Digital minimalism part 1: How I stopped checking my phone

Do smartphones serve us – or do we serve them? I just recently discussed this topic on ThePodcast.fm (episodes 168 and 175). In addition, I just finished reading Cal Newport’s latest book, Digital Minimalism. All of this led me to review my system of apps, notifications and all the other stuff I constantly kept checking, even when I am spending time with my daughters… In this post, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on this subject with you.

Addressing the constant need to check your phone

The creators of so-called apps for “connecting people,” such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, make a living off the fact that we constantly check our phones for updates from thousands of our social media friends. Unfortunately, all that time we spend online comes at the expense of our real-life relationships.

It’s just so tempting to check Instagram for the 20th time a day, even though probably not much has changed in the last 10 minutes. That’s because its clever algorithm makes it seem like new stuff is appearing all the time.

And that’s how we become slaves to FOMO: the Fear of Missing Out.

In his book, Cal Newport compares the smartphone to a “digital slot machine.” Are we just habitual gamblers who have become enslaved to our phones without any hope for change?

Step one: delete all the social apps from your phone

To cure my phone addiction, I began wondering what I need my phone for and which apps I really need access to. As a result, I slowly started deleting social media apps, especially those I used most frequently: Instagram and Twitter.

Use a script for restricting access to social media apps or delete them

Apart from setting a time limit in iOS12, I began wondering what else I could do to use Instagram even less. Together with Radek and Rafał, we created a Siri Shortcuts script that allows me to open Instagram only twice a day. I’ve hidden Instagram deep within my phone and load it only by means of that script. If I try to open it for a third time, the script will tell me that I’ve used the app enough for the day.

The script has another advantage: when I try to open Instagram a second time, it informs me that I’ve already used this app once today and asks me if I’m sure I want to use my last chance to open the app. That moment of thought transforms an action that, until now, was an impulsive click into a conscious decision to open an app.

I created a copy of that script for Facebook (limited to once a day) and LinkedIn (also once a day).

As for Twitter, I completely deleted the app from my phone, as I used it almost obsessively. Right now, I only use Twitter on my iPad, and when I do, I use Tweetbot for that purpose. In addition, I set a 30-minute daily time limit for the app. I also cut down the number of people I follow by deleting those who post too much about politics and current events. Reading their posts made me worry too much about things I have no control over.

I was so obsessed with reading news that I had to block it

For some time now, I’ve been using 1BlockerX on both my iPhone and iPad for blocking ads, but I also noticed that it works well for blocking websites. It helped me block access to a lot of news websites. It became more and more frequently that I would catch myself entering these web addresses almost automatically into my devices just to check what was going on in the world. Reading all that news created unnecessary stress in my life.

By keeping those sites blocked, I can’t open any news websites. When something really important happens in the country or in the world, sooner or later someone will tell me about it, so I don’t need to get overexcited and spend half of the day searching through multiple websites to get all the details.

What is social media really for? – It’s how I watch the Golden State Warriors

As a basketball fan, I follow my favorite team (@warriors) on Twitter. When they play, they always post live updates from the games. In the mornings (European time), I used to sit down and check out the most interesting plays and highlights from the game.

But I don’t have Twitter on my iPhone anymore, so how am I supposed to do that? What’s worse: how am I even supposed to live now!?

It turns out there’s a much better way to watch the Warriors – one that doesn’t involve social media. To stay up to date with their games schedule, I subscribed to their iCal calendar. In addition, I have a script that searches Google for “Golden State Warriors game highlights.” In the search results, the first line always shows a YouTube clip with a 10-minute recap of the game. I sit down to breakfast, watch all the best moments from the game, and I’m done! I get to see more action, and the material itself is much more exciting than reading Twitter posts… and it doesn’t take me more than 10 minutes!

Radek, with whom I record The Podcast, gave me another useful tip: instead of checking Reddit or Twitter for information about SpaceX and other rocket-related stuff, he subscribed to a newsletter that summarizes all of the most important updates on the subject.

Figure out what works best for you

Observe your habits in respect to using your phone. Analyze the way you use individual apps, ask yourself what benefits social media gives you, and consider if you can achieve the same goals in a different (or perhaps even better) way. Set time limits or, like me, put a block on your phone to limit the number of times you can open a particular app. Break free from your smartphone addiction and start seeing it for what it really is – a genius pocket computer that lets you stay connected with the whole world.

Michael
Nozbe founder and CEO. He records a weekly podcast, writes on this blog, and publishes books to help modern knowledge workers get more done and have a more organized (and passionate) life.