Make Your iPhone Dumb on Demand with Shortcuts

Balancing the conveniences smartphones provide with the desire to disconnect can be challenging. On one hand, I enjoy streaming music, getting directions, taking high-quality photos, and occasionally looking things up. On the other hand, I sometimes crave a break from my phone and want to minimize distractions. I considered buying a dumb phone to achieve this balance, but I couldn’t justify giving up the convenience of my iPhone. Since a dumb phone wasn’t a realistic option, I started exploring ways to reduce my screen time on iOS.

Several articles suggested ways to “dumb down” an iPhone by making it less appealing. Some tips, like simplifying my home screen and utilizing Screen Time to limit my use of time-wasting apps, were easy to implement. However, others felt too drastic, such as enabling grayscale mode and disabling all notifications. While those methods seemed effective, I knew that if they were too disruptive and not easily toggleable, I would end up turning the settings off out of frustration, never re-enabling them.

That’s when I remembered iOS Shortcuts exist! Here, I’ll share which settings I use to dumb down my iPhone and show you how to create shortcuts to enable and disable these settings on demand. This approach has helped me reduce the appeal of using my iPhone while still keeping full functionality when needed.

Settings I enable for a dumbed-down iPhone experience.

Here are the settings I manually adjust and how to enable them. Each setting aims to make your phone less appealing and reduce distractions.

Grayscale Color Filter

  • How to Enable: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters, then toggle Color Filters on and select Grayscale.
  • Benefit: This makes your phone display everything in black and white. By doing this, you’ll find that looking at your phone becomes immediately less interesting, making you more likely to put it away when it isn’t serving a specific purpose, rather than mindlessly doomscrolling.

Increased Text Size

  • How to Enable: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size, then select Larger Text and adjust the slider.
    • Bonus Tip: In Safari, you can increase text size by clicking the two A’s to the left of the URL input, then pressing the larger A at the bottom of the menu.
  • Benefit: Larger text makes using most apps slightly inconvenient since many are designed for the default text size. This inconvenience can be a deterrent to prolonged use. Additionally, larger text makes reading easier and reduces eye strain.

Reduce White Point

  • How to Enable: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size, then toggle on Reduce White Point and adjust the slider. I set mine to 65%.
  • Benefit: This setting reduces the intensity of bright colors, making your phone less stimulating and easier on the eyes. When combined with grayscale mode, it makes the display softer and less engaging.

Enable Night Shift

  • How to Enable: Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift, then turn it on manually.
  • Benefit: Night Shift reduces blue light, which can be more relaxing for your eyes, especially in the evening, promoting better sleep.

Custom Focus Filter

  • How to Enable: Go to Settings > Focus > + and set up a new focus mode that only allows notifications from specific apps.
  • Benefit: Limiting notifications to essential apps reduces interruptions and helps you stay focused on your tasks. Additionally, setting your wallpaper to a solid black can further reduce distractions.

After enabling these settings, your phone shouldn’t look too much different than a kindle paper white. I find that these settings make it harder to get sucked into an inescapable phone browsing session, making it easier to disconnect and be present.

Set up iOS shortcuts.

Now that you know the settings to dumb down your iPhone, let’s go over how to create iOS shortcuts to turn them on and off quickly.

  1. Open the Shortcuts App:
    • Start by launching the Shortcuts app.
  2. Create a New Shortcut:
    • Tap the + button to start a new shortcut.
    • Tap Add Action to begin adding the settings adjustments.
  3. Add Actions with Visual Aids:
    • Grayscale: Search for “Set Color Filters” and choose Turn Color Filters On/Off. Select Grayscale.
    • Larger Text: Search for “Set Text Size” and adjust the slider to your desired size.
    • Reduce White Point: Search for “Set Reduce White Point” and adjust to 65%.
    • Night Shift: Search for “Set Night Shift” and toggle it on.
    • Focus Mode: Search for “Set Focus” and select your custom focus mode.
  4. Save and Name the Shortcut:
    • Tap Next, give your shortcut a name such as “Dumb Mode,” and tap Done.
  5. Create a Shortcut to Restore Original Settings:
    • Follow the same steps to create another shortcut to revert the settings back to normal. I found it was easier to duplicate the existing shortcut and invert the settings in the duplicate.
  6. Add Shortcuts to Home Screen for Easy Access:
    • For quick toggling, add these iOS shortcuts to your home screen by tapping the shortcut, then the three dots, and choosing Add to Home Screen.
    • If your home screen is already full, you can also add them to your Today View by scrolling to the far left and adding a shortcuts widget.

Automate your Dumb Mode settings.

To ensure you maximize your productivity and minimize distractions, you can set up automations that enable the dumb mode at specific times during the day and adjust settings based on app usage.

Creating Time-Based Automations

  1. Open the Shortcuts App
  2. Create a New Automation:
    • Tap the Automation tab at the bottom.
    • Tap + in the top right header
  3. Select Time of Day:
    • Choose Time of Day and set the specific time when you want the dumb mode to be activated.
    • Press Next
  4. Select your automation
  5. Repeat
    • Repeat steps 2-4 for each time of day you would like to re-enable the shortcut

This helps ensure that if you disable the iOS shortcut, and forget to turn it back on, it will eventually turn itself back on, leaving your phone in dumb mode. I have automations set up for 5:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. every day, making sure it re-enables itself at regular intervals.

Creating App-Based Automations

Certain applications are almost unusable with grayscale enabled. For instance, when taking pictures, I like to see the details to ensure I’m not taking a dud. Additionally, living in a city with color-based public transit makes it hard to distinguish between lines (e.g., the red line vs. the brown line). Shortcuts allow you to disable grayscale when using specific apps and re-enable it when leaving those apps. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Open the Shortcuts App
  2. Create a New Automation:
    • Tap the Automation tab at the bottom.
    • Tap + in the top right header
  3. Select App:
    • Choose App and select the apps for which you want to disable grayscale.
    • Tap Next.
  4. Add Actions:
    • When Opening the App:
      • Tap Add Action and select Set Color Filters. Choose Turn Off.
      • Tap Next and then Done.
    • When Closing the App:

      • Create another automation and select the same apps.
      • Add the action to Set Color Filters and choose Turn On.
      • Tap Next and then Done.

By setting up these time-based and app-based automations, you’ll ensure your dumb mode is always activated when needed and automatically adjusted based on your app usage.

Dumb on Demand with iOS Shortcuts

Implementing these settings and automations has helped me have a better relationship with my smartphone. I’ve found it is much easier to use my phone intentionally. If you’ve tried these tips or have other suggestions that could enhance this approach, please leave a comment!


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