I Went Without My Phone for a Week – This is What I Learned

 Have you ever had one of those moments where a quick and casual look through Instagram or TikTok somehow turned into hours of scrolling? I know I have, and every time it happens, I end up feeling like I’ve completely wasted all my time and energy. 

     There has been heaps of research that shows the addictive nature of phones and how it can negatively impact our well-being, whether it be through lack of sleep or constant anxiety and stress. For teens specifically, a 2019 Pew Research Center Survey found that, “54% worry they spend too much time on their phone, and of those who say they spend too much time on the phone, roughly half (53%) say they have ever cut back on the time they spend on their cell phone.” 

     I definitely think I’m too dependent on my phone. My screen time fluctuates week to week, but in the most recent analysis (which is conveniently curated by my phone itself), I was on it for an average of 6 hours and 34 minutes per day. I am below the national average of 7 hours and 22 minutes per day, according to a 2019 survey titled “Media Use by Teens and Tweens” from Common Sense Media, but it’s not much to brag about. That’s still 45 hours and 55 minutes per week. Not to mention, I’m spending 40% of my time on entertainment (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) and 33% of my time on social platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, etc.). Essentially, my time is spent re-watching episodes of The Great British Baking Show and The Office, or mindlessly scrolling through meaningless content that I barely remember. 

     Other than screen usage, it’s also important to note that I have my phone with me everywhere I go, and I pick up my phone up 128 times a day on average to check for random notifications. If my phone is missing, I often get worried and frantically search for it.   

     I’ve even taken a few “Are You Addicted To Your Phone?” online quizzes, and my final results always said that my phone usage was a little concerning. I understand that I have some addictive tendencies, and I know I could be spending my time being productive or doing things that actually make me happy, but either by lack of willpower or sheer reluctance, I’ve never bothered doing anything about it.  

       I finally decided to make a change to my behavior. No more sitting around, wishing I was doing something better with my time. So, I told myself that I would try and go an entire week without using my phone and see if it made me feel any better.

     The design of the experiment was simple: No phone, from 12:30 pm on Sunday until 12:30 pm on the following Sunday. It would be completely shut off, and placed in a random drawer that I wouldn’t find myself feeling the urge to open. I allowed myself to use my computer to communicate with people, but I tried to limit the use of iMessage. If people wanted to talk to me, Outlook was now my prime mode of communication. 

Here’s how it went:

Sunday, November 28th – Day 1

12:30 pm – Going into the experiment, I was excited, but I also felt this vague sense of dread of giving up my routine and trying something new. My original plan was to do the experiment early in the school year in September, but I felt I wasn’t going to be able to conduct it effectively during volleyball season. Granted, I needed to communicate with my coach and other teammates, but I couldn’t help but notice how easy it was to make excuses and put off the experiment. However, I finally mustered up the courage and locked it into the drawer on November 28th. So long phone. See you in a week. 

2:00 pm – I experienced my first real challenge of life without a phone. When I got into my car, my immediate instinct was to plug my phone into my aux so I could play the recently released album, Red (Taylor’s Version),  but of course, my phone was locked away in a drawer. As a die-hard Swiftie, I was disappointed that I would have to succumb to listening to the radio, but I did my best to tolerate it. 

8:00 pm – I realized that I needed to set an alarm. Usually, I have my phone next to me when I go to bed to use as my alarm, but I now had to find another way to get up in the morning. My step-mom lent me her analog alarm clock, which, I’m not going to lie, was harder to use than I thought. She laughed when I asked her how I’d know whether the clock would go off at 7 am or 7 pm. “It’s just the next 7,” she said to me. I had to ask her to make sure I was up by 7:30 in case I didn’t wake up. I don’t trust using an alarm clock.  

Monday, November 29th – Day 2 

7:15 am – My alarm went off just fine. I think it made it easier for me to get up because I had to reach over and press the snooze rather than just tap my phone. However, I did have the urge to go on my phone right when I opened my eyes. I didn’t realize until now that going on my phone is always the first thing I think about when I wake up every morning.  

8:00 am – I sat down in my A period class and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Everyone else was quietly scrolling through their phones, waiting for class to start. Normally, I would chat with my friends, but neither of them had arrived yet and without my phone, there was nothing left for me to do but stare at the floor. I remember thinking how badly I wanted to go on my phone, and how much I regretted making the decision to do this experiment. I could tell it was going to be a difficult week. 

3:00 pm – Normally after a long day at school, I would take the time to lie on my bed, scroll through my phone, and just relax. The ORHS School Psychologist, Hannah Cunningham explained that it’s not uncommon for students to do this. “There are so many stimuli all day and there’s the feeling that you always need to be “on ” and busy doing work. Once people get home, it’s nice to not have to do anything but look at funny videos because it feels like a brain break for people,” she said. When I first got home, I felt a little bothered because I wasn’t able to have this brain break. I could watch TV on my couch, but that still felt strange because it was so different from my typical routine. On the other hand, it felt nice knowing that I wasn’t about to spend an hour scrolling on my phone and doing nothing. Watching TV with commercial breaks made me more aware of the specific episode I was on and how much time I was spending doing it. I was able to self-regulate, and it didn’t feel like I completely wasted my afternoon. 

