As I write this, I have no idea what’s going on in the world. A week before the US election I went ‘off-grid’; I don’t know what’s happening with Coronavirus, other than that we are in lockdown again; I don’t know who the leader of the free world is (or will be); I don’t know if there’s been a new moon landing or Chernobyl or if they’ve cured cancer in the last few weeks. That would be nice.

For years, news apps and social media have been a big part of my daily routine, and arguably often a distraction from what I was supposed to be doing. Including sleeping. So I wondered what I could do to have a healthier relationship with my phone – and whether it would make a big difference to my life.

Digital Health

Digital Health was a big feature of both iOS and Android releases from a few years ago, but I never felt that Apple or Google quite hit the mark. Beyond notification blockers and sleep aids, both OSes would happily tell you that you’ve spent 10 hours last week browsing Twitter. But isn’t that in itself just another thing to look at on your phone, and therefore counterproductive? Sure, you can set limits on how much you can use an app in a given day, but there were always ways to get around it. I suspect most people used the workarounds and eventually ditched the system altogether.

OnePlus phones have a Zen mode which is altogether a lot more powerful. Once you’ve pushed the button and chosen a duration, your phone is practically unusable. You can receive calls, and you can call emergency numbers. That’s all. Even a reboot won’t let you back in, you have to wait it out. An extreme answer, but one of the best methods I’ve found for blocking out some of the excess noise.

Other Apps

Here are some other apps which have helped:

Blokada (Android & iOS, free) is a great app which allows you to block apps and websites. Originally intended as an ad blocker, it’s also able to set blocklists of whole sites. It’s what I’ve been using to keep myself away from news apps, etc.

Forest (Android & iOS, free) is altogether gentler. By keeping away from your phone, you allow a sapling to grow, turning into a tree and eventually a whole forest. When you move away from the app before the time, your tree dies.

Google Family Link (Android, free) is aimed at parents blocking apps and websites, or limiting screen time, for their children. It’s easy to set up but only suitable in the situation where a child has their own device.

And one to avoid: BlockSite, on Android, is popular but appears very dodgy from a privacy perspective.

I can’t avoid the news forever, obviously. And arguably you need a basic understanding of current affairs in order to be a good citizen. So I’m going to continue until the end of this lockdown, and then read today’s news as something from the past. So no spoilers please! And who knows – we’ll see how my productivity and mindset shifts over the next few weeks.