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Phone Down, Book Up: How to Ignore Your Phone While Reading

It’s no secret that many of us spend A LOT of time on our phones. I mean, who can blame us? You can text and talk with friends, watch funny videos, scroll endlessly through twitter, like pretty pictures on Instagram, and reconnect with family members on Facebook. But…when you want to invest in other activities, your phone and its glorious distractions can present a real problem. I think we’ve all said at one point that we want to read more, do more, see more, but something always manages to get in the way, right? And that something often tends to be our phones.

The good news is that you’re not the only one. This very issue was brought up on a recent Reddit post. The truth is many people struggle with ignoring their phones while reading, but there are some ways to combat it. I’ve assembled a list of tips to get you off your phone and in a book! If you struggle with limiting your time on the internet in general, then consider also reading How to Read More and Internet Less When you Have No Self-Control

Now let’s check out how to read without being distracted by our phones.

8 Tips to Put Your Phone Down and Pick Up a Book

1. Hit the Mute Button

Let’s start with an obvious one. Silence your phone! You can turn off notifications or put it on “do not disturb” mode. In this way, you won’t be distracted by noises when reading. Basically, the less you know about what’s going on your phone, the better. If you don’t know about a text message, then you won’t be tempted to look at your phone.

If the temptation is still there, you could even turn your phone off.

2. Keep It Separate or Reorganize

Of course, if you read on your phone, you can still be distracted by all the apps on it. Reading a book on a phone with constant notifications can really derail that reading sesh. To avoid this distraction, it’s better to not associate the two together. Consider opting for print books or investing in devices specifically for reading like Kindle or ereaders.

BUT I get that it’s hard to avoid reading on your phone. There’s a lot of fun books and comics that are easy to access via mobile app. (I’m looking at you, Webtoon). If you prefer to read on your phone, then it’s best to reorganize it. Start by putting your reading app where your distracting apps usually are. Always checking Twitter? Put your reading app there and move the Twitter app to another page. Along with that, hide these apps in folders or move them to the last page of your home screen. iPhone users can also add shortcuts on their home screens that take the place of those distracting apps (must have iOS 12 or later).

3. It’s Time to Block

As in, block social media apps or your phone altogether.

If you’re reading on your phone and that mute button isn’t keeping you off of it, try to block your social media apps. You can do this by using apps that set a timer on your phone. There’s a variety of apps that block you from using certain social media apps or the whole phone for a certain amount of time. Here are a few:

  • AppBlock: blocks certain apps for a set amount of time, can also allow access to certain apps for a limited amount of time (only available on Android for now), basic app is free
  • BlockSite App: free app that lets you block certain websites, also has a Chrome and Safari extension
  • Forest app: paid app that uses a timer to keep you from using your phone, the app plants virtual trees while you’re in the app and kills them if you exit before the timer is up
  • OffTime: paid app that allows you to choose how long to block the use of your phone

4. Break Up With Social Media

Sometimes break ups are for the best. Am I suggesting that you should break up with your social media apps? Well, kinda.

If using those timer apps doesn’t do the trick, then it may be time to deactivate social media. It’s no surprise that social media is addictive. It’s built to keep you constantly coming back for more. If you feel like you can’t resist checking Twitter, Instagram, or other social media apps, consider weeding yourself off these apps gradually or cutting them off all at once.

If you don’t want to deactivate your accounts, you could simply delete the apps off your phone. In this way, you’d have to use another device to access these accounts, rather than your easily accessible phone. With that in mind, if the mere presence of your phone is a distraction, then no amount of apps or setting modifications are going to stop that. In other words, maybe physically removing the phone is the way to go.

5. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Keep reaching for your phone when you’re reading a book? Then put the phone out of reach! You can simply leave it in another room or hide it.

The key is for the phone to be out of sight and out of earshot. So putting your phone on silent and in another room usually does the trick. If you can’t see it or hear it, then it’d be easier to ignore it for a bit, right? This could mean putting it in a cupboard, cabinet, locked box, or treasure chest…if you have one. You get the picture. Simply put it in a room or place where you don’t read.

Personally, I get the most reading done when my phone is charging in another room. It makes it easier for me to get through at least one chapter of my book. I know this may sound lazy compared to trying different apps or deleting distracting ones, but hey, IT WORKS! If you think that won’t be enough, hiding the phone or locking it in a cabinet may be the best option. The key is to make it a challenge to get to your phone.

6. Create the Ideal Reading Spot

photo of gel candle on board beside pillow
Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Take tip number 5 to the next level by creating the ultimate reading zone!

Picture yourself on a nice cushion with a soft blanket. There is warm lighting and soft music playing in the background. You’re wearing comfy sweats and fuzzy socks. You have a cup of tea in one hand and your book of choice in the other.

Your phone starts ringing from the other room. You are so comfy and warm. The last thing you want to do is get up and answer the phone, right?

That’s the goal with a special reading spot. In addition to putting your phone out of reach, get comfortable so that you won’t want to move. Set the scene so that you’re ready to read. For this, it’s important to keep the reading area separate from spaces where you use your phone. That means only reading in the book zone! To make your ideal reading spot, consider including a cozy couch, blanket, tea/coffee, fluffy pillow, soft music, and your favorite cuddly companion (if you have one!). You’ll never want to leave.

7. Reward Good (Book) Behavior

Finishing a book is a reward in and of itself, but sometimes we need an extra push. Try setting small goals and rewarding yourself when you complete them. You can even use phone time as a reward! Consider setting a goal of reading 15 pages or one chapter then rewarding yourself with 3–5 minutes of phone time.

There are many possible rewards you can use to incentivize yourself, like snacks or TV time. You could even use another book as a reward. Read 20 pages of the first book so you can start another book you’re excited about. It may not seem like much at first, but it often only takes a few pages to really get into a story. By that time, you (hopefully) won’t need any additional rewards.

If that’s not the case with a book you’re reading, you may want to consider tip number 8!

8. Maybe It’s Not You, It’s the Book

If you’re employing the first seven tips and you still can’t keep yourself off your phone, then maybe it’s time to look at that reading material. If you’re sitting in a cozy reading spot with your phone on silent in another room and you STILL want to check it, then maybe it’s time to try another book.

I know social media apps can be addictive, but constantly reaching for your phone can also be a sign that you’re not really into the book you’re reading. The book could still be interesting, new, or highly recommended, but it could also not be your type. This has happened to me many times. Sometimes there’s no clear reason other than I’m not in the mood so I put it aside and pick it up later!

To get you to focus on reading and leaving your phone behind, start with a book that you’re really excited about reading. This could be any genre, but make sure you select a book that is purely for your enjoyment, not for a job or school. If you’re reading, but become bored and can’t seem to continue after trying many times, you can switch to another book. 

In addition to starting with a book that captivates you, consider reading more than one book at a time. Instead of putting a book down and reaching for your phone, pick up another book. Honestly, reading more than one book at the same time has changed how I read. It’s helped me read more consistently. Each book I read offers something that the others don’t. If you’re not sure if this is a good fit for you, just start with two books and take turns reading them. You don’t need to take my word for it though. You can read about this reader’s experience in A Case for Reading Multiple Books at the Same Time.

If you don’t want to read more than one book at a time, then make sure you have other books lined up in case your current book isn’t keeping you interested.

And that’s a wrap! Eight tips to keep your eyes off your phone and your nose in a book. Let’s keep reading!

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