Solutions to Common Problems and Challenges

Note: if you have additional suggestions for any of these, please leave a note in the comments.

How to Set a Text Auto-Responder:

When I ask people what keeps them tethered to their phones, many people tell me that they’re worried about leaving someone hanging via text. The solution is to set up a text message auto-responder.

Annoyingly, neither Apple nor Android makes this straightforward. But there are ways to do it!

Starting with iOS 11, Apple offers a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” option that you can use to automatically respond to text messages.

Technically, it’s designed to prevent you from texting while driving, but you can also use it any time you want to take a break from your phone without worrying that you’ll leave someone hanging. You just need to set it to activate manually, and customize your response.

Note: In order to get the auto response to send, you need to enable “Do Not Disturb WHILE DRIVING” (i.e. the icon of the car), NOT just “Do Not Disturb” (the icon with the moon). If you just turn on normal “Do Not Disturb,” the text message auto-response will not send. Annoyingly, this means you will need to reactivate it every time you use your phone for something else, since you can’t just keep your phone on “Do Not Disturb While Driving” in the same way that you can with “Do Not Disturb.”

At the moment, Android users have to download a third-party app. Options include LilSpaceSMS Auto Reply Text Message and Thrive (currently only available for Samsung phones).

What to Do If You Don’t Have a Landline:

Get a phone that works over the internet (technically referred to as VOIP, short for “voice over internet protocol”). This way, when you want to take a break from your smartphone(s), you can just set them to forward all calls to your house number. Yes, it’s a small additional charge, but I find that the freedom it gives us is more than worth it.

My husband and I have an Ooma and are very happy with it.

How to Pre-Schedule Social Media:

HootSuite allows you to schedule posts in advance and have them published across multiple platforms.  It’s a great time-saver, and allows you to appear to be frequently posting when you’re actually not.

Agorapulse is particularly great since it lets you preschedule Instagram.

How to Schedule Things Without Endless Email Chains:  

Use Doodle or Calendy.

Doodle is a group polling site that lets you propose specific dates and times to a large number of people, and have them respond with their availability, which will show up as a red or green x. Once everyone has responded, you just pick the time slot with the most green in it.

Calendy allows you to create a personal schedule of times you have available for meetings, interviews, etc. Then, instead of going back and forth with someone, you simply direct them toward your Calendy page and ask them to select a time that works for them. Easy peasy.

What to Do If Email Controls Your Life:

Okay, this is a big one — and might be the subject of my next book. But for now, some thoughts:

One option is to use an app-blocker like Freedom to restrict your access.

If you use Gmail and Chrome, you have more options. For example, Boomerang allows you to preschedule responses and have certain messages boomerang-ed back at you—and has a feature called “Inbox Pause” that allows you to choose when you see new messages—a huge timesaver.

My absolute favorite for Gmail/Chrome is “Inbox When Ready,” which takes away the numbers that tell you how many messages are waiting for you, and hides your inbox unless you explicitly say you want to see it (this allows you to compose new messages or search for old ones without getting distracted by your inbox). It also allows you to set a time limit for how many minutes you want to spend looking at your inbox each day, and lets you set penalties (time delays) for what will happen if you go over your limit. This might sound simple or unnecessary, but believe me: it is amazing.

How to Leave Your House Without Your Phone

(AKA how to Downgrade to a Dumbphone Without Actually Downgrading to a Dumbphone)

Option one: Get an iWatch Series 3 (or higher). Wait, what? Yes, you heard me correctly: give another $400 to Apple (plus $10/month to your cell provider) and get yourself an iWatch. Starting with the series 3, the watch has cell service. Translation: you can make and receive calls on the watch, and send and receive text messages—without having to have your phone nearby.

There are also other useful "tool" apps, such as navigation, heart rate monitor, and 3rd party apps such as Uber and Lyft. They're definitely still working out the kinks—and unfortunately, the watch does require you to have a smartphone with an active SIM card—but if you've got the cash and the need, it's worth trying.

Just be sure to keep the apps on your phone to an absolute minimum — i.e., no email, no news, no social media. (No slot machine apps.) Just use it for text messages and phone calls, and you’ll be able to rest easy knowing you’re not missing an important message/call, while avoiding getting sucked in to a tiny screen.

Option two: get a call forwarding device, such as the Light Phone. Roughly the size of a credit card, the Light Phone can’t do anything but make and receive calls (you can’t even see the keypad unless you turn it on).

The Light Phone doesn’t require you to give up your smartphone or to get a second phone number. Instead, you simply forward your calls to it when you want to leave the house without your smartphone (or want to take a break from it), and you disable forwarding when you’re back.

How to Sleep Better:

Enable Apple’s “Night Shift” option, or install an extension/app that will do this for you, such as F.lux. Alternatively/in addition, use an app-blocking app to restrict your access to apps and the internet (i.e. to make your phone unusable for anything but phone calls) for several hours before bed.

Get a Bagby—a "sleeping bag" for your phone. And an alarm clock, too (Bagby sells some nice ones). Think about it: if you use your phone as your alarm clock you are guaranteeing that your phone will be the first thing you touch when you wake up. Not a great idea!

And most of all, set up a charging station that is NOT in your bedroom.