than totting up whatever’s lurking in the background. (Screen Time on macOS is oddly poor at this.)

Be good to yourself

Infuse good habits

Get a habit-tracker on your phone, and use it to define a handful of ways in which you’d like to improve your life and tech use. Don’t be overly ambitious – between two and six items is enough – and do give yourself a break if streaks are broken.

Gamify your health

Conscious tech use can prove transformative on health with the right apps. Have your smartwatch encourage you to move and exercise more, or go all-in with Zombies, Run! to combine a Walking Dead dystopia with getting fit.

Prune your apps

Delete social apps

Social media and messaging apps tend to be the ones that eat into most people’s time. If that’s you, add friction. This might mean gating usage with a screen time system, or removing native apps and using inferior web interfaces to put you off.

Offload on iOS

When fixated on an iOS game, too regularly tempted to play but unwilling to lose all your progress by dumping it, offload it in Settings. Your device will retain the app’s data, but the game will only run when reinstalled.

Refine device usage

If you’re fortunate enough to own multiple devices, clear your daily carry of cruft. Have a ‘gaming’ or ‘social’ device ready and waiting for you when you get home, for your allotted faff time.

Get some peace

Tame notifications

Android and iOS both have mature notification systems. When new notifications come in, quieten or disable them entirely. Chances are, you only really need a handful active. The rest are a distraction that suck you back into apps.

Set contact ringtones

Similarly, most phone calls fundamentally don’t matter. For key contacts, such as a spouse, best friend or boss, assign a custom ringtone so you know it’s them and can answer immediately. Everyone else can go to voicemail.

Apps for the mind

Need some more apps to get you in the right frame of mind to be mindful? These three are a great start.

Todoist

A list manager arguably means more busywork and another reason to pick up your phone, but it can also be a great way of consolidating tasks and making phone use more conscious. Use this as the hub for your day, and place it prominently on your homescreen.

From £free / Android, iOS, web, desktop

Habitica

If you need a nudge to get things done and tend to spend too much time playing games, check out Habitica. It gamifies self-improvement, transforming your to-do list into an RPG… and success in the real world translates to the virtual one.

From £free / Android, iOS, web

BFT – Bear Focus Timer

There are plenty of timers that attempt to carve your day into work/rest sprints. But BFT has you place your phone face-down during work periods – great for focusing on tasks.

99p / Android • £1.99 / iOS