I have to be completely honest. I still own a mobile phone. I just don’t use it in the traditional way anymore. I turned my mobile phone into a superior portable educational device. It’s my omni-university that enables me to learn wherever I go; and to create whenever I want. But what’s really important is this…
I deleted all distraction apps from my mobile phone. I deleted the email app, all social networking apps, instant messaging services and basically all other things that are nothing but constant distractions (you can probably see the pattern that they’re all communication apps). I even changed my phone number and only a few people have it (my mom and my girlfriend).
I did it as an experiment. I’m a big fan of technology, but also an equally big fan of technology detox and regularly taking time away from screens. Too much of anything becomes toxic, and today you can find screens shining some kind of a distraction at you on every single step you take.
I was very careful with mobile distractions before. I made sure not to use too many IM apps, to have all notifications turned off, I scheduled daily do not disturb hours, especially when working in the flow, I tried to turn my social networks into an interesting news flow and I made sure I had educational apps on the first screen.
Every month or so, I also did a revision of which apps I was using and which ones I wasn’t, reorganized my screen, cleared the digital clutter, and always tried to make sure that I use the mobile phone to my advantage, not as a burden preventing me from thinking and creating in peace. After every such reorganization, there were fewer and fewer apps that presented distractions.
But now I decided to take everything a step further. As an experiment. Like Louis C.K. did.
What happens when you live without a mobile phone?
The first few days after I deleted all communication apps, I was very confused. I felt kind of lost. I unlocked my phone, but there were no notifications, no communication apps to open, nothing to kill 2 minutes on just to see what’s happening, no one to connect to.
The urge to reinstall the apps was huge. For the first few days, I hated the experience. I felt like an addict without his shot. Even though it wasn’t easy, I decided to persist with my decision, as crazy as it sounds.
And after the first few days, on the fourth day, to be more exact, something magical happened. I got more relaxed. Some of the tension was driven away. A very subjective assessment would be that I got 20 % more relaxed, which is a lot.
After a few days without my phone, I suddenly started to feel much more relaxed.
There was no need anymore for me to look at the phone every 3 minutes and check if there is anything new. Unlock the phone, open apps one by one – mail, Facebook, LinkedIn etc., spend a few minutes on every app, lock the phone. A few minutes passed, repeat the loop, unlock the phone, open the first app, and so on. Like a robot.
Suddenly I didn’t care about the notifications anymore. Suddenly there was no need to start the unproductive activity loop around 300 times per day. Yes, 300 times per day is the number of times that the average smartphone owner looks at the screen.
By ditching the phone, a big part of the brain fog also went away. I could feel more connected to myself. I gained the ability to think better and more clearly. Creating in the flow, knowing that nothing could really disturb me, and that there was no need to check for new notifications led me to a whole new level of focus and creativity.
It’s magic, I tell you. It’s the real life. It’s the good life. You probably heard the expression that no one on their deathbed ever said “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”. I think this has become completely outdated. Now the saying should be:
No one on their deathbed ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time checking notifications on my mobile phone”.
Feeling connected to other people
The primal human need is to feel connected to others. Ironically, the most distracting apps are communication apps. You have a need to feel connected to people, but on the other hand, apps that enable you to be connected with people from all over the world are the biggest distraction.
Well, to be honest, many times these apps are also real work. Email can be real work. Slack can be real work. To get anything done, you have to communicate with other people, from teammates to all the stakeholders. No one can succeed alone on this planet and most things you’re trying to achieve in life include dealing with people. No piece of art can thrive without a proper network.
You must be in touch with other people to be happy. And you must be in touch with other people to get work done. And technology is a great tool helping you with that. That’s a fact. But the problem is that only with self-discipline, it’s hard to set limits for when and how to use technology.
Imagine yourself sitting in an office, working on something important. You know you do the most productive work without any distractions. You may even tolerate a distraction or two doing a few hours of work, either someone calling you or stopping by in your office.
Now imagine someone stopping by in your office every 5 minutes. You’d go nuts. But that’s what technology does in your life. As a leverage and accelerator, it multiplies the number of distractions. There are no real-life limits in the technology world. And because you have to feel connected to other people, it’s addictive as hell, and there is no way you can manage all this only with self-discipline.
Being one step ahead of technology
You definitely want to use technology to your advantage. And you definitely want to live real life, not a fake digital life full of distractions. You surely want to be connected with people, professionally and personally, but you also want the time to think, reflect and create. You want to be and feel alive.
As mentioned, it’s almost impossible to achieve that with self-discipline. The drug is just too addictive. Thus the only sound solution is to have a set strategy and system that enable you to enjoy the best from both worlds – real life and digital life.
I need email to get work done. I need the IM app to chat with people from all over the world. I need social networks to distribute my content and feel the pulse of the world. But I don’t need to check my email every 5 minutes. I don’t need 10 different mobile apps blinking notifications all the time.
To set a proper system and have the best from both worlds, you have to know yourself well, especially when you can stay disciplined and what are your weak spots. You can’t just be reactive and hope for the best.
You have to be proactive, you have to be one step ahead of technology. You have to constantly improve the system, and experiment with new ideas, setups and ways to organize yourself. Kaizen (philosophy of constant improvements) is endless. There is always a way you can improve your productivity, happiness and how you use technology.
Here is how I am one step ahead of technology
My current system is that I check email and social networks only twice a day (on my desktop computer). Once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I reply to every email with the shortest response possible. I also follow all other top email productivity tips. That’s just enough so I don’t lose the world’s pulse, can use all the benefits of technology, and don’t get distracted too many times.
I turned my smartphone into an educational device. I read books on it, blog posts, listen to audio books and podcasts, use Lynda and different MOOC apps like Udemy. I also have a few apps for creating and writing and managing my blog. It’s my real productivity and educational device.
I know that I have the advantage of being in monk mode, so I can experiment a lot and I don’t need that much communication with people. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve the way you use technology and set a superior management system and some strict limits to also live the real life, not just the digital one.
That’s what’s best in life at the end of the day. Listening to yourself, your thoughts and your needs. Creating in the flow. Meeting with someone you want to deepen the relationship with and actually talk without looking at your mobile phone a dozen times. All these things make you alive, and stop you from being a zombie.
And technology is only a tool, leverage to help you with that. It’s up to you if you’re the master of technology or technology is mastering you. When on your deathbed, you definitely won’t regret not hitting one more like. But you might regret not putting down your phone and living the real life.
Here is some simple homework I suggest you do. Spend one weekend completely without a mobile phone or any other screen. And if you’re quite a nervous and anxious person, consider if you could live without a smartphone. What do you say to being 20%+ more calm every day?