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From always on to mostly off March 13, 2018

Posted by nicholas gill in addiction, mobile, productivity, thought leadership, Uncategorized.
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I can remember my first wireless mobile device. It was a BlackBerry. I got it even though officially my grade wasn’t high enough but because I had to deal with a range of clients and partners in the Wunderman network across Europe in person and across email and calls. A BlackBerry would help. And at the time I felt very smug and happy. Email on the go. Executive. Life was good. It was made better by the fact that the WPP email system at the time was bafflingly Lotus Notes; perhaps the most inefficient and incomprehensible email system ever. Inbox management using the BlackBerry was the only way to survive this terrible affliction. I only used Notes when sending or receiving attachments. So looking back, here’s where all the problems started. Thanks, Sir Martin.

You got used to managing your life on the go. Because it made your life better. And you felt important. Sitting in airport lounges in Köln for hours on end became sitting in Köln airport for hours on end reading and writing emails. We had to sit in Köln airport for hours on end because the agency agreement with the client was to fly super cheap so we had to get the 6am flight from LGW and then only ever the 9pm flight back. Even though the fortnightly meeting always finished just after lunch. Unless you wanted to brave GermanWings and then have the trauma of getting back from Stansted, by which time you’d be later than the original EasyJet flight home. Which was then another 2.5 hour drive home. So figure in a 3am start and typical 1130/midnight finish. There’s prudence… and then there’s madness.

I digress. You felt important though. And then there was that little red flashing light that told you there was a new email. It attracted you like a crying baby – you can’t ignore it.

And so fast forward some years and moving from BlackBerry to iPhones. The technology has changed but the problem remains. The flashing red light is now a fruit machine of notifications, noises and shouts for your attention.

Much has been made of the founders regret at causing anxiety in users needing the dopamine hit of instant gratification of their content and this Atlantic long-form read is fabulous.

But while acknowledging there is neediness built in, what can we do about it?

I flip-flop between addiction and abstinence but I’ve found the following tips/hacks/guidance work for me:

  1. Hard cover. I always thought these were crap. They got in the way of you looking your phone and then the cover flapped around when you were trying to make calls or take photos. But then I accidentally ran over my wife’s phone in our car one day (long story) and the phone survived. It was a heavy car at the time, a Ford Galaxy. Over gravel. Pretty impressive. So I ordered one. And then I realised that when you can’t see your screen, you stop looking at it. Stupidly simple.
  2. Turn off the sound. Beep! Bing! Or whatever alert sound there is, turn them off. I only have sounds activated for when the phone rings or text messages. Or vibrate on silent. Everything else is just a distraction.
  3. Turn off all notifications. All of them. Apart from calls and text. Yes, even WhatsApp; which continues to demand I turn notifications back on. Resist. In doing so you’ll also lose the tiny little number in a red circle that although elegantly designed, is designed to drag you back in.
  4. Airplane mode is not just for airplanes. Absolutely use at night. The only permissible function could be an alarm clock. And if you can’t trust yourself to not have a sneaky peak in the night, buy a damn alarm clock.
  5. Turn the screen to grayscale. It’s amazing how less exciting the world looks in black and white. You will spend less time surfing through social media and focussing on completing tasks. Intention trumps attention. It will also extend your battery life.
  6. Clean your screen top. Move everything into folders. Move all folders to at least the second page. Not seeing the glut of apps stops you. Adding friction to your experience makes it just that little more effort.
  7. Make eye contact with people, not pixels. If I had a Samsung phone, I’d be downloading this Thrive app.
  8. Break the habit. Stop looking at your phone first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Put it away. At least an hour before sleep.
  9. Delete apps. I killed Twitter in May 2017. Took a few days to stop looking at the cess pool but I don’t miss it all all. I managed to kill Facebook until we were trying to sell some old baby stuff. I only use Instagram to share micro-updates. I don’t follow anyone because otherwise I’d be looking at it all the time. Not following anyone avoids this temptation rather than some uber self importance statement. It may also be a short-term project.

What other tips do you have? Next time, let’s talk about email…

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

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