November 30th – Day 3 

1:00 pm – There were a lot of minor inconveniences that had come up so far in my day. For instance, I couldn’t check the time, I couldn’t easily record an interview, and I couldn’t take a picture of my math homework to upload to Schoology. Of course, there were easy solutions to these problems. Simply asking someone else what time it is would have probably taken me two seconds. However, it was still slightly annoying when I had to deal with these small changes that weren’t issues before.

4:00 pm – I realized how much I like to have background noise when I’m doing a task, such as trying to fold my laundry. Normally I would pull up a podcast, show, or playlist on my phone, but instead, I had to fold in silence. My brain is so used to constant stimulation from my phone that I felt uncomfortable without it. 

11:30 pm – Going to sleep was easier than I thought it would be. At first it was uncomfortable without listening to music or going through one more quick scroll to lull me to sleep. However, I opened up the book I was reading for the first time in a few months right before bed, and I liked how relaxed I felt. It was nice getting back into the reading habit and being able to wind down without the glaring blue light of my phone, and I noticed that it was a lot easier to fall asleep. 

December 1st, Day 4 

5:00 pm – I was attempting to do my Psychology homework when I had the strong urge to lie on my bed and take a break. A lot of the time, I’ll use my phone as a distraction from something stressful to me, especially when it comes to homework. Without it, I had to push through and do my work, even though I thought it was going to be hard or stressful. Although I still found my mind wandering and searching for other ways to procrastinate, I realized that my phone has a large impact on my productivity. Not having it right next to me meant I didn’t have that immediate, subconscious distraction. It allowed me to take a second to refocus my brain and attempt to get back on track. 

6:00 pm – This day was the only day that I touched my phone during the whole week. My dad was adamant that I bring my phone when I went to volleyball practice in Hampton, so I would be able to call him just in case I got in an accident when I was driving home late at night. Even though my parents always scold me for being on my phone so much, they still rely on phones just as much as I do for communication. I decided to bring my phone in my car to keep my dad happy, but I told myself that I wouldn’t use it for music or directions. When I first grabbed my phone from the drawer, I immediately went to check if I had any notifications. I was shocked by my reflex to just tap the screen. Cunningham explained that many people exhibit this addictive type of behavior. “There are a lot of studies that show when we pick up our phones, we get a hit of dopamine. So, when we follow the pattern of picking up our phone and feeling good about it, we only want to do it more,” she said. I always understood this concept, but it was surprising to see my dependency so blatantly. Although I knew it was completely shut off, the habit of checking for any notifications was so ingrained in my brain that I did it anyway.

December 2nd, Day 5 

 7:45 pm – I feel like this was the first day where I started to acclimate to the no-phone lifestyle. At the beginning of the week, there were a lot more moments where I’d reach for my phone only to realize it wasn’t in my back pocket. Although it was only a few days later, I was more used to the idea of not needing my phone for every little thing. I think it helped that I still had my computer because it reminded me that I still had some way to stay connected. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have trouble communicating. I sent a text on day three, and it didn’t come in on my computer until day five. Because of the delay, there was a disruption in communication, and it was frustrating that I wasn’t able to get in touch with the person as fast as I wanted to. 

December 3rd, Day 6 

6:30 pm – My friend and I were having dinner and she started checking her phone when there was a lull in the conversation. Cunningham said that when this happens, “it makes it really hard to feel connected with who you are with because people are not fully present.” I don’t blame my friend for this because normally in this situation, I would be going on my phone too. However, instead, I was just staring at the table waiting for something to happen. We could have been chatting, laughing, and having a nice dinner together, but with technology in the mix, it was a lot harder to have a conversation and stay connected. 

December 4th, Day 7 

9:30 pm – My sister was showing me something on her phone, and I saw all these unopened stories and posts on her Instagram. It made me realize that people are posting and sharing things I hadn’t seen, and now I had missed out on it. This sense of FOMO was pretty hard-hitting. Without my access to social media, there was no way for me to keep up with everything that had happened all week. Social media is also a large part of how I learn about current events, and it was strange when I realized it was taking me multiple days to learn about important things just through word-of-mouth. 

December 5th, Final Day

 12:30 pm – When I was going to retrieve my phone, I was surprised that I didn’t feel excitement or relief. Rather, I felt guilty because I had a feeling that I was going to slip right into my old habits and the experiment would be for nothing. Right after turning it on, I was bombarded with messages and notifications, and I spent over an hour catching myself up. This was frustrating for me because I was completely aware that I was doing it, yet I was doing nothing to stop myself. 

     When I first told people about what I was doing, a lot of them looked surprised. “I could never do that,” they said to me, shaking their heads. I’m proud of myself for being able to complete the experiment, and it felt liberating to know that I could live my day-to-day life without being sucked into a screen for 6 hours and 34 minutes of the day. It was also cool to see how I felt more satisfied with what I did with my day. Because I was more aware with how I spent my time and everything I did during the week had a clear purpose, there was less time-wasting and I didn’t feel bad about myself  

     That being said, it was slightly disturbing to see how much my phone was ingrained into my daily life and how easy it was to slip back into my old routine. After this, I plan on finding more ways to reduce the amount of time I spend on my phone because I know it makes me feel better, and I encourage other people to do the same. If I was able to last a whole week without listening to Taylor Swift in the car, then I’m sure other people can learn to not have their phones on them 24/7 too.