I was listening to an NPR show last week that said that the typical person looks at their smartphone 100 times for a total of three hours every day. I found that number to be shocking, disgusting really. Smart phones have done a lot to improve our productivity, but on the flip side, they can also be a huge source of wasted time, reducing productivity, while creating discontentment.
I was just talking to my dad recently about my first cell phone. My parents got it for me for Christmas my senior year of high school. I still, to this day, remember opening the box and wondering why, of all gifts, a cell phone would be something I wanted.
At the time, it might have gone down as the worst gift I had ever received. My dad said I quipped that it was just another way for me to feel tethered. Was I ahead of my time?
I remember, at 16, being a new driver who would leave the house without a way for anyone to get in touch with me. Sure, my parents knew I was at school, or the mall, or my girlfriend’s house, but they couldn’t reach me on demand.
It wasn’t until I was out of college that I started to send text messages, and it was only because I was dating someone at the time who would use them as her primary form of communication. I think I could only send or receive 200 messages per month and needed to upgrade my plan to avoid overages.
I even have memories of being a few years into the working world before getting a phone with internet access, and it took a while before adding a data plan.
Now, kids and adults alike, seem to be glued to phones, tablets and screens of all kinds. We think these phones are smart because they are powerful, but maybe they are actually smart because they are constantly getting in our heads. They are constantly trying to figure out how to get us to respond, to spend money, to take a look just one more time.
Every time our phones vibrate in our pockets, we are like Pavlov’s dogs. It vibrates, we look. For most of us this is counter-productive, and a huge waste of time.
That NPR segment really bothered. I was one of those typical users who looked at my phone constantly. But no longer.
Here were the steps I took to reduce cell phone distraction:
Turned off all notifications
Even before I listened to that podcast, I had turned off all non-essential notifications. Nearly every app pushes notifications to us, constantly, with no regard for our personal space. I turned off all notifications except for messaging apps, like Messenger and WhatsApp.
Sure, some apps like Instagram are required to use their platform, but many mobile sites like YouTube work just fine. I have found that without a mobile app, I am less likely to visit the mobile site, which means I will spend less time on my phone. Take Facebook, for example. I deleted the app, and the mobile site stinks. As a result, I check Facebook once or twice per day, compared with dozens of times previously.
Turn off email
This was probably one of the hardest things to do, but also one of the most beneficial from a time savings standpoint. Unless unlimited access to your email is mandatory for your work, most emails can wait. In fact, I would argue that very few emails we receive are actually necessary. Plus, with access to my computer while working, there really is no reason to view the same emails on my phone. It’s actually quite redundant.
I do acknowledge, however, that there are times when sending or receiving emails on the fly is necessary, but don’t worry, Apple won’t let you delete their mail app, and Google won’t let you delete the Gmail app.
I was really busy this past weekend, and didn’t spend much time on my phone. Without the apps pushing notifications and emails pinging me, it was a nice break. That Sunday night I decided to check my email to ensure I hadn’t missed out on anything for the week. I had a handful of emails, none of which were essential.
It felt nice to feel a little less tethered to my phone than usual. I will keep it going.