A Distraction-Free Phone

Several people looking down at mobile phones.

Lately, I’ve wanted to be more intentional instead of more productive.

Why check off another item on the to-do list when you can focus on completing the right task? Getting there means improving habits, and creating the space for the right things. The biggest opportunity for making that space sits in my pocket or next to me almost 24 hours a day. My phone.

Inspired by the book, Make Time, which I finished recently, I decided to radically alter my phone, a Pixel 2 XL. I disabled all the apps that prove most distracting. The ones that lure you in with a feed that goes on endlessly. These apps remove you from your place in life. They put you half in, half out, like some sort of spirit caught between two worlds.

No more. Here’s how I did it.

I downloaded the Digital Wellbeing app from the Google Play Store. This will be released later this fall as part of Android. The app allows you to set timers for all your apps. Once you run out of time, it locks the affected app. I set a zero-minute timer for all the apps that distract me the most. They are:

  • Chrome
  • Gmail
  • Twitter
  • Slack
  • YouTube
  • ESPN

That way, if I want to use these tools, I have to be intentional about it. I can’t just mindlessly click into them and lose time.

So far:

  • Having an extra barrier does help. I’ve spent a bit more time on my laptop, but I’m being more intentional there as well. Getting a task done and moving on.
  • I’m spending less time fiddling with email or opening up an app without a strict purpose.
  • I have more mental space for thinking and writing.

This isn’t my first foray into a more distracted-free lifestyle. I started reducing the number of apps I use on my phone two years ago, and have mostly stuck to that.

Image by Robin Worrall.

Time and Decisions

Seth Godin has written a lot of classic posts, but this one is my favorite. He talks about how time and decisions become interlinked. He says:

But…
That’s our work.
We don’t make stuff as much as we make decisions.

Seth Godin

As a leader, I do this every day. I used to produce code, but now I produce decisions. If it’s a good day, I make clarity. That clarity often comes if I put the right amount of time into the needed problem. If I don’t, I start to lose momentum and the clarity becomes more elusive.

Important Things to Say to Your Team

Leading a team means you’re context switching all the time.

One minute, you’re doing some planning for a project. Next, you’re chatting about someone’s career goals. Later, you might be scanning your roadmap, thinking over what needs to be tweaked. With all that swirling around each day, it’s difficult to keep the important messages in mind for your team.

Think of how your team feels. They do the work, and probably have more on their plate than you. How do they remember what’s important? I’m not talking about your company or team goals, but the messages that will motivate them and make them think deeper about things like company goals. My leadership coach, Akshay, calls these “campaigns.”

To make this easier, I wrote a list.

  1. We should be building the fire suppression system, not the putting out all the fires.
  2. How does it look on mobile?
  3. What problem are we solving here?
  4. We’re not just about themes anymore.
  5. Make the future.

I look at this list at least once a week, trying to work it into conversations and communications with my team when it fits. The list evolves over time, but the themes within stay similar. They range from the everyday details that translate the craft to broad messages that grant perspective.

How are you communicating with your team? And are you saying the important things?

James Dyson on Luck, Distance Running and Success

I heard a quote recently on an NPR podcast featuring James Dyson, the inventor known for his vacuum cleaners, that I love:

“…And I do believe, though, that you create your own luck. Because luck is around. You know, I’m a – I did long-distance running at school. And you only succeed by doing a huge amount of training and then having great stamina, understanding that other people are also feeling tired. So when you feel tired, you should accelerate. That’s when you start winning. So – and I’ve learnt that with developing new technology, that when you feel like giving up is precisely the point everybody else gives up. So it’s at that point that you must put in extra effort. And you do that, and then success is literally just around the corner.”

I relate to it since running has influenced a lot of my perspectives in life, even though I don’t run regularly these days.

Be the Leader You Wish You Had

Clark Scheffy wrote an insightful post about how he evolved into a better leader. My favorite quote:

This is about what I learned the hard way: That great creative leadership is about letting go of that nagging mental image you have of what you are supposed to do. It’s about believing in others, and focusing on fanning the flames of creative, weird, exothermic people, rather than on fixing problems.

I like the message on perspective. It’s all about your perspective.

Hat tip: Megs Fulton.

Coding with VS Code

I confess, I switched editors again. 🙂

I first heard about Visual Studio Code on the Toolsday podcast, but didn’t give it much attention. I had recently started coding with PHPStorm, and was trying to embrace working with an IDE. Before giving it a go with PHPStorm, I enjoyed using both Atom and Sublime.

But a few weeks ago, I started using VS Code every day. I haven’t looked back. Here’s why:

  • VS Code really does blend the best of both worlds: a code editor and IDE. I like how I have all the features of Atom and Sublime, with a dash of PHPStorm.
  • My favorite feature so far? The built-in console. I love that I can do a lot of tasks in one app.
  • It feels faster than Atom, and certainly less cumbersome than PHPStorm, my biggest criticisms of each of my last two editors.

I haven’t run into many challenges in the switch because I tend to keep my editors lightweight, not using dozens of extensions. I have encountered some on and off issues with my PHP CodeSniffer and PHP executable configuration lately. I think it may be related to an existing bug in the extension though.

My current extensions include:

We’ll see if I run into any more challenges the more I use the editor.