Wilson: Use Screen Time to find apps to adjust or delete

We are quickly moving through the first quarter of the year. By now, resolutions are being tested: Are they real resolutions or just aspirational? Hopefully you are making progress on your goals for the year. One of my goals has been to reduce the distractions that I’ve allowed to enter my life. Occasionally, I like to do an audit of the apps I have on my iPhone, because that is the device that is easiest to access. If you, like me, want to cut down on the noise in life so you can focus on achieving your most important goals, here are some ideas on how to audit your app usage and determine which you should adjust or delete.

Screen Time

In iOS 12, Apple introduced Screen Time in the Settings of your iPhone. This tool provides a way to see how you use your device. It helps gives you real data on device use. As a bonus, if you have a Mac or another Apple device like an iPad, you can share that information across your devices.

Try this: While you are on hold for your next call from your office phone, open your iPhone and go to Settings. Choose (or search) Screen Time and look at what options are available. If you tap “See All Activity,” you can choose between the Day and the Week. You can see what apps have “Limits” set for them and how you are doing against those “Limits.” In theory, a limit locks you out of an application after a predetermined amount of time. If you are really trying to replace an old habit with a new habit, putting a limit on an app can help.

For purposes of this article, look at your “Most Used” apps section. Those apps should reflect apps that help you accomplish your goals — or they may reflect apps that are stealing your focus. Because I share my screen time across my Mac at my office and my iPhone, I can get a clear picture of how I’m using my computer time and if I’m doing so wisely. The results may surprise you. I mean for you. When you look at your results. Moving on.

Another informative portion of Screen Time is “Pickups.” Pickups tracks how many times you picked up your phone and looked at the screen. The other piece of your analysis is finding out which app is “First Used After Pickup.” Ask yourself if that first-used app is essential to your goals for the day, or is it an app that takes your attention?

The final interesting portion of Screen Time shows you what Notifications you get and how many. Again, these notifications are things that can easily steal your focus from what matters most. When I was writing this article, my calendar had given me 49 notifications. If an interruption breaks your concentration and only takes two minutes to recover that concentration, 49 notifications will cost 98 minutes of time that day, not including the stress, frustration, etc., caused by recovering from interruptions. There is a lot of research on the cost of interruptions. Don’t ask how I know.


I suspect you will find many of your notifications are for things that are not important or urgent. What’s great about Screen Time is that you can tap on an app icon under the “Notifications” section and adjust that app’s notification settings immediately. Try trimming down the notifications you allow to interrupt your workflow. A related tool for your devices is Focus. Go to Settings, then Focus to see and design the options. You can design a Focus for Work, as an example, that helps you determine which people and applications can notify you when that Focus mode is active. You can create a custom screen (and Apple Watch face) that activates when you activate that Focus mode. You can have the Focus mode turn on automatically, as well.

What I have found is that it takes time and persistence to develop a Focus mode appropriately. You might, for example, miss an important call from someone if your Focus mode was active and blocked a notification for that person’s call or text. When that happens, adjust the Focus mode; don’t abandon it completely.

If you are worried about missing an important call or message, turning off notifications is not going to reduce your stress, even if it makes you more “productive” in the meantime. You need to weigh the various factors and design how you want the tool to work, rather than allowing the tool to dictate how you work. Speaking of dictation (see what I did there), how is your goal to use voice dictation more going?•


Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Attorneys in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. He writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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