Whenever we start working with a new client, we always ask what their biggest “productivity killers” are. The single most common answer? Distraction. When we dig into this in our sessions, the two biggest culprits are constant notifications (email, slack etc.) on laptops and people’s phones. Today, we’re going to focus on the latter. Now, if you’ve read any of our posts or attended a workshop with us, you’ll know why distraction is so bad for us. It leads to attention residue, stops us from getting into a state of deep work and, ultimately, makes us all slightly dumber versions of ourselves.
When we lose control of our relationship with our devices, they can become quite destructive; eroding our focus and stopping us from doing our best work
Now, unfortunately, our phones are pretty much designed to be distracting, from the dopamine hit we get from each little notification, to the scroll-inducing effects of social media apps. Our phones are shiny, comforting toys that are much easier to engage with than, say, a complicated work problem. But there are a few things we can do to help ourselves resist the urge of our itchy thumbs: all of the tips below are designed to reduce the dopamine hits we get from our devices, as well as giving our willpower a bit more of a chance.
Set screen time limits. If you know that there are certain apps you spend far too much time on, whether it’s Instagram or a game, you can set a daily time limit. I’d recommend starting with 15 minutes (you’ll be surprised how quickly you reach it) and trying to reduce it by a minute each week to wean yourself off. Of course, you can override the limit with your code, but it gives you a moment to reflect on whether that’s what you really want to be spending your time doing, removing some of the mindlessness of the habit. The advanced version of this is to delete the apps that tempt you, even if it’s just during the week. I delete the Instagram app on Sunday evenings and reinstall it on Friday afternoon as I know I spend too much time on it otherwise.
Do Not Disturb mode. I have my phone on Do Not Disturb pretty much constantly, unless I’m expecting a call from a client. This puts you in charge of when you check your notifications, rather than being constantly jolted out of focus by pings or buzzing. Something else you can do is create a favourites list and set it so that calls from those numbers still come through when you’re in DND. That way you never miss a call from your family, partner, key clients etc.
Switch off non-essential notifications. Do you really need push notifications from the BBC news app? Is it vital that you know instantly that your aunt’s neighbour has also liked her latest status update on Facebook? I even have the notifications on my email switched off – I know I check it regularly enough not to worry about missing anything, and again, this makes email/news/cat photo checking more intentional and, importantly, on your terms. Don’t let your phone dictate your life.
Make it black and white. Every phone has an option to make it grayscale. You may have to look up exactly how to do it on your specific model, but typically it’s in accessibility settings. Having your phone in black and white most of the time simply makes it less shiny and appealing – our brains are pretty basic in that way. In particular, it makes the red notification icons stand out much less.
Put it away! If you really need to focus, nothing beats having your phone off and out of sight somewhere. Not just on silent, not face down, somewhere where you can’t see it at all. If this is impossible for you, you may need to have a think about whether you’re suffering from digital presenteeism and potentially look at whether you and your team need to shift from availability to output. I guarantee you, nothing will better enable you to work quickly and to the best of your ability than having your phone in a different room for a couple of hours.
Phones are wonderful things. If lockdown has taught us anything it’s the incredible value of being able to connect with loved ones digitally. However, when we lose control of our relationship with our devices, they can become quite destructive; eroding our focus and stopping us from doing our best work. If you’re interested in taking your digital decluttering further, I’d highly recommend reading “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport.
Give one or more of the above techniques a try and let us know how you get on at firstname.lastname@example.org.