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Introduction: Small Deaths

I'm a morning person.

I usually wake up at about 6 AM. I read on my phone in bed until the toddler wakes up at 6:30, at which point I look after him till I take him to daycare at about 7:15. I then have till 9 AM free, during which time I get a lot of stuff done - both chores and personal projects.

I finish work at 6 PM. Either we have dinner with the kid, or I feed him dinner, and then we have dinner once he's in bed at about 7:30.

So by 8:30 PM I've eaten dinner, jobs are all done, and kid's in bed. I might put on the dishwasher, but other than that my evening's free till I start getting ready for bed at about 10:30 PM.

So what do I do in those 2 hours?

Sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I go for a walk.

But most of the time I stare at my phone. I catch up on lesswrong, gitter, emails, twitter, discord, and then once I've done all that I go back again and refresh them all in case something new has turned up.

Once I'm convinced that nothing exciting is going to pop up on my regular haunts I start to think about all the sites that might have fresh content. Maybe Scott Aaronson has posted something on Shtetl Optimized? And didn't I once read a blog by X which I vaguely enjoyed? He's probably posted something in the last year...

Eventually I probably find a sequence or short story I haven't read yet, or some random Wikipedia article - I wonder where the third lowest lake on earth is? What about the highest roads and villages, or northernmost islands?

I couldn't say I enjoy this experience. I'm vaguely bored and unhappy throughout, and I'd probably be happier just going straight to bed. The moment I stop and do something I immediately feel better and invigorated. But stopping is just so difficult!

I view this time as a small death. Time I'm just trying to kill. It doesn't relax me. I don't enjoy it. It has no benefits - it might as well not exist. I might as well be dead for those 2 hours.

How do I break out of it?

Experiment: Digital Wellbeing

I don't want to not be able to use my phone at all after 7 - I'm not brave enough for that.

Ideally I would be able to just turn off chrome after 7, since that removes anything open ended - I can only check apps I have installed on my phone.

Google provides Digital WellBeing controls on modern android phones. Unfortunately it doesn't have the ability to turn off specific apps at specific times. Neither does Parental Controls.

It does allow you to set a limit on the total amount of time you can spend on an app each day. I decided that might be good enough, so for now I've set a 1 hour limit on Chrome every day.


I hope that this will make me more likely to do any of these things in the evening:

  1. Read
  2. Walk
  3. Work on my OSS projects
  4. Write LessWrong posts
  5. Other productive/social activities


This experiment can fail in a number of ways:

  1. I increase the time limit till it is ineffective.
  2. I find ways to work around the time limit. I've already had to set a half hour timer on the "Google" app (the one that allows you to search for things directly from your home screen) because you can access arbitrary websites from there.
  3. I end up wasting my time in different ways - e.g. watching netflix all night, going on different apps on my phone (youtube, gitter, etc.).
  4. I don't enjoy the alternative activities I do in the evening as much as I thought.


I would say at the moment I spend more than an hour and a half on my phone about 4 evenings a week. I estimate that till now I spend a total of about 24 hours a week on my phone. I hope to reduce both these measures significantly.

I'm going to assess this in 1 month, and report how things are going. My predictions are:

  1. This works as well as I hope (only spend more 1.5 hours on phone in an evening when organizing something, less than 12 hours of weekly screen  time): 20%
  2. This does something, but not as much as I would like (3 or less evenings a week spending more than an hour and a half on my phone. Less than 20 hours a week total screen time): 50%
  3. This has no significant effect after a month: 30%

I'm also going to report subjectively how I feel about this process.

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4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:29 AM

You can also use "focus mode" in the digital wellbeing section to disable apps during a certain window. I'm guessing it's intended for use during work, which is why the name doesn't really reflect its broader uses.

Great idea, thanks!

I recommend AppBlock for Android - it lets you block specific apps at specific times (including AppBlock itself, so you can't undo it).

You could use leechblock to do a similar thing on your computer.

Thanks! I'll see how it goes, and maybe switch to that of I find the current approach isn't working.