digital minimalist – 2 instant steps to have your phone stop telling you what to do


I was playing with a fidget spinner and someone noticed it. “Those are all over now, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” I said, “and every time someone is fidgeting with one of these, they are taking a break from fidgeting with their phone.”

Our cell phones are magic. More computer and information access than we could possibly imagine barely a decade ago. In a box smaller than a Star Trek communicator.

So it should be no surprise that with great power comes even greater addiction.

Everything on your phone is designed carefully to addict you. Even the phone itself perpetuates the need to have one. Millions of years of humans getting into and out of ’emergencies’ sans cell, and yet that is the most common rationalization for owning one.

Every notification, alert, reminder, and bubbled number feeds your body happy chemicals¬†and keep you tethered to your phone. Your brain is getting activated over and over with the assurance that Something is Happening, even when … well… it isn’t.

I installed the Moment app during my Summer of Minimalism Experiments, and discovered that I pick my phone up about 50-60 times a day. I don’t want to imagine what that number was when I was playing Pokemon Go.

As useful a tool as your phone is, you wouldn’t allow any other tool you use to have such casual use of your attention. How many times did you pick up your hammer today to see if there was anything worth hammering nearby?

I have a phone, so I’m not knocking them. I do, however, make sure that the addictive nature of the phone is ratcheted down by doing a couple of simple things.

Pings, rings, & other sound notifications

Shut them off.

Shut them all off.

Do it now.

Not just for yourself, but for everyone around you.

Not only do the pings, rings, bongs, and other assorted bells turn you into Pavlov’s dog, they interrupt the thoughts and activities of others around you. The vibrate option distracts you but doesn’t disturb as many people around you.

The email bing is widely considered the biggest drain on work productivity going. That alert breaks up your flow and causes errors and poor attention. A recent study showed it took almost 25 minutes to get back on task after some interruptions.

Phone notifications

There is no app that needs to send you a pop up notification.

Shut off every “push” notification on your phone right now.

Once you’ve shut them all off, start creating exceptions. You might want to have texts or alerts when someone bids on your ebay items, for example. But treat those as case-by-case. Shut them all off and then carefully consider which to turn back on. That extra step will give you even more leverage to consider the value of that pop up.

If you are checking your email regularly you don’t need a pop-up to show you each one. If you visit social media on a schedule, that is an ideal time to see how many people liked your latest photo.

Every time your eye drifts to that flash of your screen, your attention is fragmented and your time is scarred.

A cell phone is an amazing device. And used carefully and intentionally it can add significant value to your life.

Used without care or intention, and it becomes the machine operating the operator.

Things don’t run we.

Digital Minimalism series

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