How to Use Downtime in iOS to Disconnect from Work

A recent episode of “Tech News Briefing” from the Wall Street Journal details the disappointing truth of the modern 24/7 work culture. On the podcast, Matthew Kitchen outlines the slow evolution of our constant connectivity — from the first cell phones to those annoying red notification icons on today’s smartphone — and the fear we experience at the thought of stepping away from work.

While many of us feel obligated to be perpetually tethered to our work, it’s well documented that the culture of being “always on” is literally killing us. And, not that it matters, but our being worked to death isn’t even benefiting the companies that expect so much of us.

While some countries have implemented labor laws that protect workers who disconnect from work after their time in the office, that type of policy is a pipe dream in America’s hyper-capitalist society. Barring a dramatic shift in how we as a society think about work, the onus falls on workers to find ways to disconnect.

For those of us who conduct most of our work from a computer or phone, Kitchens does offer some partial solutions, such as:

  • Using the iOS12 Screen Time function to guilt yourself into putting away your phone
  • Turning off notifications
  • Utilizing your phone’s Do Not Disturb function
  • Taking advantage of away messages

While these options might provide some reprieve, each comes with its own disadvantages.

  • Guilt is a powerful motivator, but your boss might be more powerful.
  • Turning off notifications (and presumably turning them back on in the morning) for individual apps every day is cumbersome.
  • The Do Not Disturb function disables notifications for all services, including apps that aren’t work-related and from which you still may want to receive notifications after working hours.
  • Away messages are generally reserved for vacations and holidays — it’s not yet socially acceptable to post an away message every time you leave the office. And even if you are sending away messages, you will continue to receive notifications, keeping your mind on what you might be missing.

I spent some time looking for other solutions that could automate a daily disconnect from work. It turns out there aren’t yet many third-party options for achieving this as of yet. For instance, I was hoping that I could use IFTTT to automatically disable email notifications at the end of the work day, but was disappointed to find that this wasn’t an option.

Instead, I turned to the Downtime function in iOS 12 — a new feature that allows you to designate times when certain apps are unavailable. Downtime is intended for users who want to set aside time each day to ignore their phones almost entirely, save for some basic functionality (like making calls). However, the way I’m using it allows for what I’ll call “Work Downtime.” It enables me to disconnect from work without transforming my phone into a glorified paperweight. Here’s what I did:

Within Screen Time (Settings >> Screen Time), click Downtime.

Toggle Downtime to the On position. Choose the hours during which you would like to disconnect from work completely (I chose 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.).

Go back to the main Screen Time menu and click Always Allowed.

Add all of your apps except work apps to the list of always allowed apps (for instance, I kept my mail app, along with Asana and the Microsoft suite off the always allowed list)

Now, starting at 6 p.m. each day, I’m unable to open work-related apps until the next morning.

I’ll admit, I felt a little anxiety the first day I tested this method of absolute freedom from work. However, the next morning I checked my inbox and found not a single email or work message that absolutely needed my immediate response after I left work.

I’ve been doing this for a few days now, and I’ve found that I’m able to actually let my mind rest after leaving the office so that I can focus on other things that I care about.

The fact of the matter is that in a true crisis, my boss could text or call me and I could return to work. But setting up this automatic barrier makes after-hours work the exception, not the rule. And let’s be honest: how many of us work at jobs that are so important that we can’t afford to step away…especially if it means living happier, healthier lives?


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