Barry Khan

Unteathering from My Phone - A Journey to Reclaim Focus and Intentionality


A personal post about practical steps taken to untether from my phone, and why.

A close-up shot of a wooden desk scattered with open notebooks, a traditional alarm clock, and a pen lying next to a smartphone placed face down. Sunlight filters through a nearby window, casting a warm glow on the scene. The contrast between the analog tools and the modern smartphone highlights the shift towards simplicity and mindfulness in daily routines. This image symbolizes the journey of reclaiming focus and intentionality by minimizing digital distractions and embracing more intentional analog practices

Why I wanted to reduce my phone use

It's safe to say we all use our phones a lot. I'm on a train now, with my phone in my bag, but everyone on the train is staring at a phone, swiping, working, laughing. Being productive, connecting with people, and getting joy from their phones.

It's hard to not see it as a win-win. I used to be very productive with my phone, responding to work messages within seconds, capturing ideas in seconds, and writing to-do lists like a ninja!

However, with that 5 seconds of productivity, followed 5-10 minutes of distraction. This is the mental model.

Imagine a serene scene on a train: a person sitting by the window, gazing out at the passing landscape with a thoughtful expression. Their phone sits peacefully in a bag beside them, while outside the window, the world whizzes by. The contrast between the calm individual and the busy digital world represented by the phone symbolizes the journey of disconnecting from technology to reconnect with oneself.

I probably did this 10 times a day, and it was completely unconscious, passive time spent, fed on drips of dopamine to keep me online.

I also felt like I was cruising a bit. I've always been driven, and never standing still, looking for ways to grow and learn. That recently has been less present, and I do think it's because of being distracted by social media, LinkedIn, etc.

Role model

I would still be doing this if it wasn't for one thing. My daughter recently got a phone, as she moves into High School. We held off giving her a phone, for all the reasons we are all aware of:

When we gave her the phone, with the caveat that it's just to be used for messaging and calling. We instantly wanted to show how best to use the phone, and her seeing us staring on social media, etc. wouldn't be great.

It led me to look at my screen-time. Some days around 7 hrs of screen time use. That is misleading, as it often included Maps and Spotify, but still!

Steps taken to reduce screen-time

Removed social media apps

I thought I didn't really use social media that much, but screen time stated at least 1 hr a day, so for someone not that attached to it, it was an easy one. I literally deleted them from my phone!

I originally used the clunky mobile version of the platforms, and then stopped that and used the web version on a desktop. I really only use it to see school updates, and now and then on LinkedIn.

Made the phone less smart

I took a number of steps to simplify the phone to do just what I wanted from it.

Removed notifications All non-essential notifications were disabled, leaving just text, phone call alerts.

Enabled accessibility features Used tech to reduce the number of phone pickups allowing announcements for calls and messages.

Made the phone less interesting This was a creative one, I did this doing the following:

Simplified the phone

  1. Decluttered the home screen to just the following:
  1. Used IOS shortcuts to do the following

Bought an alarm clock

This was a game changer, I stopped using the phone alarm clock, instead using a DAB bedside alarm clock.

This has improved my sleep, mainly due to the impact the light and stimulation had on my body clock. The alarm clock was £10 off eBay!

Changed my approach to weeknotes

I used to make weeknotes, using notes on my phone, which often led to further distraction.

I leaned on some new learnings I made in IOS Shortcuts, to automate the process a little.

The shortcut

I later iterated this to allow the notes to be captured from a paper notebook.

I am still working on this, but my weeknotes are pretty much a place to experiment right now.

Using notebooks more

I've always doodled and jotted things down in notebooks, but never with much intent.

Falling down the rabbit hole of notebooks has been wonderful. I'm not always near to a notebook. I have a personal one and a work one, and am about to get a pocket notebook!!LOL.

I find the notes I make in a paper notebook have more intention, I find it easier to recall information from them, and there's lots of science to prove that.

I also find the ideas I create on paper are automatically filtered, and feel more focused and easier to act against.

This reduces the need for notes on the phone, but still, that has its place.

Ditching the smartwatch

I used to love Apple "eco-system", the phrase alone evokes a sense of nature and normality, but it's starting to feel liberating as I pull away from it.

I generally use the Apple Watch for telling the time, but also to ask Siri questions. Having instant untapped access to a thin layer of knowledge seemed wonderful, but I did start to wonder why the need for urgency and maybe that thin layer of knowledge may not have enough depth.

I also use the smartwatch to track my sleep. I love seeing metrics and data around sleep, fitness, and health. However, wearing the watch impacts my sleep negatively, and also I know when I have a good night's sleep, it usually coincides with when I go to bed early, and no children wake up in the night.

I've started to move away from the health indicators on the Apple Watch and phone and trust my body more.

More steps ahead

Being passionate about photography and using it as a creative outlet for many years, it seems like an easy choice to pick up one of my old cameras, instead of an iPhone. However, due to my children still being the same height as a camera on a strap, and forever getting bashed, it's still too inconvenient to bring out on days out.

I do use a fuji X camera around the house, and occasionally take a Campsnap camera, but still revert back to the phone.

Previous photography social media accounts (that I may or may not return to in the future) Link to my street photography and Lichfield Life Instagram feed

For now, the old saying, "the best camera you have with you", still rings true.


In summary, untethering from my phone has been a transformative journey, allowing me to reclaim my focus and intentionality.

By removing social media apps, simplifying my phone’s functionality, disabling unnecessary notifications, and incorporating more analog methods like traditional alarm clocks and notebooks, I've significantly reduced distractions.

This shift has not only improved my productivity and creativity but also set a positive example for my daughter. Embracing these changes has been liberating, providing a clearer path toward personal growth and a more balanced life.

I wrote this from pen to paper then to screen in 1 hr while on a train trip to work.. that says it all!

A bit about me: I'm a UCD specialist focused on Service and Interaction Design, with a passion for accessibility and creating services for all. I navigate the world with a dry sense of humor, finding the funny side in the most mundane tasks.