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The top 10 lessons I learned using my smartphone for only 60 minutes a day

The top 10 lessons I learned using my smartphone for only 60 minutes a day

For the last three months I have only used my smartphone for one hour a day; a tall order considering my smartphone is like another appendage to me. Actually, scratch that – before this productivity experiment, my smartphone was like tapestry, so interwoven into my life that I couldn’t dream of living without it. If I came up with a crazy thought, I would pull out my phone to tweet it out. If I saw a book I wanted to read, I would snap a picture of it with my phone to refer back to later. If I wanted to pass some time at the bus stop.. well, you get the idea.

There is an adage that says great design is invisible, and that holds especially true for my smartphone. Over the last few years, my iPhone has done everything from wake me up in the morning to track my sleep when I went to bed, and over time it became so interwoven into my daily routine that it became invisible to me; such an essential part of what I do and who I am that I couldn’t imagine living without it.

Until I started this experiment.

I’ve boiled down everything I learned over the last 3 months into the 10 points below. This productivity experiment wasn’t as tough as meditating for 35 hours over a week, or living as a total recluse for 10 days, but because it lasted so damn long, it sure wasn’t easy (I used my phone for as much as 3-4 hours a day before starting this experiment). Here are the top 10 things I learned using my smartphone for only 1 hour/day for 3 months!

    10. You meet interesting people when you’re not always on your phone.

    Shortly after I started this experiment, I met a man named Michael at the bus stop, simply because I didn’t have my headphones in. A similar thing happened a couple of other times throughout the experiment.

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    9. Your smartphone is a teleportation device.

    Your smartphone is like a little black hole in your pocket that sucks you into its vortex dozens of times every day. If you pick it up when you’re in an elevator, on a bus, or going for a walk, it sucks up 100% of your attention as you use it, essentially hijacking your attention until it has teleported you to your destination. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but I’m leaning toward bad. Just as a practice like meditation can help you work out your attention muscle, I think losing control of your attention, like when you become completely absorbed in your cellphone, can do the opposite.

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      8. Because of smartphones, people are bored a lot less often, and that’s a shame.

      I find that my best ideas come from completely out of the blue, especially when I’m bored. When your mind is bored, it looks around for excitement and ideas in new places. Your brain also chews on ideas when it’s bored. In my opinion, leaning on your smartphone when you’re bored is, at least in the long-term, a pretty unproductive thing to do.

      7. Using your smartphone distracts you way more than you think.

      Studies have shown that “the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk”. But the thing is, people don’t only use their phones when they drive. They use them when they’re talking to you, when you’re in a meeting with them, when they’re walking down the street, and when they’re working. Know how much of an attention suck a smartphone can be, because people could be paying a lot less attention to you than you think.

      6. Your smartphone is stimulating, but it dilutes your interactions with people.

      If you gave me the choice between having a nice coffee with someone or sending a bunch of tweets back and forth, I know which one I’d pick after this experiment. Texting, Twitter, and Facebook are fun and addictive, but if you really want to invest in your relationship with someone, meet with them in person instead.

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      5. When you meet with someone in person, you should shut your phone completely off.

      Absolutely nobody you meet cares (or can see) what you’re doing on your phone. When I had coffee with a few friends throughout the course of this experiment, the first thing I did after I sat down was shut my phone completely off. Shutting your phone off when you’re with someone is a great way to show them they they’re important to you, and that you’re ready to give them 100% of your attention.

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        4. When people get nervous or anxious about a situation they’re in, they almost always pull out their phone.

        The next time you walk into an elevator, make a make a mental note of how many people pull out their phone, especially if there’s only one other person in there with you. When people are anxious about a situation they’re in, they almost always fidget with their hands and minds.

        3. Using your smartphone is a very low-leverage activity.

        In fact, if you’re like me, most of the things you do on your phone are a waste of time. They involve diluted social interaction, bite-sized status updates, and other things that have a very short shelf-life (but are still stimulating nonetheless). That’s not to say that my smartphone isn’t useful – it is, in fact, it’s one of the useful devices I own. But it’s worth taking the time to identify the activities on your smartphone that will provide you with the highest return for your time, because there are a lot that are a waste.

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          2. You use your phone way more than you think you do.

          If you hire your phone to do as many jobs as me, I’d wager a bet that you use your smartphone a lot more than you think you do. If I had to guess at the beginning of the experiment, I would have said that I used my phone for 30-60 minutes a day. A few days into the experiment I measured exactly how long I used my phone naturally, and I use it for as long as 3-4 hours a day, simply because I hire it to do so many jobs. That’s a lot of time to spend on something as low-leverage as using your phone. If you’re serious about regaining control of your time, track how much you use your phone. You might be surprised by just how much you use it.

          1. Think hard about the jobs that you hire the things in your life to do for you.

          People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole. – Theodore Levitt

          The ‘jobs-to-be-done’ theory is a powerful one. According to the theory, you hire every single device, object, and even person in your life to do a certain job for you. You may hire a beautiful, living room painting to provide you with warmth and pride, your morning coffee to provide you with energy and comfort, your spouse for companionship and to feel loved, and this website to make you more productive.

          Throughout this experiment, here’s the funny thing I discovered: The ease of this experiment depended solely on whether I had other devices around me that could do a given job that I would typically hire my phone to do.

          If you’re like me, you hire your smartphone to do a lot of jobs for you. I hire mine to, in no particular order: access twitter, send and receive email, play music, make phone calls, calculate numbers, browse the web, play video games, be my Starbucks card, give me transit directions, tell the time (and act as a timer), be a pomodoro timer, and a whole lot more. Naturally, the more jobs you hire a gadget to do for you, the more your life will be disrupted after it’s gone.

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          Thinking hard about the jobs you hire your phone to do for you will allow you to truly see the place it occupies in your life.

          Plus, if you’re anything like me, you might find that there are a lot of jobs that can be done better by something else.

          Thanks to Ryan Wang for editing the feature image of this post. Photo credits, in order of appearance: Caden Crawford (phone and hand), Robert Donovan (closeup of iPhone screen), and Richard Lambert (timepiece).

          Featured photo credit: Caden Crawford via flickr.com

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          Last Updated on July 21, 2021

          The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

          The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

          No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

          Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

          Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

          A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

          Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

          In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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          From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

          A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

          For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

          This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

          The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

          That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

          Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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          The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

          Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

          But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

          The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

          The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

          A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

          For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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          But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

          If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

          For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

          These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

          For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

          How to Make a Reminder Works for You

          Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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          Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

          Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

          My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

          Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

          I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

          More on Building Habits

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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          Reference

          [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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