As much as I’ve always embraced computers, the internet, and then web 2.0, I was never a cell phone fan. I got my first cell phone when I was 15 years old, and the thing only served for making phone calls to my mom to tell her when to pick me up when I was returning by orchestra bus from the concerts I was playing. For the next years, I used the simplest phones out there, and used it so little, that most of the time it would take 2 days before I’d reply a text message.
But a little over 2 years ago, I joined the dark side and got an iPhone and a phone/data plan- recently joined by a Samsung tablet and a phone/data plan for Ecuador. I have technology in my pocket now, and I like it.
Since I get easily sucked into the internet, getting a smartphone was like getting a wide open entrance into the wonderful world of the internet, right there on my desk. Needless to say, for a while, I found myself holding my phone for quite some time during the day – checking social media platforms, chatting on Whatsapp and Skype, reading posts in Feedly, tracking the weather, reading the news and more random frittering. Not what I’d want to be spending my time on!
And after a while, as the fun wore off, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands, and stop getting distracted by my phone.
Ben from LiteratureReview HQ suggest us to burn our smartphones (or distance ourselves from it in slightly more gentle ways). I suggest learning how to tame your smartphone, so that it becomes once more that very useful tool that you wanted it to be, and not the attention-holding, energy-draining addictive thing you can’t put out of your hands.
Here are a few actions I took turn my smartphone from procrastination tool into a productivity tool:
1. Remove apps you don’t need
When I first got my smartphone, I just wanted to have and try all the apps: yoga apps, running apps, weather apps, many different productivity apps, … I ended up with a completely cluttered phone, playing around with different productivity apps instead of doing something, well, productive. After a while (in which my phone’s internal storage started to clog up completely, and the phone itself started to run very slowly), I decided I’d only keep what I really use. Evernote, ToDoist and the Calendar (which syncs with my Google Calendar), are now my go-to productivity apps.
2. Manage your social media checking impulses
There’s no point in using Leechblock or a similar program to block social media from your desktop computer, only to start checking social media on your smartphone (guilty as charged, here!). If that’s your case, you need to consider removing the social media apps from your phone, or control the impulse to fiddle with your phone too often. I opted for not removing these apps from my phone, because I like checking random social media apps when I’m waiting in line somewhere, but I decided to try and control the checking-impulse. Sometimes it works, but not all days are created equally.
3. Switch off alerts and ringers
Do you really want your phone to be buzzing and beeping for every single tweet, facebook like, instagram like, new email, new whatsapp, and what not? You might like to reconsider your settings, and see which notifications you really want to get in real time. Do you want a buzz/beep/bleep whenever you get a new email? I think fetching email hourly is more than frequent enough… I’m already overwhelmed by email, and seeing my phone light up and chirp every time another message rolls in just drives me to despair. I get very limited notifications this way.
4. Mute your phone
Aah, silence! I pretty much always have my phone on silent – a habit that goes back to my old-Nokia-phone days, in which I’d return calls after 2 days or so because I’d have my phone on silent, somewhere in a pocket in my backpack. When I’m working concentrated, I get too disturbed by buzzing and bleeping of my phone. In fact, it sort of scares me and makes me almost jump up from my chair – something I do not consider a pleasant experience. So unless I am expecting a phone call for some reason, the thing is on mute!
5. Put your phone in a drawer
When it’s one of these days that you can’t seem to pull your thoughts together and keep playing around with your phone, it might be time to take some drastic measures and lock your phone away in a drawer. When I was developing the theoretical model for my dissertation, I needed to do some real deep work – something that is not pleasant at first (for the part where you need to get into that state of mind of deep concentration and flow). And to get myself started, I would set out just what I needed for the day on my desk, and safely lock my phone away into my drawer, together with my wallet.
6. Get so engrossed in what you are doing that you forget about that phone
More important than all the tips and tricks to learn how to ignore your smartphone, it is to stop caring about your phone at all. If you are deeply engrossed in your work, your phone becomes secondary. The key here is to get into that state of deep concentration, of flow, that state in which time seems to pass effortlessly and you are truly enjoying the things you are figuring out. Admittedly, with all distractions and pressure and more, it’s hard to reach this state (it also requires a calm mind). I remember often getting into this state when studying – and just as often struggling to make sense of the words in my coursebooks as well. But I know that I deeply enjoy that state of mind, and I’m striving for finding ways to enter this state of mind more frequently, and less randomly.
How do you deal with the distractions of your smartphone? Do you consider your phone as a tool or as a toy?