An Experiment to Turn My iPhone into an Empty, Soulless Appliance

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“Less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking.”

Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

The Goal: Recapture focus on the most important work and let technology be my servant, rather than my master.

This is not a technology prediction for the year. This is a self reflection on my own behaviors and thinking around how I interact with technology, social networks, and the impact it has on my work, relationships, and overall well being. I have been reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work, and was also inspired by this video to experiment with converting my iPhone to Grayscale, and realized that if I was willing to try something so seemingly silly, and by the sheer volume of content around phone addiction, that there was something more significant going on.

When I started engaging with social media in a professional context, it felt like the wild west and I was among a small minority in my industry who were actively leveraging it as a tool to share ideas and connect with clients, colleagues and prospective customers.

Here’s what I have noticed recently. My own habits have become that of a nervous tick. How many likes? How many shares? Am I posting enough? Have I missed anything? Oh yeah, I saw that on Facebook, but now that I’m on Twitter I’ll go ahead and click that link. I should really be using Instagram more. I wonder how many of my customers are on LinkedIn?

Does any of this sound familiar? I sincerely hope that this is limited to what goes on between my own two ears, but I’m increasingly convinced that many of us are experiencing similar phenomenon. Newport even titles a chapter in Deep Work as “Quit Social Media”.

I am certainly painfully aware of the irony that I am posting this on my blog and will subsequently share it via social channels. My hope however, is for myself and anyone else who has been feeling this way, that we can find a way to be more intentional. More focused. More present. More connected – not constantly to the rest of the world – but to the friends, family, colleagues, who are sharing our physical space.

I have turned off all notifications except text messages and incoming phone calls. I uninstalled Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and all other social media tools from my phone. I am scheduling time once a day to log into those channels on my computer at home.

If I am with you, I am setting “Do Not Disturb” so as to dedicate that moment to you. And should anyone phone while we are together, I sincerely hope that they will leave a message so that I can share a moment with them.

The outcome of my experiment? I’m going to give myself a solid B+.

I have kept all social channels off of the phone to date. This alone has changed my relationship with technology, and honestly has given me more joy when I do jump on Facebook because I’m doing it on my own terms.

With notifications turned off, my pocket is no longer buzzing all day. I step into a meeting with the phone on Do Not Disturb, it stays gleefully silent, I enjoy my conversation with another human being, and when we are done I look to see if I missed anything critical. It’s not perfect. And I fully acknowledge that my professional responsibilities are not life and death as yours may be. But it has given me the margin to focus on what feels most important.

I did attempt the grayscale hack on my phone, and lasted less than two days. I use color coding on my calendar, and found navigating that to be more than I could handle. In addition, the times when I did want to watch a video on YouTube, or take a picture of my daughter in her beautiful sparkly dress, it didn’t serve me well in those instances.

After one week I also re-installed Kindle on my phone, and in the absence of social apps, have found myself reading significantly more. I still battle the itch to check email more frequently than I would like, but elimination of the notifications has helped. Overall it has been an incredibly positive experiment, and has helped me rewire my brain in a way that is contributing to clearer thinking and focused progression toward my goals.

I’ll close with another reference from Deep Work by Cal Newport on this topic.

“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”

― Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

2017 will be my year for authenticity, empathy, service, and work that makes an impact.

I wish you the best of that which your heart desires.

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