If you have a heart that beats and a smartphone in your pocket, you know that disconnecting is a luxury. Have you heard about the phone stack game? (First one to fiddle with their phone foots the bill.) Digital detox camp and mobile-free parties? (Please check your phones at the door.) Restaurants asking you to please not Instagram during your meal? Welcome to the 21st century, where disconnecting is “A Thing,” and it’s #trending in the styles section.
Most of us, it seems, are too connected, too often, and so we’ve had to get creative about disconnecting. If you work in tech like I do, it can seem impossible to disconnect.
When I first started working in mobile product/UX, my phone was bloated with apps. We were pivoting to a mobile marketing platform and I left every app’s push notifications on. We were building a pipeline of potential partner apps and I downloaded every one to see how their current app worked, and how we could improve it. We were redesigning our mobile experience and I couldn’t delete competitor apps fast enough. I had a lot of apps on my phone. I had a lot of opportunities to be distracted.
I still work in mobile, but I’ve learned a few tricks since then to help me disconnect. They’re not rocket science, but they do work. Here’s how I manage the digital distractions in my life:
I removed the Facebook app from my phone. Whoah. It is amazing how much of a mindless habit browsing Facebook had become. Waiting for the bus, waiting for a friend at the bar, on a quick walk to lunch — all prime opportunities to look up and out and I was too busy reading about the latest Miley Cyrus meme to notice. Since I deleted the FB app from my phone I feel ten times better — and more present — than before. Honestly, I feel a little smarter, too. I’m reading more, I’m learning more, my perception of others is getting sharper. Life is being lived, not browsed.
I use the iPhone’s “Do not disturb” setting all the time. Literally. Every day. 24 hours a day. If you haven’t heard of it, Do not disturb allows you to set a block of time where incoming texts and notifications are ignored and calls go straight to voicemail (iOS 6 and up only). (Except calls from your Favorites, and calls that come in from the same contact twice in a row in under five minutes. Hint: it’s an emergency.) A lot of people use Do Not Disturb at night, to prevent notifications and texts from interrupting their slumber. That’s why I initially started using it, and I did sleep better. I also realized that most of the app alerts piling up overnight were pretty irrelevant. So I went all the way and decided to leave Do Not Disturb on during daytime hours, too. The only time I turn it off is if I’m expecting a call from a number I don’t already know (from a recruiter, a client, a bank, etc.) Otherwise, it’s on, and I’m on.
Just to be safe, I turned off individual notifications for nearly all my apps. I make an exception for the apps I use daily, like Sunrise (calendar app), Up (which only pings me if my Jawbone battery needs charging), and messaging apps like Skype and Whatsapp, but everything else is off limits.That way if I do have to turn off my Do Not Disturb settings, I’m not flooded with notifications. I just don’t get them.
I started wearing a watch again. This was a big one. Relying on my phone for the time always tempted me — a simple glance at the time would never stop there. I’d see those notifications on my lock screen piled up, just begging to be cleared. And while we’re clearing those notifications, might as well check email, right? And so it went. The solution was really quite simple: start wearing my watch again. Not only do I check my phone less, but I no longer feel rude if I have to check the time mid-coffee date. It’s much easier to take a discrete peek at my watch than to pull out my phone mid conversation.
So there you have it. Simple, obvious, and the effects have been wonderful: I feel less anxious because there are no “pressing” updates to scroll through. I feel more focused because there are far fewer pings interrupting my conversations and my thoughts. I feel more present, more empathetic, and more patient, and my neck hurts less. (So do my thumbs.) In other words, I feel great. Once you decide everything on your phone can wait, it can; it does.