Like most of you, I have a love/hate relationship with my smart phone (Galaxy S6 if you are curious). On the one hand, it has proven incredibly helpful time and time again. Recently while in New Zealand, I was able to use Google Maps on my phone to navigate the South Island. Checking bus time tables on the go has been a life life saver. Yes, my smart phone is useful. Nonetheless, I can’t deny it is also a source of constant distraction and wasted time. For someone that thinks a lot about time maximisation, I sure do spend a lot of unnecessary time on my Galaxy phone.
I think it is safe to say that almost everyone one of us has that feeling deep down inside that there is something inherently wrong with the way humans are compulsively connecting to their smart devices. There is a particular unnaturalness about it. And perhaps one day I will wax philosophical about the greater harms of smart devices.
But the point of this article is not to debate the positive or negative impacts of smart devices on humanity. Rather, I’d like to suggest a very simple technique that will help you gain more control over your smart phone use. Here it is…brace yourselves….
Turn off your smart phone.
I know, not exactly rocket science. Want to use your smart phone less? Then leave it turned off most of the time. The next few paragraphs will explain why keeping your smart phone turned off at particular times is helpful. But the core take away of this article is really as simple as leaving the device turned off as much as possible.
Before launching into further explanation, I want to introduce the famous 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 rule essentially says that 80% of benefits are derived from 20% of inputs. For example in sales and marketing, the 80/20 rule suggests that 80% of sales come from only 20% of clients. Now apply the 80/20 rule to smart phone use. Chances are we get a strong majority (80%) of the benefit of a smart device from a small fraction (20%) of the time we use them. What does that imply? We are actually gain small additional benefit for a significant amount of additional time we spend on them.
So I challenge you with this potentially difficult question:
How much do you really value 80% of the time you
spend on your smart device on a given day?
If you are like me, not much. I highly the value 20 per cent of my time I use it. I talk to my girlfriend, Skype with my family and friends in the States, check bus time tables, and navigate parts of the city I am unfamiliar with. After that first 20 per cent though, the benefit I derive while on my phone drops precipitously.
Leaving your phone turned off makes it significantly harder to use
The main reason for leaving your phone turned off is that it makes the phone harder to use compulsively. It creates a significant pause between the thought to play with your phone and the corresponding action to do so. With their big buttons, bright colours, and exciting notification bings, smart phones are inherently addictive. It is far, far too easy to impulsively press those big, bright buttons out of sheer habit.
Most importantly, turn it off before bed
One of the worst smart phone habits I ever had was checking my phone within 60 seconds of opening my eyes in the morning. I personally believe (i.e. I haven’t yet backed this up with independent research) that checking my phone first thing in the morning sets my mind up for a distracted day.
Two years ago, I realised the only way to prevent this compulsive early morning phone use was to turn it off each night before bed. Now, when I wake up each morning, checking my phone is not (usually) my first thought. If I do have the thought to check, I don’t feel like waiting around for the phone to boot up to start checking email. I usually wait about an hour or so in the morning to do my first phone check.
If we apply the 80/20 rule to this article, I’d argue you’ll get 80% of the benefit from this section alone. Starting your mental day free from addictive electronic devices keeps your mind stronger and helps it maintain focus throughout the day. Think of keeping your phone off as having a nice healthy breakfast every morning instead of McDonald’s. Eating like crap in the morning will affact how your body runs the entirety of the day. Treat your mind the same way.
Only turn it on when you absolutely need it…
Throughout the day, you will likely think of a hundred things you “need” to quickly check on your phone. However, with your phone turned off, you are forced to determine the necessity of using the it. Chances are, going through the agonisingly long boot up sequence will keep you from checking Facebook out of sheer habit (actually, you should probably remove Facebook from your phone anyway). But if you do need to make a phone call or send a text message, turn the phone back on to use for its intended purpose.
…then turn that sucker off again immediately.
Once you have used the phone for its intended purpose, turn it off again immediately. If there a few little things you want to check, do it now quickly, then turn off the phone.
Sometimes we need to leave the phone on for a while and that is fine. Perhaps we are waiting on a response from a from a friend or an important call from a prospective client. Obviously we want our phone on during that time. But once we get the response we are waiting on, turn that sucker off! : )
Ditch the smart phone completely?
Sadly, not yet. I have often contemplated getting rid of my smart phone. As much as I would love to, the fact remains life now operates in a smart phone world. I have weighed the pro and cons of keeping my device, and I do still derive enough benefit to warrant its continued use. By leaving my phone turned off, though, I have become its master, rather than its slave.
Keeping your phone turn off more often than on may prove difficult at first. All those precious moments waiting for a stop light, or taking a train ride, or even going for a walk that your click-bait device was securily in hand are no longer. So try the ‘Turn off phone method’ for just a day or two and see how it feels. If it works, keep going with it.
Or, you may find almost immediately, like I did, that you have an entirely new sense of freedom and clarity. The time you free up is now available for other pursuits you may find more worthwhile than Angry Birds. You may even notice cognitive benefits and an increased sense of focus. More peace, contentment, and joy may follow. And hopefully – just maybe – you’ll be a bit more productive. : )